Monthly Archives: June 2018

Book Review — Reckless: Henry Kissinger’s Responsibility for the Tragedy in Vietnam

Reckless: Henry Kissinger’s Responsibility for the Tragedy in Vietnam by Robert K. Brigham is a study of Kissinger’s role in the Vietnam peace process. Brigham, Shirley Ecker Boskey Professor of History and International Relations, joined the Vassar faculty in 1994. He is a specialist on the history of US foreign policy, particularly the Vietnam War.

For students of international relations, Kissinger is a powerhouse. He is often credited with creating the modern Realist Theory that opposed the Wilsonian Idealist position. Kissinger is also responsible for volumes of work on historical foreign policy. American policy in most situations has been driven by the realist model. A notable exception is the first Gulf War where a where a large coalition worked together extending beyond traditional allies. The inconclusive results of that conflict seemed to further instill the realist theory as America’s policy.

Kissinger is also known for his tough stance against North Vietnam and the relentless bombings. What is new in Brigham’s book is a clearer role of Kissinger’s involvement with the Vietnam peace process. Brigham shows a Kissinger that is unsure, untrusting, and secretive. He blocks others including Secretary of State Rogers and Secretary of Defense Laird. Both men had experience and the people under them to help settle the peace. Kissinger explained to Oriana Fallaci that he was a lone cowboy and that was admired in America. Kissinger believed only he knew what it took to end the war and worked against anyone who he disagreed with or would steal his spot.

Forty-five years after the direct involvement of US troops in the war, new information is coming to light. Kissinger has written volumes of information on the war and his role. His works secure his place a statesman, but there is more too it. Brigham makes the comment:

Like the internet, Kissinger provides huge amounts of apparent information, not all of it reliable. He’s a conspiratorially minded theorist, and he often wanders far from the facts.

Reckless shows the costs and dangers of a “lone cowboy” running foreign policy.  Although Kissinger thought back channels would provide a faster solution, our country had the channels for open communication and the bureaucracy that is not driven by ambition or personal emotions.  Kissinger was very much like Nixon needing to be in charge and untrusting of almost everyone.  He believed that his intelligence and America’s military might could provide all of America’s solutions in Vietnam.  However, he lacked the understanding that the Vietnamese had been fighting outside powers since 1887 and were not about to give up.  Reckless tells the story of hubris and failure in contrast to the polished history written the subject himself.

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Poetry Review — Anagnorisis: Poems by Kyle Dargan

Anagnorisis: Poems by Kyle Dargan is a collection of poetry, in part, focusing on being African-American in today’s America. Dargan is the editor and founder of POST NO ILLS magazine and an associate professor of literature and creative writing at American University. He earned his BA from the University of Virginia and MFA from Indiana University, where he was a Yusef Komunyakaa fellow and poetry editor of the Indiana Review.

A powerful and moving collection of poetry that begins with a focus of being black in America. From the opening Richard Pryor line of the first Africans in America to what change can be expected when you put a black man in the White House, Dargan focuses on race in America and legacy. The opening salvo is from a poem titled “Failed Sonnet After the Verdict” reflecting on the Zimmerman verdict and immediately follows up with the Obama presidency with “Avenger”:

Behind 1600’s gates, the President sits bound
to the presidency like a superhero sidekick,
his mouth gagged by what “originalists” believe
the constitution says. Live streams, meanwhile,
pump night-­green footage from Ferguson’s
punctured lung into our timelines. Flash
grenades gush like stars spangling from a flag
drawn and quartered.

Somewhere is the negro’s imagined America,
where we have Iron Man on our side,
though it does not matter if the hero is “black”
so long as the body inside is. But super suits
and costumes don’t function like the Oval
Office. Vote a “black” man into a white house.
It’s still the White House—symbol of everything
we’ve been escaping—not a beacon, never rescue

Voice against the system or perhaps more commonly called the Resist movement is a common theme. Dargan joins the poets and artists resisting with words and art in his commanding couplet poem, “Poem Resisting Arrest” :

This poem will be guilty. It assumed it retained
the right to ask its question after the page

came up flush against its face.

