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Keynes, Bloomsbury and method.

[John Maynard Keynes] argued that for a subject like economics, a whole
spectrum of languages applies, running all the way from intuition and
poetry through lawyer-like arguments... to formal logic and
mathematics. All have roles to play, depending on what issues, or what
aspects of issues, are being analysed (Harcourt and Kriesler 2016, 19).

Political economy in the twentieth century reflects not only efforts to understand substantively the capitalist economies that had developed by then, but also methodological controversies that have always raged in the social sciences and humanities and which have fatefully influenced the knowledge in all spheres that has now been bequeathed to us.

1. Intellectual Climate

One of the most well-known opening sentences in Western literature is Tolstoy's, from Anna Karenina (1877). It is famous, though probably sociologically inaccurate. In any case, the sentiment resonates effectively in political economy, especially comparative political economy, where comparisons themselves yield new information (variations, rankings, correlations). If we re-imagine Tolstoy to be saying 'all happy economies are alike but each unhappy economy is unhappy in its own way', we can contemplate that economies in crisis are not abnormal and that further investigation of crisis conditions can be expected to expose some defining conditions of capitalism. Dysfunction is recurrent and unavoidable (for a modern statement, Halevi, Hart, and Kriesler 2013), though not type-distinguishing. Analysis of well-functioning economies becomes uninteresting because they are unreal abstractions; they exist only formally, in textbooks. Reality demands recognition of history, particularistic distinctiveness and political openness. And this messiness probably precludes reliable explanatory knowledge. In the long essay that comprises the second of two epilogues to War and peace, Tolstoy writes 'However accessible the chain of causes of any event, we will never know the entire chain, because it is endless, and again we will never get complete necessity' (1869, 1209). As we can never know everything about anything, empirical and historical and anti-formalist and inductive forms of enquiry typically claim more purchase than abstract and essentialist and formalist and deductive approaches.

Tolstoy occupies (perhaps too emphatically) one of the poles that define the search for knowledge, and the terrain of heterodox political economy with its still-unresolved debates, for example those unleashed by Marxism's propensity for abstraction, is complicit. Part of my purpose in this essay is to insert the contributions of Keynes and Bloomsbury into this controversy.

Conservative philosopher Isaiah Berlin proffered an elaboration in 'The hedgehog and the fox', his celebrated essay on Tolstoy's method in 1953. There he attempted to characterise the 'great chasm' between two types of knowledge--one, in which everything was related to a central coherent vision, the other, more experiential, contradictory, incomplete and varied. From this rift derive, respectively, the methodological contrasts between deductive and inductive enquiry.

Berlin accepts that Tolstoy's final position was nihilist and unduly pessimistic on the possibility of any social science. The characters in Anna Karenina express the anti-rationalist position in the same way: Anna speculates that 'Reason was given to us in order to rid ourselves of it' (1877, 766); while Levin eventually concludes that 'Knowledge cannot be explained by reason--it is outside it, and has no causes, and can have no consequences' (1877, 795). (1) Of course, distrust of rationalist understanding was not new at this time (Mini 1991, 8-33); but emphatic celebration of individuals' uncomprehending participation in historical events possibly was. Tolstoy, endorsing the fox's familiarity with many things, disdains the hedgehog's grand conceptions and abstractions and certainties, including materialist ones. Many of us probably remain uneasy about ceding to Tolstoy a final arbitral role in matters of methodology for social science, but we must acknowledge that discussion of such problems was ubiquitous in Keynes's formative years and, later, within his Bloomsbury circle (Dostaler 2007, 71).

