The Bloomsbury Group has been characterised as a liberal, pacifist, and at times libertine, intellectual enclave of Cambridge-based privilege. The Cambridge men of the group (Bell, Forster, Fry, Keynes, Strachey, Sydney-Turner) were members of the elite and secret society of Cambridge Apostles. Woolf’s aesthetic understanding, and broader philosophy, were in part shaped by, and at first primarily interpreted in terms of, (male) Bloomsbury’s dominant aesthetic and philosophical preoccupations, rooted in the work of G. E. Moore (a central influence on the Apostles), and culminating in Fry’s and Clive Bell’s differing brands of pioneering aesthetic formalism. ‘The main things which Moore instilled deep into our minds and characters,’ Leonard Woolf recalls, ‘were his peculiar passion for truth, for clarity and common sense, and a passionate belief in certain values.’Increasing awareness of Woolf’s feminism, however, and of the influence on her work of other women artists, writers and thinkers has meant that these Moorean and male points of reference, though of importance, are no longer considered adequate in approaching Woolf’s work, and her intellectual development under the tutelage of women, together with her involvement with feminist thinkers and activists, is also now acknowledged.
Edward genially enough did not disagree with what I said, but he didn't seem to admit my point, either. I wanted to press him harder so I veered close enough to the ad hominem to point out that his life—the life of the mind, the life of the book collector and music lover and indeed of the gallery-goer, appreciator of the feminine and occasional boulevardier—would become simply unlivable and unthinkable in an Islamic republic. Again, he could accede politely to my point but carry on somehow as if nothing had been conceded. I came slowly to realize that with Edward, too, I was keeping two sets of books. We agreed on things like the first Palestinian intifadah, another event that took the Western press completely off guard, and we collaborated on a book of essays that asserted and defended Palestinian rights. This was in the now hard-to-remember time when all official recognition was withheld from the PLO. Together we debated Professor Bernard Lewis and Leon Wieseltier at a once-celebrated conference of the Middle East Studies Association in Cambridge in 1986, tossing and goring them somewhat in a duel over academic 'objectivity' in the wider discipline. But even then I was indistinctly aware that Edward didn't feel himself quite at liberty to say certain things, while at the same time feeling rather too much obliged to say certain other things. A low point was an almost uncritical profile of Yasser Arafat that he contributed to Interview magazine in the late 1980s.
I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative often self-centered nature that still doubts itself--that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I'm not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I've carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.