The power of the early poems is followed up by a prose poem “Lost One” relaying personal experiences with what has been making the news. Dargan’s next section of poetry centers on working in China, the difference in the peoples perspective, and his attempt to fit in. The pollution, the language barriers, and the people offer a different setting, yet there is no racism in a society that he is clearly an outsider. The collection closes with a section entitled “Dear Echo” which is much more reflective than the previous sections. Although starting with a poem about guns he quickly moves into nature, rain and dragonflies, and finally settles with the natural future of Earth.

Powerful, contrasting, current, assertive, and reflective this collection speaks volumes on America and man.  Anagnorisis is a collection that lives up to its name.


Available September 15, 2018

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Book Review — New Atlantis and The City of the Sun: Two Classic Utopias

New Atlantis and The City of the Sun: Two Classic Utopias By Francis Bacon and Tommaso Campanella (respectively) are two stories of utopian societies. Bacon was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author. He served both as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. He is perhaps best known as an advocate of the scientific method. Campanella, was a Dominican friar, Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet. He is probably best known for his written defense of Galileo which landed him in prison for heresy.

These works are important in that they represent early fiction with a political or moral message. Today these would fall under the broad category of speculative fiction. In the early 17th Century there was no such classification. These two utopia’s share a few similar traits of being isolated from the rest of the world and a Christian (or Christianlike) foundation. In Bacon’s unfinished book, the society lives on an island outside of the sea lanes of the time and is stumbled upon by several English ships sailing from Peru. Campanella’s utopia is located on an isolated island where everything is perfect from weather to the land.  Campanella’s story is told as a dialog in the Platonic tradition.

Both societies although religious have used science, and the scientific method to expand their knowledge and technology. Their inventions today seem unimaginative, like a ship that can sail without wind or sails, but for the early 17th century this seemed impossible. Bacon’s utopia is strictly structured while Campanella’s resembles a perfect communist state with goods, as well as women and children held in common. Knowledge is painted on the many walls to make it available to everyone.

Dover Thrift, again, brings a quality product at a fair price the $4.00 paperback is well worth the cost of the two stories.  This edition also comes with a foreword and an introduction by Gregory Claeys of Royal Holloway, University of London.  Recommended for those with an interest in 17th-century writing or speculative fiction.

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Book Review — The Bostonians

Henry James’ The Bostonians takes place in Boston a decade after the Civil War. Basil Ransom and Mississippian and a former Confederate officer who now works in New York City as a lawyer plays a central role in the triangle of characters. The story begins as he visits his cousin Olive Chancellor in Boston. Olive is involved in the women’s rights movement and a member of Boston Society. During his visit, he attends a meeting with his cousin and falls in love with the voice of the speaker, Verena Tarrant. Olive sees Verena as the future of the women’s movement. Basil, disagrees with Verena’s politics but is drawn to her. Olive and Basil compete for Verena throughout the novel. The triangle that forms is not strictly platonic.

The Bostonians and Henry James not only provides a bridge from realism to modernism it also opened the door for other works like The Well of Loneliness. It is also the origin of the term “Boston marriage”. The book did not fair well with American critics as it was suggested the characters were based off real people. Written as satire, the book holds up well today, and maybe better than it was received at publication. The exaggerated character of Basil seems to be something of a caricature of a rich southerner and likewise Olive that of a highbrow Yankee.

The Dover Thrift Edition of this work is a quality paperback for $7.00 and less than a dollar Kindle ebook. For those interested in historical satire and over the top characters this is the book for you.

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Book Review — Pink Floyd: Album by Album

Pink Floyd: Album by Album by Martin Popoff is an album by album discussion of the band Pink Floyd. Popoff has been described as the world’s most famous heavy-metal journalist, though he has covered plenty of Punk and New Wave albums in his career of 7,000-plus album reviews. He has penned many books on various bands, genres of rock, and record collecting, including Voyageur Press’ Rush: The Illustrated History; Metallica: The Complete Illustrated History; The Art of Metal; and The Big Book of Hair Metal. He has also worked on film documentaries about Rush and ZZ Top.