Berlin's essay sees the divergence as associated with 'intellectual and artistic' distinctions:
Utterly unlike her as he is in almost every other respect, Tolstoy is,
perhaps, the first to propound the celebrated accusation which Virginia
Woolf half a century later levelled at the public prophets of her own
generation--Shaw and Wells and Arnold Bennett--blind materialists who
did not begin to understand what it is that life truly consists of, who
mistook its outer accidents, the unimportant aspects which lie outside
the individual soul--the so-called social, economic, political
realities--for that which alone is genuine, the individual experience,
the specific relation of individuals to one another, the colours,
smells, tastes, sounds and movements, the jealousies, loves, hatreds,
passions, the rare flashes of insight, the transforming moments, the
ordinary day-to-day succession of private data, which constitute all
there is--which are reality (1953, 451).

For her part, Woolf, in A room of one's own, from 1929, while seeming to admire Tolstoy's celebrations of 'infinite complexity' and 'different judgments' (1929, 99-100) ultimately remained unpersuaded of their integrity ('I have never known people behaving like that'). She had been in turn enthralled and repelled by Tolstoy (1925b, 231). Nonetheless, her own argument is constructed largely from observations there to be seen, even if they are often not observed, an argument sometimes presented as 'hidden in plain view' (Morson 1988).

Earlier, on reading Montaigne, Woolf had presaged a shared Bloomsbury discontent, noticing what may have stood for its licentious distinctiveness, and in the process establishing a methodological motif--'movement and change are the essence of our being; rigidity is death; conformity is death: let us say what comes into our heads, repeat ourselves, contradict ourselves, fling out the wildest nonsense, and follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world does or thinks or says' (1925a, 90). Hence, with enquiry into knowledge and meaning, she had concurred: the journey is everything, contemplation of destinations can be forestalled.

Political economists presumably always remain uneasy with Berlin's subjugation of 'social, political and economic realities' to unimportance; however some of Virginia Woolf's writing reveals that attention to the unimportant aspects of the world reflects not indifference to structure and abstraction, but a quest for additional knowledge which even irony and sarcasm (Vanessa Bell 1949, 332) can sometimes reveal. 'She smiles and mocks when she ought to be screaming and spitting', Quentin Bell noted when defending Virginia against angrier feminists (1995, 213). Her essay 'Street haunting' provides a revealing example. Unimportant objects 'perpetually express the oddity of our own temperaments'; at any moment, 'the army of human beings may arouse itself and assert all its oddities and sufferings and sordidities' (1927, 226, 228); a casual stroll around a city allows resourceful observers to access what else is there--including that which turns out to be unsettling, as Francis Spalding reminds us when considering Woolf s ambivalence about the London Underground beneath her (2014, 121). In some parts of social science, the same point is still being made, but in Virginia Woolf's case, the sense that some possibilities would always be closed emerged early (Vanessa Bell 1949, 334).

Keynes entered King's College (Cambridge University) in 1902 (aged 19). There, he met Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf and Clive Bell. The Bloomsbury group dates from 1904, when many of the Cambridge graduates, including some Apostles, moved to London and the four Stephen siblings--Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian--moved to the Bloomsbury district. Reflecting on the move, and the consolidation of a group identity by 1910, Virginia Stephen (she became Virginia Woolf in 1912) had declared that 'Everything was going to be new; everything was going to be different. Everything was on trial' (1922, 359). (2) Much later, as if to anticipate some of the features of abductive and intuitive reasoning, in comments on 'Cambridge's greatest son', Isaac Newton, Keynes proffered 'It was [Newton's] intuition which was pre-eminently extraordinary.... His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he already knew' (1942, 365-366). (3) Respect for 'direct unanalysable intuition' (1938, 437)--initially induction and analogy (Moggridge 1992, 152)--was absorbed early from G. E. Moore and recurs in heterodox enquiry generally, post-Keynesianism especially. In both, a role for rationality was recognised, though it would always be tempered in principle by caution and caveat, as demonstrated in Keynes's (1925) tribute to Marshall.

Keynes's reading had begun early. Nigel Davenport-Hines's recent 'biography' tells of the Keynes family listening to Florence Keynes's reading of Constance Garnett's--David Garnett's mother--translations of War and peace and Anna Karenina. (4) Along the way Keynes seems to have had little trouble developing a fondness for rhetorical flourishes: 'Words ought to be a little wild', he said in 1933 (Davenport-Hines 2015, 9, 85, 101; Milo Keynes 1975, 3).

