There are few authors in which life and work are so closely related as in the case of Joyce: he always wrote about the city where he was born, about the people who lived with him and particularly Nora, his wife, about his readings, and about his peculiar way of understanding the world. And yet, his books are not autobiographical, rather the opposite, as in some way, Joyce is one of the great Realist authors of English literature. Obviously, Realism, either Joyce's or other's, does not respond to predetermined axioms of the critic, but to the sincere and laborious merge between form and the cosmovision of the author. The originality of Joyce and the difficulty of his work come precisely of the unusual fusion of the personal experiences and the abstract, or putting it another way, his life was the path to getting to know Life and Dublin -the Dublin he knew so well- better, the most reliable window to watch exterior reality. If we add that this great creator of words, very close to Shakespeare, did not believe that English was his mother tongue, it is easily understood his genius in the use of the language and the almost unbeatable difficulty of his last book Finnegans Wake. So, starting from the precedents, I will attempt to provide and explain the keys to understand slightly better this literary genius of the 20th century.
How can we define a genius? By repeating an endless list of achievements, discoveries, or overwhelming originality in the different disciplines practiced? Taking the pen of the biographer to show the reasons that took them to behave -like it is usually the case- in a hostile way, punishing and sharp, against the society that surrounded them? The life and work of Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) can be subject of all these actions, but hold so much more: the history of a precursor in almost every way that remained relegated to a secondary position as if he had not had any importance; the obstinate enterprise of heading the geometric abstract art in England, in a time when Postimpressionism was the leading trend and still life the object of desire, and of figurative art once that painting had surrendered to abstract art; but above all, the futuristic vision of man who defined himself as "the Enemy" to be able to continue his heroic defense of the modernity he developed for almost fifty years before the time of his death. Lewis is indeed one of the most complete and recognizable painters of the 20th century, an imaginative novelist, a keen essayist, but also someone who paid more for his mistakes than for his triumphs.
Until a decade ago, most of the studies on English-speaking Modernism devoted hundreds of thousands of pages to judge an enormous city like London, and shine light over its complex macrocosmos through just a few windows around two squares of the Bloomsbury neighborhood. Nevertheless, the floating population of writers and artists living in the English capital along the year prior to the First World War was comparable to the current one in New York, and very superior in quality if we take into consideration that together with those artists officially belonging to the Bloomsbury Group, we also had writers the size of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, Arthur Symons, and D. H. Lawrence, just to cite a few of the most popular. Until the present, Lewis has been neglected among these names, although in his days he was one of the most breaking and controversial artist and writer. Along the series of conferences "Portraits" we will get closer to the Lewisian universe from all the different points of view that the multiple disciplines of this complex author allows.
The biography that Victoria Glendinning devoted to the also writer Rebecca West has special characteristics. They met in person and saw each other along the last then years of West's long life, and it was Rebecca herself who invited Victoria to write her biography. Victoria Glendinning focused particularly in the youth and first steps of maturity of Cecilia Fairfield, the real name of Rebecca West, who, when beginning in the world of creation decided to use this literary pseudonym obtained from the a character in the works of Ibsen to calm her mother who was scandalized by her daughter's radical ideas.
Rebecca West (1892-1983) joined the first suffragettes while being a teenager. At a very young age she started a sentimental relationship with one of the most know writers of the time: H.G. Wells, who was around twenty years older than her and married. They had a son together, and thus Rebecca became a single mother. She was a radical socialist in her youth and a passionate opponent to Communism in her maturity. She cultivated several genres and earned fame as a novelist, critic, and writer, although she was also very interested in art, journalism, history, and policy. Her private life was complicated, specially in everything that had to do with her only son. Victoria Glendinning wrote about her: "if she had been a rich medieval woman, she could have been a great abbess, if she had been born along the 17th century and poor, she would have been burnt for witchcraft. There is a lot to learn from her life because Rebecca West is more than the emblem of the modern woman". When Wells got to meet her, he said about her: "I have never met anybody like her and I doubt there has never been anyone like her". There was a lot of mutual intellectual respect between Rebecca West and Wyndham Lewis. Wyndham Lewis did not agree with many of her literary works published in the BLAST magazine, although he favored from the beginning her story "Indissoluble Matrimony" that appeared in the first number. Rebecca West also appreciated Wyndham Lewis' literary and artistic work. She valued very much that he was the first publisher of one of her fiction works. Wyndham Lewis also dedicated her a portrait, which was kept by Rebecca West her entire life. Upon her death it was sent to the National Portrait Gallery of London.
In the conference that Victoria Glendinning will dedicate to Rebecca West, she will address the period of time in which she lived, her relationship with Wyndham Lewis and other contemporaries, and will analyze some of the lesser known aspects of her appearance and the perception others had from her.
Along my presentation I will attempt to transmit to the audience the question that I posed myself years ago: why should we get interested today in those English characters of the beginning of the 20th century who, in principle, did not even attempt to form a "group"? It is worth mentioning that like for example in the case of the Surrealists, it was their enemies (and in tone of pun), and among them Wyndham Lewis, who invented the denomination of Bloomsbury Group.
Once we admit the Group, the variety of its members (writers, painters, economists, psychoanalysts) give an idea of its kaleidoscopic nature. Nevertheless partially answering the previous question, we can consider that the Bloomsbury Group was the first British cultural association where there were equal conditions for men and women. This is indicated by the fact that two of its more brilliant members were a woman (Virginia Woolf) and a man (J.M. Keynes). The same is true if we refer to art, specifically painting, with Vanessa Bell and her curious partner Duncan Grant, just to give another example. The characters and the group coexisted with end of the Victorianism, two world wars, the obtention of voting rights for women, modern artistry, among many other elements that could not only fill completely this conference, but an entire course.
John Maynard Keynes was not only one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, but also one of the most brilliant Englishmen of his time. His life developed in very diverse environments and it would be an error to think that we are upon the figure of an economy professor devoted completely to his science in his university department. When he was a student, his intellectual interests were oriented towards themes like philosophy and probability calculus. And years later, he was immersed in worlds so diverse as finances, policy and art, particularly theatre and ballet.
One of his biographers, Robert Skidelsky , denominated one of the volumes on Keynes' extensive biography "The economist as a savior"; and there is little doubt that our figure saw himself as such. His vision of society was alway elitist, based in the idea of an intellectual aristocracy who, with knowledge and foresight, and free of any traditional prejudices, would know how to carry on the country into a better future. For his most loyal disciples, he was a sort of messiah; and his most important book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money -published in 1936- came to be considered by some as the new testament that made all previous written texts on economy obsolete.