Thursday, December 4, 2014

Love in Bloomsbury: Memories by Frances Partridge

One of the books I read over the Thanksgiving weekend had me delving into the sometimes complicated but never dull world of the Bloomsbury Group through the eyes of diarist and translator Frances Partridge in her memoir Love in Bloomsbury: Memories (1981). Before reading this book, I knew very little about Frances Partridge other than she was considered the last surviving member of the Bloomsbury Group until her death in 2004 at age 103. 

Frances was born in London as Frances Marshall, the youngest of six children. She obtained her degree at Cambridge. It was at Cambridge that she encountered her first link to the Bloomsbury Group through her friendship with Julia Strachey, niece of writer Lytton Strachey. 

Another connection to the group came after she graduated from Cambridge and began working in a bookshop near the British Museum in London. The bookshop was owned by two stalwart writers of Bloomsbury, David Garnett and Francis Burrell. She became acquainted with Leonard and Virginia Woolf and other members of Bloomsbury who purchased their books there. During this time, she met Ralph Partridge, a World War I hero, who worked for the Woolfs in their Hogarth Press. 

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
From left to right: Dora Carrington, Ralph Partridge, Lytton Strachey, his brother, Oliver Strachey, and Frances Partridge.

Frances Partridge tells her story in a lovely, conversational writing style. I enjoyed the tales of her childhood. (Her mother was a suffragette.) Also, I liked learning about her time at Cambridge, and her reminiscences of her vivacious life in London during the 1920s when Ralph Partridge wasn't her only suitor. This memoir covers her life into the 1930s.

Much of Love in Bloomsbury: Memories is told in excerpts from her diaries and letters. These reveal the intensity of her love affair with Ralph and what a tenuous position Frances found herself in with the artist Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey. Ralph was still married to Carrington (who herself had an unrequited love for Strachey) when Ralph met and fell in love with Frances. Carrington, Ralph and Strachey had lived together at Ham Spray, a rambling country house in Wiltshire, for a time, and the presence of Frances caused a bit of tension.

Regarding others in the Bloomsbury Group, it was interesting to learn that Frances preferred Vanessa Bell's company to that of Vanessa's sister, Virginia Woolf. Frances considered Vanessa to be a warm person while she found Virginia somewhat peculiar and hard to talk to. And I was happy to read her accounts of how charming and fun loving Duncan Grant was, even until he was in his 80's!

This would be a great book for anyone with an interest in the Bloomsbury Group. Love in Bloomsbury: Memories was a fast read and one that I really enjoyed.


  1. The Bloomsbury Group is fascinating! I have not heard of this memoir, but will keep an eye out for it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Thanks, JoAnn! I love reading about the Bloomsbury Group. This book was one I came across last year at a book sale, and it turned out to be a nice surprise.