Pink Floyd is one of the biggest names in rock history. Dark Side of the Moon remained on Billboard for fourteen years and sold over forty-five million copies. The Wall took over the radio on boom boxes of my high school years. Animals remained one of my favorite albums of all times and I remember wearing out a copy of Wish You Were Here on 8-Track. Pink Floyd offered a something different than what Van Halen, AC/DC, and other hard rock groups offered. With the exception of “The Nile Song,” there was not much heavy and hard with Pink Floyd, but it fit right in with the rock of the day.

Popoff covers Pink Floyd’s discography in a richly illustrated large size book. Instead of writing about the albums and songs with his thoughts, Popoff turns to interviews. Dennis Dunaway the bassist, songwriter, and conceptual artist for the original Alice Cooper group is interviewed for Pink Floyd’s first two albums — Piper at the Gate of Reason and Saucerful of Secrets. Roie Avin of The Prog Rock covers the some of the later albums. Three musicians made up the interview on Animals. Not to be excluded, Popoff also includes interviews with sound engineers to complement the words of musicians and the media.

A very well done discography filled with first-person experiences with the band and all it works to include live albums such as Pompeii. A very well executed project that produces results that will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in Pink Floyd or their music will appreciate.

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Essay — Clarissa, Septimus, and Virginia: Mental Health in Interwar Literature

Clarissa, Septimus, and Virginia: Mental Health in Interwar Literature

Joseph G. Spuckler, Jr

The aftermath of World War I created significant changes in society. The industrialized war not only left the continent in tatters, but it also shook society. Virginia Woolf captured the post-war changes in society in her work. Although Woolf does not write about the war itself, its effects are felt. In Jacob’s Room, an idealistic young man goes to war and does not return. In To The Lighthouse, perhaps Woolf’s most experimental work, war is mentioned in the section titled “Time Passes.” Although in this section two main characters die in parenthetical information, the soldier, Andrew Ramsey, gets slightly more attention although also parenthetical:

[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.]” (To The Lighthouse, 111)

In addition to the “merciful” death of a character, the death toll from the shell is inexact. What difference is there between twenty and thirty men when millions have died? The senseless slaughter of a generation changed people’s views. After the war, words like “duty” are mentioned with sarcasm. Many of those who returned home alive, returned home broken.

Perhaps the best example of the effects of the war in Woolf’s writing is in Mrs. Dalloway. Written six and a half years after the war the consequences are still felt. As Mrs. Dalloway is picking up the flowers on Bond Street people are looking up at a skywriting airplane:

As they looked the whole world became perfectly silent, and a flight of gulls crossed the sky, first one gull leading, then another, and in this extraordinary silence and peace, in this pallor, in this purity, bells struck eleven times, the sound fading up there among the gulls. (Mrs. Dalloway 20-21)

Eleven is significant because the war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. November 11th is Remembrance Day and at 11:00 there is traditionally a two minute period of silence. It marks the silence in a war that nearly destroyed Europe.  The silence on Bond Street is also symbolic of the war’s end. The white underbelly of urban gulls in Britain may be close enough to give the illusion of doves or peace. Later in Between the Acts, Woolf would use a similar passage but with planes as a second war raged in Europe.

Woolf chooses to examine the issue of mental illness in returning veterans and the hidden problem of mental illness in society as well as possibly writing about her problems.  The cheering crowds that sent the soldiers to war were less receptive to those coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder at the time called “shell shock.” War is as old as civilization and people have come to deal with the death that accompanies it. Although death is difficult to deal with on a personal and societal level, it is part of the reality of war. Shell shock, however, was completely unexpected. Artillery barrages in the war were unlike any before it. Hours and days of bombardment wore on men’s sanity. The command, who was not in the bunkers, treated shell shock as cowardice, malingering, and termed it hysteria, a “female disease,” to shame the men. It was a significant problem for survivors. When the dead are brought back home, they are buried, and the process is straightforward. What to do to men who come home alive but broken?

