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Life in Squares

I would have to watch this BBC mini-series at least twice to have any hope of following it. Those who have recently read up on the members of the Bloomsbury Group, or who have recently read a biography of Virginia Woolf, might be able to keep up a bit better. Still, it’s great fun to watch, because the performances are so good and the post-Victorian naughtiness is so delicious. This three-part series was produced by the BBC in 2015. It’s available for streaming from Amazon Prime Video.

Back in the mid-1970s, I read Quentin Bell’s biography of Virginia Woolf. That was enough Virginia Woolf to last me a lifetime. I have never been able to finish one of her novels. I find them dull, and I just can’t get the point of them or figure out why they were worth writing. Shortly after I finished reading the Bell biography, a friend asked me what I thought about it. As I recall, I said, “Their lives were much more interesting than their literature.” This BBC mini-series is evidence of that.

In my opinion, for what little it’s worth, of the members of the Bloomsbury Group, I think it was E.M. Forster who matters the most. We must be careful not to give the Bloomsbury Group too much credit, either as writers, rebels, or philosophers. Oscar Wilde was way ahead of them, as were 19th Century heretics such as Charles Fourier or the American writers and theologians who clustered around Harvard University and Concord, Massachusetts.

But the members of the Bloomsbury Group certainly led interesting lives. And I have the greatest respect for them for the progress they made in rebellion against Victorian norms, in the odd ways available only to the upper-crust English who went to Oxford or Cambridge. Today, people such as Stephen Fry have carried this work forward. Fry, I believe, is one of our greatest living intellectuals. I doubt whether any member of the Bloomsbury Group could have claimed such a status in their lifetimes.

According to Wikipedia, the title, “Life in Squares,” comes from a comment made by Dorothy Parker. She said that the members of the Bloomsbury Group “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.” And yes, I would argue that Dorothy Parker, in her sassy American way, out-achieved all of them.

Series like this always make me wonder why the United Kingdom, five times smaller than the U.S., produces ten times as many superb actors and actresses. “Life in Squares” shows off quite a few of those actors and actresses. Fans of James Norton in “Grantchester” will want to watch this.


  1. JamesM wrote:

    Thanks for this tip; I shall have to watch it. Many moons ago I had a librarian friend who purchased anything and everything Bloomsbury. I waded through a good bit of it. Other than
    Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes, I had a tough time with most of it. There is a marvelous recipe book/historical vignettes about Dottie Parker and the Round Table Crowd. “Under the Table” which is a nod to her famous quote about martinis. Gosh how I wish there were more of her ilk still with us.

    Monday, December 28, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Jo wrote:

    David, wishing you the best in 2021. I have a new way of ending the old and starting the new.
    Just before midnight, open the back door and let the old year out. At midnight, open the front door and let the new year in.

    Sunday, January 3, 2021 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  3. daltoni wrote:

    Thanks, Jo! I love that ritual! Happy New Year to you, too…

    Sunday, January 3, 2021 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

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