A procedural penchant for trial and error is further evident in Keynes's essay 'On reading books' from 1936: here he reveals his lifelong respect for serious literature--against 'contemporary stuff, 'such heavy-going, such undigested, unenhanced, unintrinsic, unintuitive, such misunderstood, mishandled, misshapen, such muddled handling of human hopes and life; and without support from the convention and the tradition which in a great age of self-expression can make even the second-rate delightful.' His conclusion is surprisingly expansive: 'It leaves me with a strong desire and hope that we in this country may discover how to combine an unlimited readiness to experiment with changes in political and economic methods and institutions, whilst preserving traditionalism and a sort of careful conservatism' (1936, 290; see also Copland 1947, 214).

Keynes's comments on his own discipline (and on Alfred Marshall) indicate he had been considering issues of method for some time:
The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must
reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine
talents not often found together. He must be mathematician, historian,
statesman, philosopher--in some degree. He must understand symbols and
speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the
general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought.
He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of
the future. No part of man's nature or his institutions must lie
entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in
simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet
sometimes as near the earth as a politician (1925, 173-174).

Fortunately, this was a lesson easily assimilated by Keynes himself; few economists then or now cite Shakespeare when cautioning against uncertainty and under-development: 'For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still' (1930, 372).

Distinctive methodological perspectives seem to have been mutually imparted in Cambridge and Bloomsbury. Most contemporary Keynesians understand that the influence of the Cambridge milieu (the presuppositions of Harvey Road, respect for historical studies and a distinctive moral philosophy) were crucial in the subsequent direction of Keynes's economics and the latent radicalism in Keynesian economics and post-Keynesian political economy (Harcourt 1979, 391). Probably, this is most strongly stated in G. E. Moore's proselytising with the Apostles: he had enunciated a conception, engrained also in Keynes's mature thinking, of 'organic unity', that components of reality would not be as they were apart from their relationship to other components. Hence Moore, seeming to endorse Tolstoy's anti-systemic preferences, commented explicitly that abstraction could sometimes be quite illegitimate (1903, 15). Much resulting anti-formalist interdisciplinarity, now seen as central to post-Keynesian analysis, had been gestating as a mark of Bloomsbury thinking since the Cambridge years. Clive Bell's essay on Ibsen, for example, reiterated an equivalent lesson: people and situations attain distinctiveness only when problems (disturbances to normality) occur (1912, 184). For Keynes, 'The inevitable never happens. It is the unexpected always', he reportedly said in 1933 (Milo Keynes 1975, 3).

2. Forward-Thinking as a Vocation

Interdisciplinary themes, together with a sense of dissatisfaction, are invoked as well in Raymond Williams's popular essay on the Bloomsbury 'fraction':
It is understandable that anyone should turn and ask, rhetorically,
what connections there could ever be between Clive Bell on art, Keynes
on employment, or Virginia Woolf on fiction and Leonard Woolf on the
League of Nations, or Lytton Strachey on history and the Freudians on
psychoanalysis. It is true that we cannot put all this work together
and make it into a general theory. But of course that is the point. The
different positions which the Bloomsbury group assembled, and which
they effectively disseminated as the contents of the mind of a modern,
educated, civilized individual, are all in effect alternatives to a
general theory (1980, 187).

In this scepticism towards general knowledge, we again hear echoes of Tolstoy. Williams appears to regret the absence of an identifiable Weltanschauung among Bloomsbury writers and activists. But he might have added that these novelists and philosophers, artists and social scientists, politicians and policy-makers, musicians and social critics were bonded by a communicative temper--while alert to the possibility of setback and pusillanimity, and discrepant politics notwithstanding, they collectively encouraged forward-thinking as a vocation in the arts, science and policy-making.

