The Spoken Word: The Bloomsbury Group (131mins, British Library, Ã?â??Ã?Â£15.95)
So many biographies, histories and memoirs have been written about this bunch of writers and artists whose unconventional behaviour and opinions influenced 20th-century literary, cultural and sexual attitudes that the mere mention of Bloomsbury makes most people groan. Take heart. This isn't about the Bloomsbury group, it is the Bloomsbury group, alive and kicking, thanks to the miracle of the audio archive. They're all here - Leonard and Virginia, Clive and Vanessa, EM Forster, Duncan Grant and co - sounding (especially the women) as if they're speaking through mouthfuls of plums as they talk about student life at Cambridge, those Thursday evening At Homes at 46 Gordon Square and, of course, each other. The only recording that exists of the clique's leading luminary, Virginia Woolf, is a snippet from a radio talk she gave in 1937 where, in tones so perfectly modulated they scarcely require her lips to move, she doubts whether the thousands of young men and women presently studying literature under hundreds of erudite professors wrote any better than they would have done 400 years ago "uncriticised, unlectured, untaught". The secret of writing, she advises, is understanding the complexity of words. They don't come separately but properly used "hang together" so perfectly you cannot imagine them ever being divorced.
"The splendid word 'incarnadine', for example - who can use that without remembering multitudinous seas?" Much as I enjoyed the stories about Lytton Strachey's piles, which made visiting a friend in his Spanish mountain retreat on muleback tricky, the parties and the japes (once they all dressed up as Abyssinian diplomats and were piped aboard HMS Dreadnought and entertained by the admiral), it's the descriptions of VW that I remember most vividly. She is variously described by Harold Nicolson, David Cecil, Elizabeth Bowen and other friends as a mocking Madonna, a tall, clumsy bird brooding over happier days and warmer climes, a dishevelled angel, someone who never understood stupid people - "but then why should she?" A must-have addition to every serious audio collection.show more
by Martin Oestreicher