Septimus Warren Smith is a veteran of the Great War; although he survives the war physically, he is damaged mentally. Septimus’ doctor told his wife to take him out to notice things. Perhaps stimuli would snap him out of his melancholy or funk. In Mrs. Dalloway, the reader is introduced to Septimus with the sound of a car’s backfire. His wife has to break him away from his lock on the vehicle. He responds angrily and announces, in public, that he is going to kill himself. She remembers Septimus as a man who fought and was brave and is now worried she has lost her husband to the war. In the war, Septimus served well and was promoted. He became close with his officer, Evans, and when Evans is killed in the final days of the war, Septimus prides himself on remaining stoic in the face of his friend’s death. He is determined not to let the war destroy him. Although he can feel himself slipping away at times, he tries to control it by being cautious. However, he cannot control the voices and the hallucinations. It is now Evans, his former officer, who haunts his hallucinations. He sees and hears his old friend from beyond the grave.

Lucrezia, Septimus’ wife, also sees the change in the soldier she married in Italy and the changes in herself. She was a fun loving woman who has been worn down after years of taking care of Septimus. Stress has caused her to lose weight, her wedding ring slides off her finger, and she has no one to share the burden. Like Septimus, she too feels alone. She was an Italian war bride and has no friends or family in England for support. She is an outsider in English society. It is not that she is unsympathetic but she is overburdened, but she cannot be happy without him. He, however, is haunted by madness:

He listened. A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death.” (Mrs. Dalloway 23-24)

How does Woolf present a realistic picture of madness? Most at the time had no idea of the experience of insanity; it was something locked away and out of sight. Returning veterans presented a large scale problem that was unexpected, and no one knew how to help. Treatment varied from stimulation of the senses to isolation and even tooth extraction. Woolf experienced tooth extraction and a “rest cure.” When her mother died, Woolf, who was thirteen at the time, fell into a period of madness where she also heard birds sing in ancient Greek. When Septimus does speak to Lucrezia, it is in bursts of mostly nonsense. Leonard Woolf described one of Virginia’s episodes:

She talked almost without stopping for two or three days, paying no attention to anyone in the room or anything said to her. For about a day what she said was coherent; the sentences meant something though it was nearly all insane. Then gradually it became completely incoherent, a mere jumble of dissociated words.” (Beginning Again 172-173)

Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa, is the title character and the story is about her party. How does Septimus fit into the Mrs. Dalloway story? The two characters never meet although Septimus’ death is mentioned at Clarissa’s party. He is someone not in Clarissa’s circle, yet he takes up a large number of pages in her story. Woolf, in her 1929 introduction to the book states she, created the Septimus character as a twin to Clarissa. She describes both characters as having a birdish looks, a hooked nose, pale complexion, and a love for Shakespeare. This description also fits Woolf herself. Although Clarissa seems to have everything, she does feel a loss of self. She is no longer Clarissa but now Mrs. Richard Dalloway. Her life seems to be defined by her husband. Septimus is also no longer Septimus.  The war defined his life. Septimus should be entering the prime of his life. Instead, he is numb and distant. Clarissa sees her life slipping away. She rethinks her past and her old boyfriend. She remembers a kiss from Sally Seton. She has constructed a fortress around herself to protect her mental well being where Septimus’ fortress has crumbled and fell with the death of his friend and officer, Evans. Clarissa, like Septimus, has lost her youth — his to war and hers to time. Both come to recognize that their lives are shallow or empty.

