Information

Julian Heward Bell


Julian Heward Bell, the son of Clive Heward Bell (1881–1964) and Vanessa Bell, the sister of Virginia Woolf, was born on 4th February 1908 at 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London. He spent most of his childhood at the family home of Charleston, Sussex.

Bell was educated at Leighton Park School, a Quaker institution, and at King's College, Cambridge (1927–34). While at university, he contributed to The Venture, and was a member of the Cambridge Apostles. Other members of this group included John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, G.E. Moore and Rupert Brooke. Dr. Kenneth Sinclair-Loutit met Bell when he was at university. "Julian had asked me if I had been one of the elect, but my exclusion did not stop us having many very Apostolic discussions."

His first book of poems, Winter Movement (1930), sold poorly but received some good reviews. Bell's poem, Arms and the Man, appeared alongside those of William Empson, W. H. Auden, and Stephen Spender in New Signatures (1932). Bell, who was a socialist, was critical of the communism of Auden and Spender. He once wrote that "we are all Marxists now" but considered it a "dismal religion".

In 1935 Bell accepted the position of professor of English at the University of Wuhan in China. The following year Bell published his book of poems, Works for Winter. He also wrote an introduction to the anti-war book, We Did Not Fight: 1914-18 (1935). The book included contributions from Siegfried Sassoon, Richard Sheppard, Bertrand Russell, Norman Angell, Harry Pollitt and James Maxton.

In an article in the Times Literary Supplement he explained his political views: "Like nearly all the intellectuals of this generation, we are fundamentally political in thought and action: this more than anything else marks the difference between us and our elders. Being socialist for us means being rationalist, common-sense, empirical; means a very firm extrovert, practical, commonplace sense of exterior reality."

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Bell decided that he must contribute to the war against fascism. His parents, Clive Bell and Vanessa Bell, tried to persuade him not to go. So did his friends. David Garnett later recalled how he went to Charleston "to try to persuade him that he would be far better employed in helping to prepare for inevitable war against Hitler than in risking his life in Spain where he could take no effective or important part." Virginia Woolf arranged for Bell to meet Kingsley Martin and Stephen Spender, as they both had unpleasant experiences in Spain during the early stages of the war.

E. M. Forster also tried to convince him that it would be an immoral act to take part in a war. Bell defended his decision by claiming that he was no longer a pacifist. However, after pleading from his mother, he agreed that he would go to Spain, not as a soldier in the International Brigades but as an ambulance driver with the British Medical Aid Unit.

Bell left for Spain on 6th June 1937. Kenneth Sinclair-Loutit, who was head of the unit, later wrote: "Though Julian had great worldly experience, he had retained a capacity for wonder, an innocence, a candour, and a ceaseless zest for activity. All this made him magically attractive. Though he detested the heartless destruction of war, it did not make him afraid. He was consistently courageous."

Bell worked under Richard Rees who had joined as an ambulance driver soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He wrote to Vanessa Bell on 1st July that he and Rees had been "evacuating badly wounded patients to a rear hospital about a hundred miles off." He added: "I do think I'm being of real use as a driver, in that I'm careful and responsible and work on my car - a Chevrolet ambulance... Most of our drivers are wreckers, neglect all sorts of precautions like oiling and greasing, over speed etc."

Bell also told his mother that: "There is a sudden crisis here - at last - and rumours of an attack." This was the offensive at Brunete. The Popular Front government launched a major offensive on 6th July in an attempt to relieve the threat to Madrid. General Vicente Rojo sent the International Brigades to Brunete, challenging Nationalist control of the western approaches to the capital. The 80,000 Republican soldiers made good early progress but they were brought to a halt when General Francisco Franco brought up his reserves. Fighting in hot summer weather, the Internationals suffered heavy losses.

As the authors of Journey to the Frontier (1966) have pointed out: "Julian was now as much in the thick of things as he could have hoped: at last he was having his experience of war. Admittedly he was a non-combatant, but in the Brunete campaign the ambulance driver was as exposed to danger as the soldier; the job to be done demanded strength, endurance, resourcefulness and courage. If Julian was denied the satisfaction of bearing arms, he was granted the satisfaction, denied to the ordinary soldier, of knowing that what he was doing was actually useful... At night whole square kilometres of earth would go up in flame." Ambulance drivers were only seldom able to take advantage of the "illusory safety of trenches and dug outs", and casualties among them were heavy: by the end of the three weeks' Brunete campaign, one half of the British Medical Unit had been killed."

Bell worked with, Dr. Archie Cochrane, an old friend from King's College. His fellow ambulance driver, Richard Rees, claimed that Bell "was having the most wonderful time of his life". He appeared to find the danger of his actions exciting. When his ambulance was destroyed by a bomb on 15th July, he volunteered to go to the front as a stretcher-bearer.

