Posts Tagged Duncan Grant

Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links in Life And Literature (Part 4)

For my first two posts on the links between ‘Bloomsbury’ and women’s suffrage see here and hereIn ‘Bloomsbury Links’ (Part 3) I mentioned that in 1916  Ray Strachey took over the post of parliamentary secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and  moved to Westminster to be close to the NUWSS office. From 1916 until 1934  she was also chairman of the Women’s Service Bureau, which originated in the war work of the London Society for Women’s Service. In 1925, when the financial position of the latter society (now called the London Society for Women’s Service) was critical, funds were raised by the presentation at the Scala Theatre of two specially-staged charity performances of The Son of Heaven, a play written by Ray’s brother-in-law, Lytton Strachey.

The play – a’tragic melodrama’ -was set in China at the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. It’s director was Alec Penrose, whose  (first) wife was the production’s wardrobe mistress, Ralph Partridge played ‘The Executioner’, Geoffrey Webb, later Slade professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, played ‘Wang Fu’ and Gerald Brennan was among the extras.  Gertrude Kingston -now elderly and a one-time member of the Actresses’ Franchise League, was the only ‘professional’ member of the cast.

The accompanying music was composed and conducted by William Walton – his first commission for the stage. Of it Constant Lambert (who played the timpany in the production’s orchestra) commented – ‘So great was [Walton’s] obsession with ragtime that he was unable to prevent some unmistakeable touches of Gershwin from entering the score!). The critic from The Stage described the music as ‘ambitious and decidedly heavy’.

Duncan Grant designed the costumes and sets. These included an Omega Workshop screen and a carpet designed by Vanessa Bell, who was also responsible for the cover of the programme.

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for 'Son of Heaven' c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for ‘Son of Heaven’ c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Robert Medley, a painter and member of the cast, remembered the colours used –  ‘clear ochres and greys, offset by pinks, oranges and emerald greens’ (Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant). The costumes were painted in a decidedly Omega style by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and proved all  too much for Gertrude Kingston. She refused to wear her costume and the designers were forced to dress her instead in a black brocade ‘Manchu’ robe belonging to Lady Strachey. All in all it seems to have been a rather entertaining venture, although I cannot tell you how much money it raised for the LSWS.

WomensServiceHseIn 1930, when the London and National Society for Women’s Service (as it had confusingly been renamed in 1926) wished to publicise not only its existence but also that of their new purpose-built hall , ‘Although very doubtful of success, Miss [Philippa] Strachey undertook to approach Virginia Woolf, to ask if she would be willing to give a talk on ‘Literature’. In the event Virginia Woolf did agree to speak and on the appointed evening, 21 January 1931, shared the platform with her new friend, Dame Ethel Smyth, who spoke on ‘Music’.

The hall, with a library, restaurant and offices, was part of Women’s Service House, the  LNSWS’s new Westminster premises. Millicent Fawcett laid the foundation stone on 29 April 1929, barely three months before her death; the hall was intended as her memorial – rather more useful than a statue  but, alas, without a statue’s popular appeal (on this bee in my bonnet see more here). Known as the Millicent Fawcett Hall, it still stands at 31 Marsham Street, now put to good use by Westminster School as its drama centre.

Back in January 1931 the sub-committee of the London Society responsible for arranging the  evening’s entertainment felt obliged to install a microphone for Mrs Woolf – at the cost of £8; there was no suggestion that Dame Ethel required amplification.

The speakers attracted one of the society’s largest audiences and Virginia Woolf received a review in The Woman’s Leader (now, incidentally, edited by a niece of Mrs Pankhurst): ‘She “was with us, but not of us”. Her eyes are on the stars, as though she listens to some far-off song – but a song of which even an audience of modern and practical minded young women can catch an echo when Mrs Woolf speaks.’

ThreeGuineasThe ‘song’ proved to be the genesis for Three Guineas, and it was to the LNSWS’s library, adjacent to the hall, and to its librarian, Vera Douie, that Virginia Woolf turned when seeking verification of the facts, gathered into footnotes, that fuelled the book’s anger.

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924 © & source The Women's Library

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924
© & source The Women’s Library

In March 1938, for instance, she wrote enquiring about peace organisations and the numbers of women involved in working for peace. Vera Douie sent her a full reply, enclosing Mrs Fawcett’s pamphlet on ‘What the Vote Has Done’. A couple of months later , in gratitude for the help she had received, Virginia Woolf offered to supply the library with any books, new or antiquarian that it required. The offer was gratefully accepted; in 1938, for example, Virginia Woolf gave to the library both volumes of the newly published Miss Weeton. Journal of a Governess, a text from which she had copied quotations into her Three Guineas Reading Notebook, and in July 1940 paid for two books by Mary Carpenter, Juvenile Delinquents (1853) and Our Convicts (1864), that had appeared in the catalogue of an antiquarian bookseller. Both the latter are still part of the Cavendish Bentinck collection in the Women’s Library@LSE – although the name of their donor is not noted in the catalogue entry.

