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Bloomsbury attitudes to the Great War

The Great War still haunts us. This book draws together examples of the ‘aesthetic pacifism’ practised during the Great War by such celebrated individuals as Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon and Bertrand Russell. It also tells the stories of those less well known who shared the attitudes of the Bloomsbury Group when it came to facing the first ‘total war’. The five-year research for this study gathered evidence from all the major archives in Great Britain and abroad in order to paint a complete picture of this unique form of anti-war expression. The narrative begins with the Great War's effect on philosopher-pacifist Bertrand Russell and Cambridge University.

3 Academics at war – Bertrand Russell and Cambridge The University and the outbreak of war The thoughts and actions of the Cambridge mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell are central to this book. Russell was able to articulate with extraordinary clarity a fully humanistic opposition to the Great War and his ideas on war and the prevention of it directly affected the thinking of other individuals through his books, articles and speeches. On occasion, Russell’s concepts were echoed spontaneously by other like-minded people – often from dissimilar

in A war of individuals
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Bloomsbury ‘member’ Roger Fry) had been largely inspired by the ethics of Dickinson’s rejected Christian background and the philosophy of McTaggart, though Dickinson was ultimately more affected by G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, which appeared in 1903. Dickinson was fifty-two in 1914 and following the outbreak of war he, like Bertrand Russell (see Chapter 3), wrote numerous articles on the war. He and Russell both joined the Union of Democratic Control and the No Conscription Fellowship, with Dickinson becoming President of the Cambridge branch of chap2.p65 18 03

in A war of individuals
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4 Writers at war Bertrand Russell was just one man largely thinking and acting alone – and therein rests his reputation. But to what extent – whether in private or public – did similar anti-war concerns to those of Russell and the Bloomsbury circle express themselves among the intelligentsia? The bulk of the evidence derives from the letters that sped back and forth between contemporary writers, artists and thinkers, during a time of unexpected conflict – a conflict that provoked much doubt and debate. In common with Bertrand Russell, E.M. Forster believed the

in A war of individuals
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humanistic, aesthetic and moral contexts: not simply the cases of individuals who believed all war to be wrong, but also – using a term Martin Ceadel employs – amongst pacificists, such as the celebrated philosopher Bertrand Russell, who regarded some wars as justifiable. Crucially, aesthetic opposition to the conflict was identified as such at the time. Howard Marten, chairman of the Harrow branch of the anti call-up No Conscription Fellowship and a conscientious objector,3 noted that, in his view, the individuals who opposed the war were, ‘men from every conceivable

in A war of individuals

9 Public commentary on familiar themes The ‘herd instinct’ versus the individual Throughout this book, contemporary evidence has been the key to unlocking the emotions of the past – both private and public. Although some excerpts have appeared from the numerous books and memoirs generated by the war (and largely written after the event), comparatively little evidence has been cited from the wider contemporary sphere, the exception being the case of the Cambridge Magazine’s vocal support of Bertrand Russell as part of its balanced and humane view of the wider

in A war of individuals
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Gertrude Stein and Alfred North Whitehead

Kitchener, the Secretary of War, to take a coat to her son, North, who had secured an army commission at the outbreak of the war. The Whiteheads’ other two children, 248 Kate Fullbrook their daughter, Jessie, and their youngest son, Eric, were also to serve in the war. Eric was killed when his plane was shot down in 1918. For Whitehead, said Bertrand Russell, the loss of his son led to ‘appalling grief ’, and ‘it was only by an immense effort of moral discipline that he was able to go on with his work. The pain of this loss had a great deal to do with turning his

in Special relationships
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art and science and healing medicine, and so large a part of all that makes life beautiful’.15 The Great War was not only a paradox; George Bernard Shaw described it as a ‘monstrous triviality’. While Shaw was driven largely by his scepticism concerning the motives of government and public morality, Bertrand Russell described the conflict as ‘trivial for all its vastness’. We have witnessed both Russell’s despair for mankind and his hope that the lesson of the conflict would produce (via individuals) a ‘different spirit’: a calmer, creative state of mind in contrast

in A war of individuals

7 Obscurer individuals and their themes of response The destruction of nature as reality and metaphor This chapter casts the net wider. Following the responses of the small but influential Bloomsbury circle, the earlier chapters have encompassed the experiences of other celebrated thinkers and writers (especially Bertrand Russell), some of whom donned uniform, and also certain women, well-known and otherwise, some of whom travelled to the war-zone as nurses or observers. It has became clear that similar aesthetic–humanistic responses occurred outside the

in A war of individuals
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National Council Against Conscription and also, by March 1916, for the No Conscription Fellowship. Within a matter of days of starting her work for the NCF, she had written on a daily basis (and with eventual success) to a holidaying Bertrand Russell appealing for his help. She also attended the National Convention of the NCF at Devonshire House. Marshall became one of the linchpins of that organisation, especially after many of the leading male activists began to be imprisoned after their individual tribunals. Another in whom the ‘humane spark’ manifested itself in

in A war of individuals