As the Arabians Do

Norman Rockwell preparing to enter a mosque

 

 Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). Sharif’s first English-language role was that of Sharif Ali in David Lean’s historical epic. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor.

 

Irish actor Peter O’Toole studying for his role as T.E. Lawrence. Photo by Dennis Oulds

 

Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

 

Robert Pattinson as Lawrence of Arabia in Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog, 2015), based on the life of British traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer Gertrude Bell.

 

Candice Bergen and Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion (John Milius, 1975)

 

Virginia Woolf (far left) and her friends, dressed as Abyssinian dignataries, 1910

 

Truman Capote in Tangier (Morocco)

 

Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh

 

Christian Louboutin purchased a villa near the Nile river

 

Cy Twombly in Egypt. Photo by Tatiana Franchetti

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Portrait of Duncan

“He (Duncan Grant) is so incredibly full of charm, his genius as an artist seems to overflow so into his life and character & he is so amusing too and odd and unaccountable that lots of people I think don’t see clearly what to me is really his most adorable quality – his honesty – disinterestedness absolute sincerity & simplicity of character which make me depend upon him always.”

Letter from Vanessa Bell to his son Julian Bell, 7 Mar 1937

 

Portrait of Duncan Grant,  Vanessa Bell, c. 1917

 

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell worked closely on artistic projects and, though Grant would have many parallel relationships with men, they remained close companions for the rest of their lives. In 1918 Vanessa gave birth to Duncan’s child, Angelica.

Flush or A Faunus

In 1930, after Virginia Woolf attended Rudolf Besier’s play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, she began to reread Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry and letters. Woolf’s fanciful biography of the Brownings, seen through the lens of their cocker spaniel, was published in 1933, with four drawings by Vanessa Bell.Pinka, the cocker spaniel that Vita Sackville-West gave Virginia Woolf in 1926, was photographed for the dust jacket and frontispiece of the first edition.

 

Virginia and Vita at Monk’s House in 1933 (as photographed by Leonard Woolf)

 

Virginia Woolf with Pinka

 

The original sketch of The Back Bedroom, on display, shows Elizabeth Barrett languishing in the back bedroom of her father’s house.

 

The Back Bedroom,Vanessa Bell, c. 1932. Graphite drawing for Flush

 

FLUSH OR A FAUNUS

 

“You see this dog. It was but yesterday
I mused, forgetful of his presence here,
Till thought on thought drew downward tear on tear;
When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
A head as hairy as Faunus, thrust its way
Right sudden against my face,—two golden-clear
Large eyes astonished mine,—a drooping ear
Did flap me on either cheek, to dry the spray!
I started first, as some Arcadian
Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove:
But as my bearded vision closelier ran
My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness; thanking the true Pan,
Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

To The Garden The World

A group at Garsington Manor, country home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, near Oxford. Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Maria Nys (neither members of Bloomsbury), Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell. By Unknown photographer, vintage snapshot print, July 1915

 
 

“To the garden the world anew ascending,

Potent mates, daughters, sons, preluding,

The love, the life of their bodies, meaning and being,

Curious here behold my resurrection after slumber,

The revolving cycles in their wide sweep having brought me again,

Amorous, mature, all beautiful to me, all wondrous,

My limbs and the quivering fire that ever plays through them, for

reasons, most wondrous,

Existing I peer and penetrate still,

Content with the present, content with the past,

By my side or back of me Eve following,

Or in front, and I following her just the same.”

Walt Whitman

The Death of the Moth

Dust jacket designed and illustrated by Vanessa Bell, 1940-41

 
 

Virginia Woolf exposed the difficulties of being a woman writer in her essay A Room of One’s Own. Her novels experimented with time and narrative,and she is considered a master of the stream-of-consciousness technique. Woolf battled mental illnesses throughout her life, and eventually committed suicide by drowning herself in 1941, a year before this essay was published. As you read, examine the ways she presents images of life and death.

 
 

The Transformation, by Sulamith Wülfing

 
 

“Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor somber like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay-colored wings, fringed with a tassel of the same color, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigor came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it.

Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamor and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience. The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the windowpane. One could not help watching him. One, was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meager opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fiber, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvelous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zigzagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the windowpane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the windowsill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

The legs agitated themselves once more. I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled. I looked out of doors. What had happened there? Presumably it was midday, and work in the fields had stopped. Stillness and quiet had replaced the previous animation. The birds had taken themselves off to feed in the brooks. The horses stood still. Yet the power was there all the same, massed outside, indifferent, impersonal, not attending to anything in particular. Somehow it was opposed to the little hay-colored moth. It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

Love and Sleep with the Friend of Many Things

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (from Greek hýpnos, ‘sleep’, éros, ‘love’, and máchē, ‘fight’), called in English Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream or The Dream of Poliphilus. The book has long been sought after as one of the most beautiful incunabula ever printed. It is actually anonymous, but an acrostic formed by the first, elaborately decorated letter in each chapter in the original Italian reads POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT, “Brother Francesco Colonna has dearly loved Polia.”, that’s why this romance is said to be by Francesco Colonna.

