Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modernist Politics

I was glad to get a bit more insight into Lytton Strachey’s ideas, since I’d already seen Carrington. My main impression from his selected essays (and “Conscientious Objector”) was that he was distinguished by advocating a new kind of approach to history while the other Bloomsbury writers were focusing more on contemporary politics and literature. With his “Monday June 26th 1916” entry he seemed a lot more frank about his affairs than I had expected, even though he’s writing in an apparently diary format (I wasn’t always sure if homosexuality was really discussed so much in their times, even when they did it in private, or if this was an aspect that just got more emphasis with contemporary scholarship). I felt I got a better idea of his historical aims with “Matthew Arnold” than his actual preface to Eminent Victorians, since the latter ended with something in French, so I didn’t know it, while the former also emphasized more specific examples of his ideas about Victorian culture. I wondered about what figures exactly he did see as worthy of promotion as opposed to ones like Arnold, and whether any of them are better-known now because of Strachey’s writings (I do recall reading a bit about Lyell when I took a geology class, but that was more in the context of a basic historical overview), since most of the people he attacked aren’t as familiar anymore, other than Florence Nightingale and to a lesser extent Arnold, since “Dover Beach” still seems to be taught (though my class only read it along with “Dover Bitch”).

With the Woolfs, I had previously figured that Leonard’s de-emphasis of her politics after her death may have been based on concerns over her image at that point and to downplay any more controversial aspects of her writings that he didn’t even quite agree with. But I noticed that in “Fear and Politics” and “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” that they ultimately seemed to share basically similar ideas of the importance of freedom, as they both see it in terms of being “out in the open,” without fear of others and compare the states of their societies to forms of captivity. The main differences that struck in the ways they made their points were that Virginia focused on a more feminist-style perspective in the form of a symposium presentation, while Leonard used the more elaborate and satirical fable structure to emphasize more global debate topics in a pamphlet form. I wondered if maybe Virginia’s different form or perspective could have led Leonard to see her as less political, since he may have seen her presentation as being too intimate or domestic while his work was more apparently outspoken. I also thought about with Leonard’s use of animal allegory whether he could have been influenced by Rebellion of the Beasts (a novel currently assumed to have been written by Leigh Hunt and considered another precursor to Animal Farm), though that may have been too obscure, and I guess he could have just been thinking of even earlier examples of allegories with animals.

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