Robert Skidelsky's massive 3-volume (and otherwise highly informative) biography, perhaps ungenerously, links the Bloomsbury credo (blasphemy and bawdiness) to the group's self-serving aloofness, and is certainly less sympathetic than Williams':
Bloomsberries were cultural and sexual revolutionaries. In other ways
they remained rooted in the assumptions of their times. Indeed, the
particular form of their 'revolt against the Victorians' depended on
other aspects of Victorian life remaining in place. Culture was not
regarded as a force to reshape social relations, but to reorient the
elite to 'what is good'. Bloomsbury was as hostile to any notion of
'proletarian culture' as it was to 'capitalist culture'. Both were
symptoms of a degraded industrial system. There was little desire in
Bloomsbury to make contact with the 'mass mind', little faith in the
possibility of a 'common culture'.... The cultural influence which
Bloomsbury eventually acquired was based on the clarity of vision of
its publicists and the mutually supporting achievements of its members'
(1983, 249-250).

Undeniably, there developed a playfulness, perhaps mischievousness, in Bloomsbury's worldview from the beginning. Keynes was certainly opportunistic regarding art purchases for himself (Bell and Nicholson 1997, 102). Many years later, Clive Bell understood this as integral to Keynes's project:
[Maynard] possessed that ingenuity which turns commonplaces into
paradoxes and paradoxes into truisms, which discovers--or
invents--similarities and differences, and associates disparate
ideas--that gift of amusing and surprising with which very clever
people, and only very clever, can by conversation give a peculiar
relish to life' (1956, 393).

More germane is that Maynard Keynes's early methodological dispositions had been well-canvassed by his father, Neville Keynes, in The scope and method of political economy in 1890. The discursive environment presumably created and exploited in the course of this academic undertaking--not in Britain alone--arguably accounts for Maynard's receptiveness to an explicitly 'intuitive' approach to economic analysis. Neville Keynes eventually ratified a definition of economics which prioritised scarcity and allocation; nonetheless his discussion is extremely generous towards non-deductive approaches, claiming that ignorance of economic history and sociology (excessive abstraction) could lead to 'rash generalizations'. The book draws on the eighteenth-century (pre-Adam Smith) Scot James Steuart's appeals to observation and experience. Equivalent doubts about the direction of economic enquiry were being voiced by Historical School writers (both German--Wagner and Schmoller--and English--Leslie, Toynbee and Ashley) and the associated methodological controversies are well-represented in Neville Keynes's work, as in Palgrave's celebrated dictionary of the 1880s and 1890s. Walter Bagehot's view that advanced economies are bound to depart from any universal or deductive premises is common to all these contributions; (5) and constituted serious scholarship in the decades before Lionel Robbins' more severe demarcation took hold, elevating competition, scarcity and homo economicus. Features of complex and civilised economies and societies that disrupt rational calculation include interdependency between cause and effect (Keynes 1890, 100; Mabsout 2015; Olssen 2010, ch. 8). As if to anticipate contemporary heterodoxy, Neville Keynes even envisions the impossibility of discovering 'laws' of accumulation:
Since it is admitted that the economic conditions of any given stage in
the progress of society are determined not merely by the economic
conditions, but by general social characteristics of the preceding
stage, no theory of the tendencies of economic evolution as a whole
seems likely to be reached independently of some theory of the general
tendencies of social development (1890, 140).

Scepticism towards formalist method arose not only in German and English political economy in the decades leading to the twentieth century (Ashley 1899), but also in American economic thinking in the same period. Thorstein Veblen's rebellious and humanist education was acquired in American universities heavily influenced by enlightenment values--though sometimes with Nietzschean and Tolstoyan elements--which had assigned definitive causal force to 'idle curiosity' and to 'human wit and will' ever since the mercantilist era (Reinert 2012, 26-36). Veblen's milieu included the revolt against formalism, but also confidence in politics and the state (compelled by uncertainty and interdependence), and a perceived need to ground economic understanding in empirical observation. Together, these methodological positions warranted institutional and evolutionary disciplines, while Veblen also elaborated Darwinian implications of the focus on growth and development (Viano 2012). For Veblen, as for both Keyneses, appropriate understanding of economies could not ignore their organic qualities, and hence entailed a promiscuous intermingling' of ideas (Camic 2012, 194).

