England’s Edwardian Era is a fascinating one, indeed.
It succeeded the staid Victorian era and with the death of Victoria around the turn of the century, her aged son Edward VII ascended the throne and a whole new way of life for the English opened up.
Well, not for everybody, but for the upper class, who began to enjoy the wonders of electricity, motor cars and a less morally strict ethos.
It’s also known as the age of modernism, when writers like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf and Edith Sitwell held sway.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect and even the leaders of the movement had nasty things to say about their circles and the circles inhabited by their sometime compadres.
Poet Edith Sitwell said that the society of Bloomsbury was “the home of an echoing silence.
Some the more silent intellectuals, crouching under the umbrella like deceptive weight of their foreheads, lived their toadstool lives sheltered by these.
The appearance of others raised the conjecture that they were trying to be fetuses.”
Economist John Maynard Keynes, a Bloomsburyian himself wrote later that ‘We were in the strict sense of the stern immoralists….we recognized no moral obligation on us, no inner sanction to conform or obey.”
I dug those gems out of a new book, “Sidney and Violet,” by Stephen Klaidman (Nan Talese/Doubleday, $27.95).
This couple are largely forgotten these days but hung around with the best of them and wrote books much admired in their day.
Sidney Schiff, scion of a wealthy Jewish family in London, straddled the Victorian Age and the Edwardian and Klaidman does a fine job of depicting the amateur writer’s and professional gentleman’s ambivalence in a book that’s chockful of interesting commentary on trends of the period.
Sidney might be called a talented amateur, so gentlemanly that he wrote under the pseudonym “Stephen Hudson.
His wife Violet, also from a rich Jewish family, was a talented musician and hostess. What’s so amazing about this couple is how they survived with the modernists, who were notoriously anti-Semitic and as Keynes pointed out “immoralists.”
Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critic Circle. Phone him at 715-426-9554.