On the 18th July, the British Medical Unit received a replacement vehicle for Bell. Later that day he was driving his ambulance along the road outside Villanueva de la Cañada when it was hit by a bomb dropped by a Nationalist pilot. Kenneth Sinclair-Loutit recalled in his autobiography, Very Little Luggage: "It was on the 18th of July 1937 that the Luftwaffe bombed the spot where Julian was repairing the road for his Ambulance to move forward. He had a massive lung wound; his case was beyond hope but he came back in time for us to be able to make his end comfortable."

Bell was taken to the military hospital at El Escorial near Madrid. Archie Cochrane was the doctor who treated him in the receiving-room. As soon as he examined him, he realized that he had been mortally wounded; a shell fragment had penetrated deep in his chest. Bell was still conscious and murmured to Cochrane: "Well, I always wanted a mistress and a chance to go to war, and now I've had both." He then fell into a coma from which he never awakened. Richard Rees saw him in the mortuary. He later recalled: "He looked very pale and clean, almost marble-like. Very calm and peaceful, almost as if he had fallen asleep when very cold."

In the Cambridge that I first knew, in 1929 and 1930, the central subject of ordinary intelligent conversation was poetry. As far as I can remember we hardly ever talked or thought about politics. For one thing, we almost all of us had implicit confidence in Maynard Keynes's rosy prophecies of continually increasing capitalist prosperity. Only the secondary problems, such as birth control, seemed to need the intervention of the intellectuals.

By the end of 1933, we have arrived at a situation in which almost the only subject of discussion is contemporary politics, and in which a very large majority of the more intelligent undergraduates are Communists, or almost Communists. As far as an interest in literature continues it has very largely changed its character, and become an ally of Communism under the influence of Mr Auden's Oxford Group. Indeed, it might, with some plausibility, be argued that Communism in England is at present very largely a literary phenomenon-an attempt of a second "post-war generation" to escape from the Waste Land.

Certainly it would be a mistake to take it too seriously, or to neglect the very large element of rather neurotic personal salvationism in our brand of Communism. It is only too easy to point to the remarkable resemblances between Communism and Buchmanism, the way in which both are used to satisfy the need of some individuals for communion with a group, and the need for some outlet for enthusiasm. Our generation seems to be repeating the experience of Rupert Brooke's, the appearance of a need for "the moral equivalent of war" among a large number of the members of the leisured and educated classes. And Communism provides the activity, the sense of common effort, and something of the hysteria of war.

But this is only one side of the picture. If Communism makes many of its converts among the "emotionals", it appeals almost as strongly to minds a great deal harder. It is not so much that we are all Socialists now as that we are all Marxists now. The burning questions for us are questions of tactics and method, and of our own place in a Socialist State and a Socialist revolution. It would be difficult to find anyone of any intellectual pretensions who would not accept the general Marxist analysis of the present crises. There is a general feeling, which perhaps has something to do with the prevalent hysterical enthusiasm, that we are personally and individually involved in the crisis, and that our business is rather to find the least evil course of action that will solve our immediate problems than to argue about rival Utopias.

Like nearly all the intellectuals of this generation, we are fundamentally political in thought and action: this more than anything else marks the difference between us and our elders. Being socialist for us means being rationalist, common-sense, empirical; means a very firm extrovert, practical, commonplace sense of exterior reality... We think of the world first and foremost as the place where other people live, as the scene of crisis and poverty, the probable scene of revolution and war.

I'm getting rather obsessed about war, with a very ambivalent attitude. All my instincts make me want to be a soldier; all my intelligence is against it. I have rather nightmares of "the masses" trying a rising or a civil war and getting beaten-being wasted on impossible attacks by civilian enthusiasts, or crowds being machine-gunned by aeroplanes in the streets... No doubt it's better for one's soul to fight than surrender, but otherwise... One feels that a battlefield's a nicer place to die than a torture chamber, but probably there's not really so much difference, and at least fewer people suffer from the terror than would in a war. Oh, I don't know - personally I'd be for war every time, however hopeless. But that's only a personal feeling.

Mrs Woolf was told by Vanessa that the crucial factor in bringing Julian round to a compromise had been some letters he was shown describing the plight of a young English Communist in the International Brigade. The young man in question, who had gone out impulsively to Spain, was appalled by the horrors of the battlefield, and disillusioned by the strict military discipline that was imposed by the Communist leadership of the Brigade. It seems highly unlikely that Julian was influenced in any significant degree by this correspondence, no matter what his mother chose to believe. His own decision to go out to Spain was in no sense unpremeditated; he took a hard-headed view of death and suffering as the necessary evils of war; as an admirer of the "military virtues", and as a serious student of military affairs, he would entertain no idealistic notion of a peoples' army free of rank and discipline. One can only conclude that, as a kindness to his mother, he allowed her to think that he was making this compromise not simply as a concession to her fears for his safety, but for other reasons as well.