Veblen's review of The economic consequences of the peace in 1920 protested that the early Maynard Keynes was not as unswerving in his recognition of the 'tendencies of economic evolution' as his heterodoxy seemed to demand:
Keynes accepts the Treaty as a definitive formulation of the terms of
the peace, as a conclusive settlement rather than a strategic point of
departure for further negotiations and a continuation of warlike
enterprise.... But for all their vulpine secrecy, the temper and
purposes of that hidden conclave of political hucksters were already
becoming evident to outsiders a year ago, and it is all the more
surprising to find that an observer so shrewd and so advantageously
placed as Mr Keynes has been led to credit them with any degree of bona
fides or to ascribe any degree of finality to the diplomatic
instruments which came out of their bargaining (1920, 463).

Nonetheless, even at this stage, Keynes had accepted analytical commitments, which demanded what would now be called a structural perspective--though the opportunity to deploy transformative policy and ideas was never absent.
The events of the coming year will not be shaped by the deliberate acts
of statesmen, but by the hidden currents, flowing continually beneath
the surface of political history, of which no one can predict the
outcome. In one way only can we influence these hidden currents--by
setting in motion those forces of instruction and imagination which
change opinion. The assertion of truth, the unveiling of illusion, the
dissipation of hate, the enlargement and instruction of men's hearts
and minds, must be the means... (1919, 297).

The discernible gap between Veblen and Keynes--that is to say, between an assertion that lack of 'finality' in historical events negates definitive judgments, and an insistence that 'hidden currents' can be acknowledged without precluding deliberative processes--does not seem especially wide. And it points to an issue in political economy that takes recurrent form. With discussions of Piketty's Capital in the twenty-first century, we have been obliged to re-appraise the proposition that capitalism's inequalities are ineradicable. Piketty's data highlight particularly reductions in disparities that began with the 'age of catastrophe' (roughly from 1914 until 1945) and continued until about 1974 (when globalisation, manufacturing decline, unemployment, economic dislocation, sectoral change, inflation-in-recession, and the ugliest aspects of de-politicising neoliberalism began to plague societies, economies and politics in rich countries). The three decades from 1945 to 1974 have been characterised not only as the Keynesian era, but also the long postwar boom and the 'golden age' of capitalism (due to the emergence of welfare capitalism and the 'repression of finance'); whereas the decades since the mid-1970s (beginning with stagnation-sanctioning and inequality-increasing policies) are seen as a 'leaden age' of policy abrogation and rescindment, the return of intolerance (destructive responses to unemployment, instability, insecurity and inequality).

However, if six decades of optimism until 1974 have given way to reversals gleefully anticipated by those doubting the capacities of politics, we are invited to revisit the Veblen-Keynes controversy. Are capitalist inequalities inherent (a structural tendency spanning the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, interrupted only briefly and extraordinarily, which Piketty seems to suggest)? Or do they denote that the policy-driven progress of the period to 1974 has suffered disruptions contingent upon the political defeats with which we have become familiar, implying that egalitarian policies remain possible (though subject to turnarounds, as Piketty's account also allows), and that the 'long run' is only a product of sequential happenstance associated with the rise and fall of industries, yet without an abiding developmental logic of its own? This latter proposition accords with Keynes's famous declaration that in the long run we are all dead (--though that was uttered in a specific context: to refute monetarist claims that long-run stability in monetary policy was preferable to policy activism) as well as with Kalecki's contention that trends and cycles (progress and disruptions to progress) are indissolubly intermeshed (see also Golob 1954, ch. 7).

