Wandering the maze

I do love the way one fascinating biography invariably leads to another and another and another. This serendipitous process of stumbling upon a title and then being lead on the literary equivalent of a progressive dance (The Gay Gordons with books, eek!) can be both comforting and daunting.

At the moment I am simultaneously submerged in a biography of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell and because of her prominence in Bertie’s story, a biography of Lady Ottoline Morrell.

Bertrand Russell’s two volume life has been a serious challenge to my patience, intelligence and sanity. Author Ray Monk has thoroughly researched every aspect of Russell’s long life  and gives equal weight to both Russell’s personal and professional achievements. I’m toiling a bit with the philosophy, and as for Bertie’s personal life, he was such a louse I feel like hurling the book at the wall. If only he hadn’t died in 1970, I could have given him a piece of my mind and a slap on the chops. Ottoline, on the other hand, is a gem: literary patron, loyal friend, bohemian fashionista. Her only flaw, loving Bertie!

The Bloomsbury set, of which both Bertie and Ottie were loosely members have been top-notch reading fodder for many a long year. While their intellectual, literary  and artistic achievements are of course impressive, in keeping with my generally shallow approach, it is the soap opera qualities of their lives than I most relish. Those fearless Bloomsberries shied away from nothing: atheism, extra-marital affairs, unrequited love, illegitimacy, feminism,  suicide, divorce and volatile friendships. Delicious high-brow smut and scandal.

So I am out of the starting gates and off on another literary adventure. After I’ve finished Lady O, I’m thinking about taking a peek at Augustus John‘s tumultuous and frighteningly fertile life, or maybe Gladys Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, or Henry Lamb…..

11 thoughts on “Wandering the maze

  1. Donna 24 June 2010 / 3:53 pm

    Or maybe try the graphic novel Logicomix if you want to look at Bertie in a different way.

    And start delving into philosopher’s biogs!

  2. robertafsmith 25 June 2010 / 10:15 am

    I had a Bloomsbury Period when I was living in the TRopics – Long cardies, mid-calf skirts and trailing scarves – I must have looked nuts. I developed a bit of a thing for Lytton Strachey after the film Carrington and read William Holroyd’s biography – fascinating. Your blog recommendations re-inspire me. Will have to try for a Sissinghurst garden one day!

      • Joyce 25 June 2010 / 12:35 pm

        I’m hoping to get to Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s home in Sussex when I go to the UK In September, in fact I’d love to do a whole Bloomsbury tour.

    • Lynne 28 June 2010 / 11:33 am

      Roberta, have you read Jane Brown’s book Vita’s other world: a gardening biography of V. Sackville West?

      • robertafsmith 28 June 2010 / 4:08 pm

        No, I haven’t, but will place it on my list. However, I have read: Sissinghurst : an unfinished history / by Adam Nicolson. Sissinghurst holds such appeal for me – strange as I am (as yet) a hopeless gardener.

  3. Roberta Smith 25 June 2010 / 12:54 pm

    Hey, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly!

  4. Lynne 27 June 2010 / 2:38 pm

    I am soooo envious. We used to have a lovely book in the library about Charleston, I love the fearless way the Bloomsburies there painted on walls and furniture.

  5. Lynne 28 June 2010 / 11:17 am

    P.S. Try Michael Holroyd’s biography of Lytton Strachey. Strachey’s memorable last words were “If this is death, I don’t think much of it”. Witty to the end.

    • joyciescotland 28 June 2010 / 3:12 pm

      Who would have won in the witty aphorism war, Lytton or Oscar?!!
      I’ll give the Holroyd book a go, especially as his estimation of Ottoline Morrell is I believe a little different to that of her biographer Miranda Seymour.

  6. Marion 29 June 2010 / 12:26 pm

    I think I’d put my money on Oscar Joycie. I too have wandered among the Bloomsberries and all this talk made me go to the catalogue to see what was out there. How about Mrs Woolf and the servants

    I’m guessing Mrs Woolf had anxieties with her domestics!

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