Woolf’s People

Leslie Stephen

Leslie Stephen~ “…if one points to his obvious qualities–his honesty, his unworldiness, his lovableness, his perfect sincerity–one is singling out form a whole single qualities which ere part of that whole; and the whole was different from the qualities of which it was made. . . . He had clear, direct feelings. He had certain ruling passions. Off he would stride with his sandwiches for some tremendous walk. Out he could come with some fact, or opinion, no matter who was there. And he had very strong opinions; and he was extremely well informed. What he said was this more respectfully listened to. he had a godlike, yet childlike, stranding in the family.” (Virginia, Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past” 110, 111).

Julia Cameron

Julia Stephen~ “But apart from her beauty, if the two can be separated, what was she herself like? Very quick; very direct; practical; and amusing, I say at once offhand. She could be sharp, she disliked affectation. . . . Severe; with a background of knowledge that made her sad. She had her own sorrow waiting behind her to dip into privately. [. . . ] What a jumble of things I can remember, if I let my mind run, about my mother; but they are all of her in company;l of her surrounded; of her generalised; dispersed, omnipresent, of her as the creator of that crowded merry world which spun so gaily in the centre of my childhood.” (Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past” 82, 84)

Adrian Stephen

Adrian Stephen~ “And Adrian is so happy & genial that I am really pleased. I don’t want to make him out a failure even. An unambitious man, with good brains, money, wife & children is, I daresay, the most fortunate of us all. He need not protect himself by any illusions. He sees things as they are. He is humorous, contented; free to enjoy without envy or uneasiness. [. . .] Moreover, like the whole family, he has this distinguished, cool, point of view, which always makes him good company, & admits him to any society—if he wished for any society, which needless to say, he doesn’t. “

(Virginia Woolf, diary entry, February 14, 1922)


Thoby Stephen~ “Thoby possessed a great power of romanticizing his friends. Even when he was a little boy at a private school there was always some astonishing fellow, whose amazing character and exploits he would describe hour after hour when he came home for the holidays. These stories had the greatest fascination for me. I thought about Pilkington or Sidney Irwin or the Woolly Bear whom I never saw in the flesh as if they were characters in Shakespeare. I made up stories about them myself. It was a kind of saga that went on year after year. And now just as I had heard of Radcliffe, Stuart, or whoever it might be, I began to hear of Bell, Strachey, Turner, Woolf.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 187).


Vanessa Bell ~ “[Vanessa], whose sight seemed in some ways so clear, took it upon her to be what people call ‘practical’ though a generous talent for losing umbrellas and forgetting messages showed that nature sometimes delighted to laugh at the pretence. But the power which was not feigned and was probably recognized by those who trusted her, was what I call variously sagacity, and common sense, and more rightly perhaps, honesty of mind.” (Virginia Woolf, “Reminiscences” 30)

Painting of Clive Bell
Clive Bell~ “I got a fantastic impression that this man Bell was a kind of Sun God—with straw in his hair. He was in [illegible] of innocence and enthusiasm. Bell had never opened a book till he came to Cambridge, Thoby said. Then he suddenly discovered Shelley and Keats and went nearly mad with excitement. He did nothing but spout poetry and write poetry. Yet he was a perfect horseman—a gift which Thoby enormously admired—and kept two or three hunters up at Cambridge.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury”187-8)


Leonard Woolf~ “He was as eccentric, as remarkable in his way as Bell and Strachey in theirs. He was a Jew. When I asked why he trembled, Thoby somehow made me feel that it was part of his nature – he was so violent, so savage; he so despised the whole human race. ‘And after all,’ Thoby said, ‘it is a pretty feeble affair, isn’t it?’ Nobody was much good after twenty-five, he said. But most people, I gathered, rather rubbed along, and came to terms with things. Woolf did not and Thoby thought it sublime.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 188)

Photo John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes~ “Maynard – very truculent, I felt, very formidable, like a portrait of Tolstoy as a young man to look at, able to read any argument that came his way with a blow of his paw, yet concealing, as the novelists say, a kind and even simple heart under that immensely impressive armour of intellect – ” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 198)


Duncan Grant~ “How he lived I do not know. He was penniless. Uncle Trevor indeed said he was mad. He lived in a studio in Fitzroy Square with an old drunken charwoman called Filmer and a clergyman who frightened girls in the street by making faces at them. Duncan was on the best terms with both. He was rigged out by his friends in clothes which seemed to always be falling to the floor. He borrowed old china from us to paint; and my father’s old trousers to go to parties in. He broke the china and he ruined the trousers by jumping into the Cam to rescue a child who was swept into the river by the rope of Walter Lamb’s barge, the ‘Aholibah.’ Our cook Sophie called him ‘that Mr Grant’ and complained that he had been taking things again as if he were a rat in her larder. But she succumbed to his charm. He seemed to be vaguely tossing about in the breeze; but he always alighted exactly where he meant to.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 197-8)


Roger Fry~ “He appeared, I seem to think, in a large ulster coat, every pocket of which was stuffed with a book, a paint box or something intriguing; special tips which he had bought from a little man in a back street; he had canvases under his arms; his hair flew; his eyes glowed. He had more knowledge and experience than the rest of us put together. [His mind seemed hooked on to life] by an extraordinary number of attachments.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 197)


Lytton Strachey~ “Strachey at once became as singular, as fascinating as Bell. But it was in quite a different way. ‘The Strache’ was the essence of culture. In fact I think his culture a little alarmed Thoby. He had French pictures in his rooms. He had a passion for Pope. He was exotic, extreme in every way – Thoby described him – so long, so thin that his thigh was no thicker than Thoby’s arm.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 188)


Photo of Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington~ “No servant was visible & most of the waiting seemed to be done by Carrington. She is silent, a little subdued, makes one conscious of her admiring & solicitous youth. If one were concerned for her, one might be anxious about her position—so dependent on L. & having so openly burnt the conventional boats. She is to run her risk & take her chances evidently.” (Virginia Woolf, diary entry, July 23, 1918)

Painting of EM Forster
E.M. Forster~ “And once at least Morgan flitted through Bloomsbury lodging for a moment in Fitzroy Square on his way even then to catch a train. [. . .] I felt as if a butterfly—by preference a pale blue butterfly—had settled on the sofa; if one raised a finger or made a movement the butterfly would be off. He talked of Italy and the Working Men’s College. And I listened—with the deepest curiosity, for he was the only novelist I knew—except Henry James and George Meredith; the only one anyhow who wrote about people like ourselves. But I was too much afraid of raising my hand and making the butterfly fly away to say much. I used to watch him from behind a hedge as he flitted through Gordon Square, erratic, irregular, with his bag, on his way to catch a train.” (Virginia Woolf, “Old Bloomsbury” 198)


T. S. Eliot~ “That strange figure Eliot dined here last night. I feel that he has taken the veil, or whatever monks do. He is quite calm again, Mrs Eliot has almost died at times in the past month. Tom, though infinitely considerate, is also perfectly detached. His cell, is I’m sure, a very lofty one, but a little chilly. We have the oddest conversations: I can’t help loosing some figure of speech, which Tom pounces upon and utterly destroys. Never mind: I loose another. So we go on. But at my time of life, I begin to resent inhibitions to intercourse; and these poor damned Americans so respect them.” (Virginia Woolf, Letter to Roger Fry, May 18, 1923)