On 26 March 1941 Vera Douie wrote to Mrs Woolf to say how much she had enjoyed reading her biography of Roger Fry and asking, in her usual delicate manner, for two more books. This time, however, her request was in vain. Virginia Woolf was dead by the time the letter was delivered to Monks’s House.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links (Part 2)

In 1907 it was Philippa Strachey, sister of Lytton, who, as secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, organised the first large-scale London street procession of women prepared to risk ignominy by making  of themselves a public spectacle. Thus, in heavy rain, on 9 February 1907 Lady Strachey, Philippa’s mother, walked at the head of ‘The Mud March’, a soubriquet earned from the state of the streets  (see here for Kate Frye’s experiences that day).

Flyer advertising the NUWSS 'Mud March'

Flyer advertising the NUWSS ‘Mud March’

On 5 February John Maynard Keynes had written to Philippa Strachey, ‘I hear that you may want hired roughs next Saturday. If I can be of any use I am at your service after 1 o’clock’. He kept to his word and acted as chief steward at Exeter Hall in the Strand where, at the end of their march, the suffragists rallied for speeches from, among others, Lady Strachey. Keynes had long been exposed to the workings of the women’s suffrage campaign; his mother was a practical exponent of ‘women’s rights’ and his father, a close friend of Henry Fawcett, had in 1888 been auditor of the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association. This influence had permeated sufficiently for Keynes, in 1912, to demur at the inscription of ‘Votes for Women: IDT’ on a bas-relief by Eric Gill depicting a copulating couple, in which the woman was on top. ‘IDT’ was Gill’s way of making light of the issue as the letters stood for ‘I Don’t Think’. Keynes wanted to buy this work but only did so after Gill agreed to remove the inscription.

Lady Strachey

Lady Strachey

Lady Strachey had been an early supporter of the women’s suffrage campaign, having in 1867 signed one of the first petitions in favour of women’s suffrage, probably that presented by John Stuart Mill on behalf of the Edinburgh Society. From 1901 she had been a regular subscriber to the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage, as was her husband. A week after the Mud March Lady Strachey was present at Caxton Hall on the occasion of a WSPU ‘Women’s Parliament’, a meeting that ended in chaos and arrests. Elizabeth Robins, actress and suffragette, afterwards wrote to Lady Strachey, ‘I looked for you during the later evening and was very relieved that you were not to be seen, for the fact was that the police grew very violent as the hours went on…’

Lady Strachey also deployed her pen in aid of the Cause, writing, between 1907 and 1909, a number of pamphlets for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, including Reduced to the Absurd, a series of humorous syllogisms (such word-play being a Strachey speciality) and, around 1910 supplying the words for several rollicking songs, which  were published by the LSWS as Women’s Suffrage Songs. In 1909 Lady Strachey became a member of the editorial committee of a newly-founded feminist journal, The Englishwoman, which was in effect an NUWSS attempt to provide a forum for serious feminist discussion. Grant HandicappedOne of Lady Strachey’s co-founders of The Englishwoman was Mary Lowndes, a stained glass artist and chairman of the Artists’ Suffrage League, a society devoted to publishing suffrage propaganda. The ASL each year ran a competition for the design of a poster; Duncan Grant, nephew to Lady Strachey, was the competition’s joint winner, sharing a prize of £4, in the autumn of 1909. He had previously submitted a design, unsuccessfully, for the 1907 competition but was encouraged to try again. It may have been that a weakness in conveying the suffrage message had been responsible for his failure in 1907 because in 1909 Barbara Forbes, Lowndes’ companion and the secretary of the ASL, took the trouble to give him the subject for his design. In its final rendition the poster was described in the NUWSS weekly paper, The Common Cause, 4 November 1909, as depicting ‘a stalwart Grace Darling type struggling in the trough of a heavy sea with only a pair of sculls, while a nonchalant young man in flannels glides gaily by, with a wind inflating his saile – the vote -[treating] with good temper a subject which often causes bitterness’. The Houses of Parliament loom on the horizon as the goal of both vessels. By an interesting coincidence the winner of the ASL’s competition in 1908, with a poster ‘What’s Sauce for the Gander is Sauce for the Goose’ had been Mary Sargent Florence, whose daughter, Alix, was in 1920 to marry James Strachey, Lady Strachey’s youngest son.

The Tax Resistance League logo - as seen on this banner - was designed by Mary Sargant Forence

The Tax Resistance League logo – as seen on this banner – was designed by Mary Sargant Forence

Mary Sargent Florence was a leading light of the Tax Resistance League, designing their badge and banner, and  in 1912 and 1914, putting principle into practice,  refused to pay her taxes, and had goods distrained and sold.

The next ‘ Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links’  post will discuss the life and work of Ray Strachey – a Strachey-by-marriage.

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