Why had the discussions with his mother, to whom he would listen with more respect and love than to any other person, led only to this compromise which fell far short of satisfying her wishes? (True, he was not to bear arms, but he was still going to Spain, he would be on the battlefields, he would be exposed to danger.) Chiefly, it would appear, because he had made a commitment to himself to go, which he refused to break. It was his obligation and test, he felt, to prove himself to himself, as a significant member of his generation who could make a contribution of example, experience and knowledge, rather than languish in a backwater, whether in London or China, as a mere second-generation and second-rate Bloomsburian.

His determination seemed to Mrs Woolf evidence of how he had changed, but determination was not really a new aspect of Julian's character. It was simply that now, for the first time, with absolute seriousness, he had fixed on something to be determined about.

Julian Bell joined us at this point; we had both known somehow that the other existed. Julian had enormous energy; he had come up to Cambridge in 1927 and had been an Apostle into which grouping (unlike my half-brother Austin) I had not been deemed worthy of the call. Julian had asked me if I had been one of the elect, but my exclusion did not stop us having many very Apostolic discussions. He was profoundly anti-fascist but not Marxist in any organised or orthodox sense. He had been deeply influenced by his time in China. He felt that England needed a dose of Confucius. There was plenty of Right Thinking, he said, a fair amount of Right Talking, rather less Right Writing and far too little Right Action. Unless these unities were manifested, man's intellectual life became a bundle of meaningless contradictions. Since I had arrived at much the same conclusion (without going to China), we got on very well indeed.

Though Julian had great worldly experience, he had retained a capacity for wonder, an innocence, a candour, and a ceaseless zest for activity. He was consistently courageous.

I do think I'm being of real use as a driver, in that I'm careful and responsible and work on my car - a Chevrolet ambulance.. Most of our drivers are wreckers, neglect all sorts of precautions like oiling and greasing, over speed etc. Any really good and careful drivers out here would be really valuable.

The other odd element is the Charlestonian one of improvising materials - a bit of carpet to mend a stretcher, e.g. - in which I find myself at home.

Julian was now as much in the thick of things as he could have hoped: at last he was having his experience of war. If Julian was denied the satisfaction of bearing arms, he was granted the satisfaction, denied to the ordinary soldier, of knowing that what he was doing was actually useful. The amateurishness, confusion and contentiousness that seem to have marked much of the military action throughout the war were not unknown in the Medical Aid service, but proved of less moment there once an action had begun. Unlike the ordinary soldier who waits for the orders of his superior officers, who wait for the orders of theirs, and so upward, as in the instance of the Brunete campaign, to the very highest political and military levels, the ambulance driver has a clear-cut idea of what he must do, and his is the responsibility for getting it done. It is an aspect of war where initiative and a talent for improvisation particularly count. In the circumstances, Julian thrived.

The medical unit established a kind of sub-headquarters for ambulances among the olive trees outside Villanueva de la Canada. When rebel planes flew over, strafing or dropping bombs, the drivers took shelter in the trenches that the Fascist troops had dug and abandoned on the second day of the battle. It was there too that they would try to sleep at such odd, infrequent off duty moments as came their way. They were continually on the move, driving out to the various first-aid stations along the front to collect the wounded, and returning with them to the hospitals at the Escorial, while day after day, night after night, the battle continued. By day, "villages, towns and fields were sprayed with steel from planes, guns and machine guns. At night whole square kilometres of earth would go up in flame." Ambulance drivers were only seldom able to take advantage of the "illusory safety of trenches and dug outs", and casualties among them were heavy: by the end of the three weeks' Brunete campaign, one half of the British Medical Unit had been killed.

The battle for Brunete went on and on; we won 75 square kilometers at the price of 25,000 dead (to be fair the Franco losses of 10,000 should be added which makes the price in human lives 35,000). This meant that every one hundred paces of our advance had been bought with the lives of four men. One of those lives was that of Julian Bell. Dying in the bed next to him was a young Hamburger whose last message of love to his family I took down and sent back to Nazi Germany by the Rote Hilfes underground mail. Julian drifted out of this world quietly, on the edge of coma since admission. It was on the 18th of July 1937 that the Luftwaffe bombed the spot where Julian was repairing the road for his Ambulance to move forward. He had a massive lung wound; his case was beyond hope but he came back in time for us to be able to make his end comfortable. Dr D'Arcy Hart (no relation of Tudor Hart), a most distinguished lung specialist, was with us as Julian came in, so quite literally everything possible was done to save him.

Saxton's most famous patient was Julian Bell, son of the artist Vanessa Bell. This was at Villanueva de la Canada near the Escorial when the ambulance Bell drove came under attack by Nationalist bomber aircraft. Saxton had already noted how they were repeatedly attacked - bombed or strafed by fighter planes, often German or Italian. Bell sought shelter beneath the ambulance but a vast piece of shrapnel hit him in the chest, causing a terrible wound. He was brought into the clearing station and seen by Archibald Cochrane (then a medical student, but later the Professor at Cardiff after whom the Cochrane Library of medicine databases is named), who triaged him to hopelessly wounded.

