WATER SPIDERS: Quantitative and Social Easing

This aspect of Keynes — the shrewd investor, the canny player of financial markets — is rather unexpected in light of the man ’ s early
life and beliefs. Keynes was an aesthete, his first allegiance to philosophy and the art of living well. At school and university he displayed little interest in worldly matters, and for the remainder of his life exhibited an intensely ambivalent attitude to the pursuit of wealth. He believed in Francis Bacon ’s dictum that money makes a good servant but a bad master — in Keynes ’ formulation, money’s merit lay solely in its ability to secure and maintain the conditions allowing one to ” live wisely and agreeably and well”. Like economics itself, money was a mere expedient, nothing other than ” a means to the enjoyment and realities of life, and moneymaking little more than an “amusement.”

Keynes. 1908. Watercolor by Gwen Raverat

Keynes was a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals that grew to include Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Clive and Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Desmond MacCarthy and Duncan Grant. Beginning in 1905, the young people who would become the Bloomsbury Group began to meet on Thursday evenings to discuss and debate ideas and to criticize each other’s arguments. Named for the section of London where the Stephen children – Virginia, Vanessa, Adrian and Thoby – moved after the death of their father, Victorian scholar Sir Leslie Stephen, the Bloomsburys became a potent intellectual force in early twentieth-century England. Over time, their values as a group emerged. Quentin Bell, son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, writes in his memoir Bloomsbury that these values included pacifism, feminism , friendship , creativity, freedom of expression and, above all, reason. They were irreverent, skeptical and critical of Victorian convention, and managed to antagonize most elements of British society during their heyday from 1910 until the 1930s.

Roger Fry. Self-Portrait 1930-1934

It certainly was in Bloomsbury- the group that took its name from the district of London where so many of its members lived. Much has been written about that ingathering of intellectual self-exiles that makes it seem a sort of conspiracy, at least to those who recalled being withered by its conversation. But in fact it was a shepherd’s reed hardly strong enough to be sinister.” Standing aloof from the masses, the Apostles developed a superiority complex to match the belief that only they possessed the requisite sensitivity to truly appreciate the finer things in life. Keynes likened the group to “ water – spiders, gracefully skimming, as light and reasonable as air, the surface of the stream without any contact at all with the eddies and currents underneath. ” Others, less charitably, dismissed the group as self – indulgent and ridiculous, twisting  G.E. Moore ‘s philosophy into “ a metaphysical justification for doing what you like and what other people disapprove of. ”

Lytton Strachey ( 1880-1932) oil on canvas Dora Carrington

Bloomsbury was the original of the Beautiful People. The set gave famous parties, and one masquerade ball at which Keynes danced the can-can in 1923 has gone into the history books. The two Stephen sisters, who became Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were its queens, although their husbands were definitely not its kings. This honor was disputed , as was much else, between Keynes and Strachey. When Keynes defied Bloomsbury’s positively Ptolemaic tradition of intermarriage and picked a bride from outside the sect, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, Strachey dismissed her as a  “half-witted canary”

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell. "Virginia Woolf was born January 25, 1882. Both of her parents had been previously married, and together they have four children, Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian, Virginia also has an older sister figure from one of the first marriages, named Stella. In 1895 Julia Stephen (Virginia's mother) dies at the young age of 49, Virginia is only 13 years of age. In 1896 Stella marries a man named Jack Hills. She dies 3 months later on July 19, leaving Virginia once again without guidance from a female figure. The loss of this second mother figure, sends Virginia into a state of insanity."

But there was more involved. Keynes and Strachey had been lovers years before, then Strachey took up with the beautiful young painter Duncan Grant. Keynes then stole Duncan away. Strachey was desolate. The two remained friends, but Strachey seemed able to get close to Keynes only when Keynes was unhappy. After Keynes marriage he fell away from the set, although never completely. Lydia, it appears, protected him from the depredations of Bloomsbury and the outside world alike.

Ultimately, the social dramas, bizarre gay love triangles, and catfights among its members was of minor importance. What matters is Bloomsbury’s essentially static sense. It was a kind of terminal moraine to the great victorian glacier, the morality leached out; Stephen Spender, a political progressive, described it as the last kick of an enlightened aristocratic tradition,” one perhaps rooted in ambivalence and anxiety about the future. Bloomsbury was indeed the last of the Whig aristocracy, and except for Keynes, these intellectual oligarchs deliberately stripped themselves of public power.

---The original Bloomsbury group, some of whom Thoby Stephen met at Trinity before his death. They include Angelica Bell, born to Clive and Vanessa in 1918, Clive B

Stephen Tomlin and Lytton Strachey. The Photograph was taken by Vanessa Bell in 1926---

Keynes was Bloomsbury’s man of action and advisor on the outside world, with a typical Whig zest that disdained all zeal. He would help arrange the finances for Woolf’s  Room of One’s Own, which cost about 500 a year. He would advise Strachey where to go in the Mediterranean for the best value in “bed and boy”, which has raised more than a few eyebrows.  His homosexuality helped reinforce his sense of social separatism. Today it would be termed alienation, but Keynes was never alienated from his society, except perhaps when he attacked it for economic stupidity. He mastered society from above and quite naturally built his personal elitism into his economic techniques. But it was that sense of superiority and smugness that side-swiped Keynes, as if bubbling social forces were beyond his line of defense; which was essentially a  major policy change, but nonetheless a re-arranging of furniture that now involved government directly in the boom and bust economic cycles.