Woolf draws from her life in this book. She drowned herself as her exit from the madness she knew she would never escape. In many of her books water plays a role and also forms the part of the title of three books. Water offered her a solution and water brings realization to Septimus on what he must do. Woolf fills this realization with watery imagery:

Septimus Warren Smith lying on the sofa in the sitting-room; watching the watery gold glow and fade with the astonishing sensibility of some live creature on the roses, on the wall-paper. Outside the trees dragged their leaves like nets through the depths of the air; the sound of water was in the room and through the waves came the voices of birds singing. Every power poured its treasures on his head, and his hand lay there on the back of the sofa, as he had seen his hand lie when he was bathing, floating, on the top of the waves, while far away on shore he heard dogs barking and barking far away. Fear no more, says the heart in the body; fear no more. (Mrs. Dalloway, 139)

Septimus knows that he will kill himself and he is no longer afraid of death. He will receive his closure, and for a short time, Lucrezia sees a happier Septimus. He found the way out of his “funk,” and before he was taken away for his rest cure, he chose his exit. Septimus finds the courage to act and is ironically called a coward by Dr. Holmes who witnesses the aftermath. The phrase “Fear no more” is used eight times between Clarissa and Septimus.

Clarissa first hears of Septimus at her party. The news of his suicide is making its round through her party and affects her:

Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the center which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.

But this young man who had killed himself — had he plunged holding his treasure? “If it were now to die, ’twere now to be most happy,” she had said to herself once, coming down in white. (Mrs. Dalloway, 184)

Woolf writes about mental illness and society in a way that presents the issue without making it the apparent theme. Septimus was a conspicuous example of a mental health problem although he did not fit into the circle of elites. The length and scale of the war made the issue too significant to hide. Woolf uses this recognition to show that it is a problem throughout society. Clarissa Dalloway had the resources to hide her problems from view. She and Septimus are doubles and perhaps even copies of Woolf. One would probably have been a bit more shocked if Clarissa took her own life as Woolf originally planned to write. One would not expect that. However, the same can be said about many suicides. Some people build better fortresses than others but it does not mean they suffer less; the effects are just less visible. Although Mrs. Dalloway seems to be a simple story of the modernist period, one that even the basis of a Hollywood movie, the story is involved, and the characters provide a detailed study of the period. Characters like Elizabeth Dalloway, Doris Kilman, Peter Walsh and Sally Seton present additional in-depth portraits of the period and people. What is a simple story of planning for a party develops into a statement on the state of society deeper than most novels of the time. Mrs. Dalloway is perhaps the easiest of Woolf’s books to read and the one that offers more insight on each examination.

Joseph Spuckler holds a Master of Arts degree in International Relations and a Bachelor of Science degree in History. His interests center mostly around World War I and modernist writers, notably Virginia Woolf.

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Poetry Review — War Songs

War Songs by Antarah Ibn Shaddad and translated James Montgomery is a collection of pre-Islamic poetry. Shaddad known as ʿAntar was a pre-Islamic Arab knight and poet, famous for both his poetry and his adventurous life. Montgomery is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic. He studied Arabic and Ancient Greek at Glasgow University, spent two years on an unfinished DPhil at Oxford, where he was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol College before taking up a lectureship at Glasgow. Senior Lectureships at Oslo and Leeds preceded his move to Cambridge in 1997.

‘Antar plays the role of an Arab Beowulf. He is a warrior who lives for battle and destroying his enemies. He is also a poet that unlike the poetry of WWI turns battle into a romantic act. War and battle became a religion which he participated in with zeal.

nobles like this are fair game
My spear mucked him up.
He did not look so fancy
laying there, a feast for night
predators ripping him from head to wrist.

ʿAntar faces death as a challenge not as fear:

I went face to face with Death
up close, with only a shield and a burnished saber
to keep us apart.

Peter Cole (Yale University) provides a detailed introduction into Arab poetry and translation and discusses the challenges of the translation not only in language but in time bringing the 6th century into modern form. The introduction provides a detailed history of not only ‘Antar’s life but also a history of the Arabian peninsula.  ‘Antar is not only famous as a warrior but also as a mixed-race hero.  He is one of the three black ravens in pre-Islamic history — a poet warrior of a black, Ethiopian, mother who was a slave.  ‘Antar, himself, was born into slavery but earned his freedom through heroics in battle.