Cochrane indicated to the orderlies to put him to one side. But he suddenly recognised the human face beyond the wound. Saxton was called, and the brilliant Spanish surgeon Moisés Broggi i Vallés, who examined him and retrieved from the gaping chest wound his wallet and passport which had been blown into the cavity. "His heart was visible through the wound," Saxton remembered: "I gave him a blood transfusion and dressed him again. But we realised we had to let him die and he died that night. When he saw me all he said was, 'Thank goodness it's you.' And I gave him morphine."


Biography

Julian Heward Bell (4 February 1908 – 18 July 1937) was an English poet, and the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell (who was the elder sister of Virginia Woolf). The writer Quentin Bell was his younger brother, and the writer and painter Angelica Garnett was his half-sister. His relationship with his mother is explored in Susan Sellers' novel Vanessa and Virginia.

He was brought up mainly at Charleston, Sussex. He was educated at Leighton Park School and King's College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Apostles. He was a friend of some of the Cambridge Five, and sometimes claimed as Anthony Blunt's lover. (In the BBC dramatisation Cambridge Spies he appears as Guy Burgess's lover.) After graduating he worked towards a college fellowship, without success.

In 1935 he went to China, to a position teaching English at Wuhan University. He wrote letters describing his relationship with a married lover, K. the identity of this woman became a sensitive issue when the Chinese-British novelist Hong Ying published a fictionalized account, K: The Art of Love in 1999. After a 2002 ruling by a Chinese court that the book was 'defamation of the dead', the author rewrote the book, which was published in 2003 under the title The English Lover.

In 1937 Bell took part in the Spanish Civil War, as an ambulance driver on the Republican side. His motive for going to Spain was a general sympathy for the cause of the Spanish Republic, plus "the usefulness of war experience in the future and the prestige one would gain in literature and - even more - Left politics". After being just a month in Spain he was killed in the battle at Brunete, aged 29. He was hit by bomb fragments whilst driving an ambulance.

Quentin Bell's son, Julian's nephew, is also named Julian Bell. He is the author of Mirror of the World: A New History of Art (2007).


Catalogue description The Papers of Julian Heward Bell

This collection comprises essays, reviews, poetry, plays and correspondence written by Julian Bell, as well as secondary material that is, correspondence, printed obituaries and news cuttings assembled since Julian Bell's death by Quentin Bell.

For further papers of Julian Bell held by King's College, see the catalogue of the Charleston Papers (CHA), particularly for many letters between Julian and Vanessa Bell dated 1916-37. See also the catalogues of the Roger Fry Papers (REF) and the John Maynard Keynes Papers (JMK). Additional material is held among the Miscellaneous Papers, including items listed under the names of Harold Barger (MISC 21/36), Margery Fry (MISC 79/6), David Garnett (MISC 82/10), Sir Edward Playfair (MISC 82/2-9) and Helen Soutar (MISC 81/6-7).

Bell, Julian Heward, 1908-1937, writer

Copyright in Julian Bell's writings is held by Anne Olivier Bell. All enquiries concerning permission to quote in print from the writings of Julian Bell should be addressed to The Society of Authors, who are licenced to act on her behalf. For further information, please contact the Archivist.

The majority of the papers of Julian Bell were presented to King's College Library in October 1985 by Professor Quentin Bell. The letters from Julian Bell to Vanessa Bell dated 1935, sent via Sir Edward Playfair, and the short stories by Ling Hsu Hua with a covering letter from R.A. Scott-James dated 1936, were given by Professor Bell in November 1992.

The biographical information above has been taken from A. and V. Palmer, 'Who's Who in Bloomsbury' (Brighton: Harvester, 1987), pp. 10-12, as well as the 'Annual Report of the Council, King's College Cambridge' (November 1937), pp. 7-8.

For further biographical details, the reader is referred to the following published works, copies of which are available in the Modern Archive Centre: Quentin Bell, 'Julian Bell: Essays, Poems and Letters' (London: Hogarth Press, 1938) and Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, 'Journey to the Frontier: Julian Bell & John Cornford, their Lives and the 1930s' (London: Constable, 1966).

A full catalogue is available on the College web site, and in hard copy in the Archive Centre.

Julian Heward Bell, the eldest son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, was born in 1908. The young Bell spent his first years in Bloomsbury, with the occasional sojourn - especially during the summers - to Charleston in Sussex. From his parents he learned about the classics, modern literature, history, astrology and geology, while he learned some science from David Garnett.

The boy began attending Leighton Park school in 1922, later spent a year in Paris and came up to King's College, Cambridge in 1927. At university he explored his interest in poetry and politics, studying both English and History. He also became a member of the Apostles and wrote for literary magazines, especially 'The Venture'. Near the end of his university career Bell published his first book of poems, 'Winter Movement' (1930), but its reception, if good, was not particularly enthusiastic.