The literature in the 1930’s was already reacting against T.S. Eliot through a still difficult but more accessible poetry, a more conversational tone, and a freer use of discursive or generalizing language, that reflected concerns, possibly of the enormous influence of  the Fabians through such oracles as Bertrand Russell, and a certain questioning of the social values that seemed bundled and embedded within the economic policies touted as a new liberating liberalism.

Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa Bell photo.

“In the thirties, however, critics and readers especially noticed the leftist political commitment that seemed to run through his writing. Their view of Auden was too simple, but it was inevitable at a time when an approach to literature and criticism (often Marxist) stressing social orientations and implications was widely influential.” Auden’s political leanings made him popular with other poets such as Cecil Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender, “who were politically more committed than Auden was” . It’s not that Auden was not committed–but his attitudes, as the poetry demonstrates, are often qualified and hedged in ambivalence.

“Sir, no man’s enemy, forgiving all” illustrates Stephen Spender’s idea that “a dualistic idea run[s] through all [Auden’s] work which encloses it like the sides of a box. This idea is Symptom and Cure” . It also illustrates Auden in the process of self-revising: he later disclaimed this poem, saying it was “dishonest” and that he “never liked modern architecture” . This “prayer” that is not really a prayer (or is it?) is typical of early Auden in its anxiety about the future (“the intolerable neural itch”) and its embracing of the “new.” The not-quite-rhyming is also typical–a trick he probably learned from Owen.

But behind all of the complex iterations of “this”-ness is one of Auden’s abiding themes–the vast distance between the time-bound pain of human life and the seemingly timeless unconcern of the natural world. The moon, of course, has a “history,” but it is so remote from our own history as to stare us in the face as a kind of rebuke to all of our day-to-day concerns.


Anna Upchurch: Their influence can be traced across twentieth-century art and thought. Fry’s introduc- tion of the Post Impressionists to the English-speaking world, in his exhibitions of 1910 and 1912, set the stage for the development of modernism in British and American art. Virginia Woolf was one of a handful of early twentieth-century writers who revolutionized the novel in form and content with works such as Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

Keynes contributed new theories of economics based on human behaviour and advocated the establishment of global organizations. Lytton Strachey revolutionized biography with his publication of Eminent Victorians. These were not artists and intellectuals working in isolation; they debated ideas and examined each other’s work in public. Roger Fry was an influential intellectual force within the group, with theories and ideas that stimulated creative and theoretical work by his fellow members of the Bloomsbury Group. Several contributed to the cultural policy discourse of the time with essays, opinion and calls for action by the government. Fry was the most prolific and specific of the policy writers, although Clive Bell, E. M. Forster and Keynes made contributions. Although not part of Old Bloomsbury, art historian Kenneth Clark was a close friend of Fry, the Bells and Duncan Grant, and he, too, contributed cultural policy statements.

Leonard Woolf. by Vanessa Bell. 1940.---"Thursday Evening" meetings begin to take place. Include a group of Elite, Very British, Experimental, Modern, Writers, Painters, Philosophers and Politicians, whom have received schooling at Cambridge University, Virginia was not one of those who had. Out of this era of prewar change and growth, the New Modern Fiction created writing based on consciousness, not on plot. In 1912, Virginia marries Leonard Woolf at the age of 30, but rejects her husband and her marriage almost immediately. In 1913 she attempts suicide and the two move to Sussex and are closer to other writers like Henry James, Stephen Crame and Kippling. She begins painting to ease some of her pain, and by 1915 the two create Hogarth Press from their house in Suburban Richmond. The Press published Virginia's Kew Gardens in 1919, and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land in 1922, and other 'modern works.' Through her work at the Press, Virginia manages her mental health.---

The Bloomsbury Group did not stop with simply publishing and, later, broadcasting their policy statements.The Bloomsbury Group did not stop with simply publishing and, later, broadcasting their policy statements. They took action and engaged in a series of experiments in support of artists such as the London Artists Association, the Contemporary Arts Society, the Omega Workshops and the Hogarth Press, to ensure that artists and writers were gainfully employed and could make their work available to others. The Bloomsbury Group’s sense of experimen- tation and flexibility, their willingness to take action to create new institutions, and their
distrust of bureaucracy, influenced Keynes’s development of a new model for state patronage of the arts in 1946


“In academic deviate circles, Keynes acquired underground fame as a skilled connoisseur who was able to spot potential material for future debauchment among the male children at Eton (eight to sixteen years of age), as well as the youth of Cambridge. The Keynes-Strachey correspondence is replete with reports of such expeditions to both Eton and Cambridge University. Lytton Strachey wrote a poetic amoretto about his bed partner, Keynes, in which he classed him, “A liberal and a sodomite, An atheist and a statistician.”In a fit of pique he once exclaimed, “Keynes sits like a decayed and amorous spider in King’s . . .” (Cambridge University).Strachey’s chief biographer observed that the letters passing between his subject and Keynes, “would have provoked curiousity in Gomorrah and caused the inhabitants of Sodom to sit up and take note.”It is noted that, “For several years Lytton’s intimate personal life was bound up with that of Keynes. . . .” On one of their trips to the Mediterranean theatre of sexual aberrations, Strachey wrote of lounging around, “discussing ethics and sodomy with Keynes.” Asking Lytton Strachey to spend time with him, Keynes once wrote, “my bed is depressingly disengaged all this month”.

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