Bloomsbury and "The Vulgar Passions"

Critical Inquiry 6 (2):239-256 (1979)

As I see it, the historic role of literary Bloomsbury was to act as a sort of check or antibody continually attacking the proponents of the vulgar passions in the body politic whenever these menaced the traditional values of liberal England. In a democracy and perhaps in any modern state there is always a danger that men seeking power will rely upon the feelings rather than the intelligence of the masses. Such appeals to the vulgar passions represent a continual danger; fight on till the Huns are smashed, squeeze Germany until the pips squeak, woman's place is in the home, stamp out dirty unnatural vice, keep the black man in his place—exhortations of this kind can be terribly effective. Against them, or most of them, one may oppose the arguments of the Sermon on the Mount: love your enemies, all men are brothers. This Bloomsbury did not do; it had no use either for the hero or for the saint. In its polemics it appeals to good sense and good feeling and relies upon the belief that ultimately the reasoned argument will prevail. Quentin Bell is the author of, among other works, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Bloomsbury, Ruskin, and On Human Finery. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Art and the Elite" and exchanges with E. H. Gombrich and James Ackerman
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DOI 10.1086/448045
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