The following four years were devoted to research on two dissertations, one concerning Pope's poetry and the other concerning applications of ethics to aesthetics and politics. Neither gained Bell the fellowship he sought, however, and in 1935 he went to China as a Professor of English at the National University of Wuhan. The war in Spain drew him back to Europe in 1937, where he intended immediately to join the Republican army. He was persuaded to visit his mother first, however, and to spare her feelings - as well as to assauge her pacifist priniciples - he agreed to join the British Medical Unit in Spain as a lorry driver instead. He was killed while driving at the battle of Brunete on 18 July 1937.


Bell, Julian Heward (1908 - 1937)

Julian Heward Bell was born on 4 February 1908 to (Arthur) Clive Heward Bell (art critic and historian) and Vanessa Bell (artist, sister of Virginia Woolf). Growing up, Bell was surrounded by many of the important Bloomsbury figures. He received his education at Leighton Park School, and later at King's College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, his first book of poems Winter Movement (1930) was published. It was well received and was even compared to W. H. Auden's Poems, which was published in the same year. Despite the relative success of this collection and those which followed, Bell could not adequately fit in at either Cambridge or the Bloomsbury group into which he was born. His thesis was rejected despite the fact that Roger Fry, a close family friend, was one of its readers. In 1935 Bell accepted a position at the University of Wuhan, China. He returned before his contract was completed because like many other young intellectuals of his day, he was drawn to the conflict of the Spanish War and to the ideological stance taken by the side of the government. Due to the pacifist leanings of his family, Bell chose to enroll as an ambulance driver with the Spanish Medical Aid. He was wounded at Villanueva de la Cañada in the battle of Brunete on 18 July 1937 and taken to a military hospital where he died later that day.


Julian Bell

Snapshot of Julian Bell and Elizabeth Watson at Charleston Public Domain (Wikimedia) Julian Heward Bell National Portrait Gallery

Biography

Julian Bell (1908-1937) was the elder son of Vanessa and Clive Bell and the nephew of Virginia Woolf. As such he literally grew up at the very heart of Bloomsbury. He was part of the second generation, rather than the original nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group: Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry and E.M. Forster. His mother was devoted to him and the closest emotional relationship of his life was with her. His father rather resented the attention Vanessa lavished on him and it launched him into his ill-considered flirtation with Virginia. From then on, he and Vanessa were apart most of the time, he with mistresses and she, after an intense affair with Roger Fry, in a long-term relationship with the homosexual Duncan Grant, who was the father of her third child, Angelica. Julian had a wonderful childhood, the best part being at his mother’s and Duncan’s country home, Charleston, with Virginia and Leonard nearby in Monk’s House in Rodmell, both in the lovely Sussex countryside. He attended the Quaker boarding school, Leighton Park, and then went up to the Bloomsbury College, not his father’s Trinity, but King’s in Cambridge.

Julian had a difficult relationship with Bloomsbury. He loved its members and was happy with the stimulation and advantages knowing them provided. Yet he also wanted to be his own person, which he did by becoming a not particularly modern poet. Some of the members of Bloomsbury had written an occasional poem and T.S. Eliot was a good friend of the group, but it did not have a writer who was primarily a poet. He blossomed quite young, writing primarily but not exclusively about nature, but he was also very fond of the more didactic and witty verse of the 18 th century. He was at the center of the intense poetry scene in Cambridge, editing The Venture, and being friends with his fellow poets, primarily John Lehmann but also to a far lesser degree William Empson, closely involved with the more modernist Cambridge periodical, Experiment. His aunt and uncle had founded the Hogarth Press in 1917 and published in 1929 and 1930 two short collections, Cambridge Poetry, that included many Cambridge poets, few of whom are remembered today. But in terms of the history of the Hogarth Press and modern literature a crucial event was that John Lehmann, because of his close friendship with Julian, came to work at the Hogarth Press in 1931. He was very important in making it a major publisher of the iconic writers of the 1930s. Most notable was New Signatures in 1932, edited by Michael Roberts and including poems not only by Julian but also a roll call of eminence: W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, C. Day Lewis, and William Empson, constituting an announcement that the 1930s had arrived. It created something of a sensation. Hence, because of Julian and John Lehmann, the Hogarth Press played a central role in the most advanced writing of the decade, despite Virginia’s somewhat ambiguous feelings about their work, as expressed in her Hogarth Press pamphlet A Letter to a Young Poet, published that same year. Virginia herself was a central figure for modernist writings but in quite a different way.