First published in Venice in 1499 by Aldo Manutius, in an elegant page layout, with refined woodcut illustrations in an Early Renaissance style, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili presents a mysterious arcane allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is, seemingly, at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus.

 
 

 
 

The book is illustrated with 168 exquisite woodcuts showing the scenery, architectural settings, and some of the characters Poliphilo encounters in his dreams. They depict scenes from Poliphilo’s adventures, or the architectural features over which the text rhapsodizes, in a simultaneously stark and ornate line art style which perfectly integrates with the type. These images are also interesting because they shed light on what people in the Renaissance fancied about the alleged æsthetic qualities of Greek and Roman antiquities.

The typography is famous for its quality and clarity, in a roman typeface cut by Francesco Griffo, a revised version of a type which Aldus had first used in 1496 for the De Aetna of Pietro Bembo. The type was revived by the Monotype Corporation in 1923 as Poliphilus. Another revival, of the earlier version of Griffo’s type, was completed under the direction of Stanley Morison in 1929 as Bembo. The type is thought to be one of the first examples of the italic typeface, and unique to the Aldine Press in incunabula.

The psychologist Carl Jung admired the book, believing the dream images presaged his theory of archetypes. The style of the woodcut illustrations had a great influence on late-nineteenth-century English illustrators, such as Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, and Robert Anning Bell.

 
 

 
 

The story begins with Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia (literally “Many Things”), shunned him. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest, where he gets lost, encounters dragons, wolves and maidens and a large variety of architecture, escapes, and falls asleep once more.

He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed within the first. In the dream, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen, and there he is asked to declare his love for Polia, which he does. He is then directed by two nymphs to three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers his beloved. They are taken by some more nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. The narrative is interrupted, and a second voice takes over, as Polia describes his erotomachia from her own point of view.

 
 

 
 

Poliphilo resumes his narrative after one-fifth of the book. Polia rejects Poliphilo, but Cupid appears to her in a vision and compels her to return and kiss Poliphilo, who has fallen into a deathlike swoon at her feet, back to life. Venus blesses their love, and the lovers are united at last. As Poliphilo is about to take Polia into his arms, Polia vanishes into thin air and Poliphilo wakes up.

The book is briefly mentioned in The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–34) by François Rabelais: “Far otherwise did heretofore the sages of Egypt, when they wrote by letters, which they called hieroglyphics, which none understood who were not skilled in the virtue, property, and nature of the things represented by them. Of which Orus Apollon hath in Greek composed two books, and Polyphilus, in his Dream of Love, set down more…” (Book 1, Ch. 9.)

The 1993 novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte mentions the 1545 edition of the Hypnerotomachia (Ch. 3). The book is again mentioned in Roman Polanski‘s 1999 film, The Ninth Gate, based loosely on Pérez-Reverte’s novel (this time, by its Italian title, “La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo“).

Ring of Grass

“Here on this ring of grass we have sat together, bound by the tremendous power of some inner compulsion. The trees wave, the clouds pass. The time approaches when these soliloquies shall be shared.”

Virginia Woolf

The Waves

 
 

A group at Garsington Manor, country home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, near Oxford. Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Mrs. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell.

 
 

Picnic party at Sussex. F. Birrell, Clive Bell,  Julian Bell, Duncan Grant, Angelica Bell, Angus Davidson, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Quentin Bell and others Bloomsbury members. 

 
 

Lesser known members: Ralph Partridge, Noel Carrington, Catherine Carrington and Frances Partridge

 
 

The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set—was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists,the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London, during the first half of the 20th century. According to Ian Ousby, “although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts”. Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality.

A Room of Her Own

Specially dedicated to all the women…

 
 

The title of the essay A Room of One’s Own(1929) comes from Virginia Woolf‘s conception that, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. Woolf notes that women have been kept from writing because of their relative poverty, and financial freedom will bring women the freedom to write; “In the first place, to have a room of her own… was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble”. The title also refers to any author’s need for poetic license and the personal liberty to create art. The essay examines whether women were capable of producing, and in fact free to produce work of the quality of William Shakespeare, addressing the limitations that past and present women writers face.

 
 

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by her sister Vanessa Bell (née Stephen)

 
 

Woolf’s father, Sir Leslie Stephen, in line with the thinking of the era, believed that only the boys of the family should be sent to school. Because her father did not believe in investing in the education of his daughters, Woolf was left without the experience of formal schooling. In delivering the lectures outline in the essay, Woolf is speaking to women who have the opportunity to learn in a formal, communal setting. Woolf lets her audience know the importance of their education at the same time warning them of the precariousness of their position in society.
 
In the essay, Woolf constructs a critical and historical account of women writers thus far. Woolf examines the careers of several female authors, including Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and George Eliot. In addition to female authors, Woolf also discusses and draws inspiration from noted scholar and feminist Jane Ellen Harrison. Harrison is presented in the essay only by her initials separated by long dashes, and Woolf first introduces Harrison as “the famous scholar… J —- H—- herself”.
 
Alice Walker, to the subject of much criticism, demeaned Woolf’s essay for its exclusion of women of color, and women writers who do not have any means for obtaining the independence of a room of their own.