War Songs will provide the reader with an introduction to early Arabic poetry.  The introduction and forward offers more than adequate information and background for a reader unfamiliar with the history or poetry.  The translation along with the introduction and forward are heavily cited with explanations and source material for those readers looking for more information and further reading.  An excellent collection of poetry, biography, and history.

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Poetry Review — Evolution

An intriguing collection of poems that will take more than one reading or a deal of pondering over each poem. The short lines do not complete a thought and the lack of punctuation leaves the reader to find structure in the lines and create meaning between the words. I am reminded of the first time I read Gertrude Stein’s Tiny Buttons.

Available September 21, 2018

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Poetry Review — Transaction Histories


Transaction Histories by Donna Stonecipher is a series of six poems of several sections. Stonecipher is the author of three books of poems, most recently The Cosmopolitan (2008, winner of the National Poetry Series). She graduated from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, with an MFA in 2001. She completed her Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia.

Transaction Histories delivers an exciting collection of observations and bits of news. The color blue and water in all its forms are present and run through the entire collection. The sea, rivers, snow, coastlines, and an infinity pool are all represented. Water is the ban of developers as nothing can be built on it. Later we are reminded of the plastic island in the Pacific the size of Texas, and it is countered with:

The plastic owls had been manufactured to scare away other
birds, as if wisdom itself were frightening — and indeed it was.

The language is crisp and filled with images:

In the photograph there were long rows of hooded horses, their eyes like great dark
romantic marbles glistening out into the unromantic crowds.

The images reflect back and forth through the poems and form connections to the past. Views change as a gardener, artist, and a veterinarian discuss the best places to live. This is countered later by travelers who arrive in a foreign city looking to eat and find the same selection of restaurants they had at home, except with the if one found one’s self at a particular restaurant in India.

Time changes values of items:

Even as we sat watching the sunset, somewhere a lamp was turning into an antique somewhere a sofa was converting from bad taste to good taste.

It also changes what people value:

A lot of people seemed to like to go to the New York Public Library, establish themselves at a desk surrounded by books, and spend all afternoon stroking their smartphones.


Stonecipher takes the reader on a journey from Persian carpets, to the (loosely translated) Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, and Snow.  Between each section is are two short poems call “Landscape” and “Portrait” which offer a view of art from the past and waste from the present.  A stark contrast between the past and present.  The past and present and people and things come together to compliment and contract each other. An enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of modern poetry.

Available September 10, 2018

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Book Review — Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf & the Bloomsbury Group


Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf & the Bloomsbury Group by Amy Licence concern the interrelationships of the Bloomsbury Group members. Licence is a journalist, author, historian, and teacher, currently living in Canterbury, Kent, UK. Other interests include the Bloomsbury Group and Modernism, specifically the Post-Impressionists and Cubism.

What separates this book from most books on Virginia Woolf is that she is the linchpin of the group. Although her affairs were limited to Sackville-West and flirtations with Clive Bell other members had more and varied relationships. Woolf and Bell seem to be more of a competition with her very close sister Vanessa. Vanessa left Virginia for Bell and Virginia was acting in more of a vengeful manner. Woolf does serve as the common link to the Bloomsbury members Clive Bell, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keyes, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Dora Carrington, and Leonard Woolf.

The public image was important, but private matters tended to be kept private. Marriages were made for convenience. Marriage allowed homosexual men a public front for their private lives. It also gave the wife security and freedom to work in arts and literature. Vanessa Bell has a much more active role in the relationships of the period. Her marriage out of love allowed her to develop her art and when the love faded allowed her to enter into other relationships. It may have been shocking at the time, but today it seems rather mild.

It is not only the relationships of the time that could have caused scandal, but it was also the art and literature of the time. In literature, modernism was changing the novel. In art, post-impressionism and cubism were shaking up the art world and in some sense creating a scandal in itself. For those who have read Woolf’s diaries or letters, this work has a wider scope as other points of view are given as well as the state of the arts. The inclusion of Keyes shows how economic theory was changing too. The world was changing and the center of change, in England, seemed to be the Bloomsbury Group. An interesting history and biography of Bloomsbury’s fascinating members.

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