Julian had published his first book of poetry, Winter Movement, while still at Cambridge, but perhaps as a sign of independence or perhaps because the Woolfs were not that enthusiastic about his poems not with the Hogarth Press but with Chatto & Windus. He did publish his second book of poetry, Work for the Winter and other poems, with Hogarth in 1936. At the time of its publication, he was teaching English literature at Wuhan University in China. He would return to Europe to participate in the Spanish Civil War as an ambulance driver he was tragically killed on July 18, 1937. His last Hogarth book in 1938 was his memorial volume, edited by his brother Quentin, containing some of his letters from China, some of his poems and essays, and memoirs of him. Through his family, his circle, and his literary activities at Cambridge, he had a very close connection with modernist writings although he himself stood in a very interesting and somewhat tangential relationship to the modernist enterprise.

Further Reading

Laurence, Patricia. Lily Briscoe's Chinese Eyes: Bloomsbury, Modernism, and China. University of South Carolina Press, 2013.

Laurence, Patricia. Julian Bell, the Violent Pacifist. Cecil Woolf, London, 2006.

Stansky, Peter and William Abrahams. Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil War. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2012


Julian Bell British Poet

According to our records, Julian Bell is possibly single.

Relationships

Julian Bell was in a relationship with Ling Shuhua (1935 - 1937) .

Julian Bell had an encounter with Anthony Blunt.

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Julian Bell is a member of the following lists: 1908 births, English poets and English socialists.

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Details

First Name Julian
Middle Name Heward
Last Name Bell
Full Name at Birth Julian Heward Bell
Alternative Name Julian Heward Bell, Julian Bell
Birthday 4th February, 1908
Birthplace St Pancras, London, England
Died 18th July, 1937
Place of Death Brunete, Spain
Cause of Death War victim (died in the Spanish Civil War)
Build Athletic
Zodiac Sign Aquarius
Sexuality Bisexual
Ethnicity White
Nationality British
Occupation Text Poet, author, pacifist, ambulance driver
Occupation Poet

Julian Heward Bell (4 February 1908 – 18 July 1937) was an English poet, and the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell (who was the elder sister of Virginia Woolf). The writer Quentin Bell was his younger brother and the writer and painter Angelica Garnett was his half-sister. His relationship with his mother is explored in Susan Sellers' novel Vanessa and Virginia.


34 - JULIAN BELL

Julian Heward Bell was born in 1908, son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, grandson of Leslie Stephen, nephew of Virginia Woolf, first cousin once removed of ‘J. K. S.’ and H. A. L. Fisher. As he wrote himself in a poem ‘Autobiography’:

I stay myself—the product made

By several hundred English years,

Of harried labourers underpaid,

Of Venns who plied the parson's trade,

Of regicides, of Clapham sects,

Of high Victorian intellects,

He was at school at Leighton Park, was placed in the first division of the second class in the History Tripos of 1929 and the English Tripos of 1930, and held the Reginald John Smith Studentship in 1930 and the Augustus Austen Leigh Studentship in 1931. The four years after taking his degree were occupied in working for a fellowship, first of all with a dissertation on Pope's poetry and afterwards with one on some applications of Ethics to Aesthetics and Politics. In 1935 he was appointed Professor of English in the Chinese University of Hankow. The scrappy and belated news, which reached him, of events in Spain made him impatient to get home. He returned in 1937 eager to be of any use to the Government cause in Spain, revisited Cambridge and, in spite of efforts to dissuade him, joined the British Medical Unit in Spain as a lorry-driver. He was killed by a bomb from an insurgent aeroplane whilst driving his ambulance on the Brunete front on 18 July 1937.


Mary Ruth Brooke

Mother of Rupert Brooke (1887-1915, KC 1906)

Mary Ruth Brooke was the daughter of Charles Cotterill, who preached in Stoke-on-Trent. Her brother was Charles Clement Cotterill, master of Glencorse house, at Fettes School. It was there that she became a matron and met William Parker Brooke, whom she married and with whom she moved to Rugby.

In his letters home, Rupert always called Mary Ruth Brooke &lsquomother&rsquo but among friends he called her &lsquoRanee&rsquo. At King&rsquos, Rupert joined a secret society called the Apostles. Around the time of Rupert Brooke&rsquos election, Lytton Strachey started calling Rupert &lsquoSarawak&rsquo. There had been some talk of him being related to the Rajah of Sarawak. Although that rumour was not confirmed, upon hearing this nickname, Rupert decided that he should refer to his mother as &lsquoRanee&rsquo.

Mary Ruth Brooke was supportive of Rupert&rsquos poetry. She had one of his early poems, &lsquoThe Pyramids&rsquo, printed and in January 1912 Rupert described her &lsquopushing my book in the English portions of Cannes&rsquo (letter to 'Ka' Cox).

One might consider her to have been rather conservative and a dominant presence in Rupert Brooke&rsquos life. He rebelled against this, if somewhat mildly, through small gestures like pretending he only had one tie, knowing that she disapproved of it. She appears to have got on with &lsquoKa&rsquo Cox, with whom Rupert had perhaps his closest relationship, but he didn&rsquot discuss his now famous love life with his mother. He had a good sense of what he could share with her and what he ought not to discuss, for example, he didn&rsquot want her to know that Hilaire Belloc had been drunk when Rupert met him (see letters to Francis MacCunn and Mary Ruth Brooke, written in 1907).

A breakdown which Rupert suffered in 1912, at which time he was in a somewhat troubled relationship with &lsquoKa&rsquo Cox, led to some tension in Rupert&rsquos other relationships, not least with his mother.

As he grew up, Rupert started to find it difficult to spend long periods of time with his mother (&lsquoa month with the Ranee nearly finished me&rsquo, letter to John Maynard Keynes, dated 10 April 1912) however, he still wrote to his friend Edward Marsh that he had a &lsquowarmth for the Ranee&rsquo (letter dated 24 May [1914]).

Rupert tended to write rather long letters, especially to &lsquoKa&rsquo Cox, so in some cases, only the relevant sections are shown below.


Julian Bell: Spanish Bombs

There is no poet, outside his poetry. Never. Other voices, other incarnations may exist alongside the poet, in conflict with him, but the poet without his flesh, the flesh of his poetry, does not exist. And so his existence is not real not composed of biographical facts. Facts are alien to poetry. And what transcends a poem is its own life, one that is new and different and almost without certainty. It is a sign. No biographical information alone can explain the poem’s existence, unless it too is of poetic fact.

Julian Bell, therefore, is a non-existent poet determined to disappear, to erase his poetic persona through the power of biography, following in the footsteps of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors like the wild Lord Byron.

Julian Heward Bell was born on 4th February 1908 in Bloomsbury, London, the son of Clive Heward Bell and Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf. He was named after his uncle, who had died in Greece aged 26. An ill omen, perhaps? A curse?

At the age of seventeen, before starting university, he was sent by his father, a lifelong Francophile, to Paris, no doubt with the hope that the young Julian would receive the same kind of cosmopolitan education that his father had enjoyed in his youth

He grew up in rural Sussex, with his brother Clive. At the age of seventeen, before starting university, he was sent by his father, a lifelong Francophile, to Paris, no doubt with the hope that the young Julian would receive the same kind of cosmopolitan education that his father had enjoyed in his youth. At the suggestion of a family friend, nephew of the painter Renoir, Julian was sent to Monsieur Pinault’s school, as well as sitting in on classes as a visiting student at the Sorbonne. But none of this could turn him into the worldly socialite that his father wanted. Nevertheless, it was through his long conversations with Pinault that he discovered the pleasure of literary and political debate. He read Voltaire, Racine and Anatole France. Pinault described himself as “a communist”, but it seems that this was more out of a desire to shock than from any real conviction. Even so, his time with Pinault strengthened Bell’s theoretical socialist convictions far more than staying in England could have done. Paris, and above all Maupassant, had made a poet and a politician out of him.

On his return he went up to King’s College, Cambridge where he became a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society founded in 1820 that fostered intellectual debate. It was during his time in Cambridge he published his first book, Winter Movement (1930). It was well-received, and Bell was even compared with W.H. Auden, who had just published his Poems. He was described as a Romantic, both because of his themes and by opposition to the esoteric epic poetry still very much in favour in England at the time. Yet Julian was neither happy nor secure in his work. His technique was outdated and he didn’t know how to go about developing a new one, how to find his own voice.

His Aunt Virginia, mentor, friend and advisor, had detected this in these early poems and declared: “He is no poet ”

His Aunt Virginia, mentor, friend and advisor, had detected this in these early poems and declared: “He is no poet” (2). On the other hand, poets were somewhat rare in the Bloomsbury Set (3). Eliot would describe him as the poetic, political member of the group, despite the fact that he was already a fully formed author by the time he joined, at the end of the First World War.

It was also during his university days that he came into contact with the Cambridge Five, the circle of English spies recruited by the Soviet Union. Although it has never been proved that he was actively involved in the group, he did maintain close relations with two of its members: Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess. It was probably his growing political awareness that gradually separated him from his poetic vocation. This was a statement of independence both in his morals and from his family, a gesture of self-assertion in the face of bourgeois Bloomsbury and its political dilettantes.

In 1935 he travelled to China to take up a post as Professor of English at the University of Wuhan. Whilst there, he wrote a series of letters about his relationship with a married Chinese woman, identified only by her initials. In 1999 the writer Hong Yin wrote a novel based on these letters, entitled K:The Art of Love, which she was forced to rewrite after a court declared it defamatory, eventually publishing her work in 2003 under the title “The English Lover”. Bell did not finish his residency in China, as he decided to return to Europe to enlist in the International Brigades and fight in Spain. Ironically, it was in the same year, 1935, that he published the prologue to the anti-war book We Did Not Fight: 1914-1918 Experiences of War Resisters. The following year, he published a collection of poems entitled Work for the Winter (1936), which was to be his last work.

Various family members and friends discouraged Bell from enlisting: David Garnett, Kingsley Martin, Stephen Spender and E.M Forster were among those who attempted to dissuade him, suggesting that he join up as an ambulance driver for the British Medical Aid Unit instead. He had become the pacifist who went to war.

The boy had given way to the poet, and now the poet to the warrior, a tradition poetic in itself. He had no shortage of forebears, either British or Spanish: Jorge Manrique, Garcilaso, Francisco de Aldana, Miguel de Cervantes, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Henry Howard, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Wyatt, Lord Byron, to name but a few of the most celebrated.

Can we do justice to someone, to their life, by limiting it to a paragraph, to a moment, a decision, either rash or well considered?

Can we do justice to someone, to their life, by limiting it to a paragraph, to a moment, a decision, either rash or well considered? Is it cynical to speak of liberty, of life, in an obituary? In essence, what we have here is a question of Julian and his choice, what he considered to be action, the rupture with his bourgeois Bloomsbury dilettante past and transformation into a new man, magnificently alive and committed to the moment the anti-poet, his finest work.

Finally fully self-aware, in the heart of the action, Julian was happy like never before (4), something that was clear to his family and other members of his brigade. And so he was no longer a poet when, on the morning of 18th July 1937 at Villanueva de la Cañada (5), a piece of shrapnel, like a rotten apple, spelled a permanent end for his passport, and for his heart. Both were visible through the wound in his chest. There was nothing that could be done. In his own words “I always wanted a mistress and a chance to go to war, and now I’ve had both”. He died the same day at El Escorial, reciting Baudelaire (6) in French , after twelve hours of agony.

Is violent death the final and most emphatic poetic fact, when it is voluntarily accepted? Even when all poetic identity has been cast aside?

(1) Spanish Bombs: The title of a song by The Clash from the album ‘London Calling’, an homage to the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War.
(2) Extract from a letter published by The Paris Review.
(3) The name Bloomsbury set or group is usually referred to a group of British intellectuals during the first third of the twentieth century highlighted in the literary, artistic or social grounds. It is well appointed taking the name of the surrounding neighborhood of London and the British Museum where he lived most of their members.
(4) According to Richard Rees a fellow ambulance driver at the Battle of Brunete.
(5) The Battle of Brunete: a series of operations taking place from July 6th to the 25th, 1937, in this and other towns to the west of Madrid, as part of the Spanish Civil War.
(6) As reported by Archie Cochrane: doctor of the International Brigades who attended Julian Bell in El Escorial.

Bibliography:
Bell, Quentin (1996) “Bloomsbury Recalled”, New York: Colombia University Press. (Julian’s brother’s reflections on the literary world and social milieu of their family).
Laurence, Patricia (2006) “Julian Bell: The Violent Pacifist”, London: Cecil Woolf Publishers. (Part of the Bloomsbury Heritage Series, by a professor of English at City University, New York).
Palfreeman, Linda (2012) “¡Salud!: British volunteers in the Republican Medical Service during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939”, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
Stansky, Peter and Miller Abrahams, William (1994) “Journey to the Frontier: two roads to the Spanish Civil War”, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Stansky, Peter and Miller Abrahams, William (2012) “Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil War”, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.


Julian Bell was the eldest son of Arthur Clive Howard Bell (1881–1964) and Vanessa Stephen (1879–1961), and the nephew of Virginia Woolf . The writer Quentin Bell was his younger brother, the painter and writer Angelica Garnett was his half-sister. Together with his siblings, he grew up in the legendary Bloomsbury artist circle.

Julian Bell studied at Leighton Park School and King's College , Cambridge . There he became a communist under the influence of his friend Anthony Blunt (1907-1983) both were members of the Marxist- infiltrated secret society of the " Cambridge Apostles ". After graduation, Bell worked towards a college scholarship, but to no avail.

In 1935 the young poet traveled to China to attend the Wuhan University in the province of Hubei English literature to teach. In Wuhan , the womanizer began an affair with the writer Ling Shuhua (1900–1990), his dean's wife , who was also Bell's student.

In the early summer of 1937, Julian Bell traveled to Spain , where, like many other British and American intellectuals, he criticized his country's passive attitude in the face of the threat of fascism in Europe and Asia . As a compromise with his mother's pacifist stance and the pacifism of the Bloomsbury Group, he did not join the International Brigades as a combatant , but rather as a driver of an ambulance with the British unit, Spanish Medical Aid . Half of this unit was killed in the Battle of Brunete . Bell was hit by shrapnel that penetrated deep into the chest while helping repair a road under fire and refusing to take cover. He was taken to the Escorial Palace, which was then used as a hospital , where he died 6 hours later. His last words were: "I always wanted a lover and an opportunity to go to war: now I've had both."