Even now, a damaging connection between obduracy and possibility seems recurrent, probably ineradicable; and it seems to define 'Keynesian reason' (Mann 2017, 19 and passim; see also Dostaler 2007, 2-5; 12-23).

3. Cambridge to Bloomsbury

Many of the Cambridge Apostles--Keynes himself, as well as Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Desmond MacCarthy and E M Forster--were wary of received theories in literature, art and social enquiry. Not all consciously addressed methodological controversy but, even so, together they became implicated in the emergence of a Bloomsbury distinctiveness (Reed 2004, 1-17). The modernist temper--through Tolstoy, Ibsen, Nietzsche and Strindberg and, later, G B Shaw--promoted a congruent openness to anti-naturalism and anti-rationalism (celebration of experience, even everyday 'silliness') (Glendinning 2006).

The austere Quaker Roger Fry, with fellow art critic Clive Bell, worked to establish British interest in the paintings and perspectives of Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, van Gogh, Seurat, and others in the years after 1910. Impressionism and post-impressionism suggested that fidelity to reality could usefully yield to the subjectivist gaze of the artist, sometimes subordinating clarity to 'harmonic effects', sometimes discerning otherwise-hidden aspects of reality, and potentially arousing unexpected responses and insights from viewers, particularly as richer palettes of colours appeared (Fry 1932; Thomson 2001). The younger artists Matisse, Derain and Picasso, also admired by Fry, gained notoriety, even in England, from their association as designers with Stravinsky and the Ballets Russes rather than through Bloomsbury sponsorship. The movement was broad and, as the years passed, it became less dismissive of form and structure--reflecting in part Bloomsbury's indelible attachment to aesthetics and 'undefinable beauty' as well as, perhaps, Clive Bell's increasing conservatism (Beechey 1999, 39-51). In a 1920 'Retrospect', Fry acknowledged the preposterous nature of some of Tolstoy's assessments, yet recorded his own debt to What is art?, from 1898. These included their joint downgrading of representational verisimilitude, requiring the viewer to guess at what might be hidden--thereby conceding, with Virginia Woolf, that 'life itself might be only 'momentarily passing across our field of vision' (Fry 1932, 264-265). Later, when these emphasis subsided in Fry's own painting (Spalding 1997, 58-63), he remained nonetheless open to the possibility that when truth has 'many aspects', artists and social scientists alike might seek whatever 'underlying structural unity' is detectable. Quentin Bell has reported that Fry found 'aesthetic sensibility everywhere', though this seems to have been a product not of his artistic appreciation so much as of a 'spiritual' disposition: for Fry, the starting point of enquiry was 'those improbable explanations to which most of us turn only when all the prosaic explanations of ordinary life have been dismissed' (Bell 1995, 108).

Leonard Woolf--variously novelist, journalist, publisher, socialist, cooperativist, Labour adviser, friend of the Webbs, the Coles, H. G. Wells and G. B. Shaw--also understood that 'connections between disparate happenings' were unavoidable aspects of reality, warranting specific attention in fiction and non-fiction alike (Glendinning 2006, 66). Following his return from Ceylon in 1911, he had seen himself as a restless, unattached public intellectual, though less connected than Keynes. With Virginia, he had established the Hogarth Press which for a time was an outlet for Bloomsbury writers and illustrators. And like his wife, Leonard Woolf had taken inspiration from Tolstoy and Montaigne. He appears to have venerated the 'journey not the destination' independently of Virginia's parallel embrace of the notion, even if, in his search for rational foundations of knowledge, he frequently concluded that 'nothing matters' (2006, 421-422 and passim). He eventually authored Principia Politica (a title suggested by Keynes); it came out in 1953 but reflected a lifelong, politically attuned engagement with controversies over freedom and authority.

Lytton Strachey's iconoclasm is most evident in Eminent Victorians. Here he recognised the knowledge-possibilities opened up by changing historical conditions: if we know too much, he mused, new understanding can be impeded. The task for intellectual interpreters was therefore not to refute conjectures, but to seek out surprises and the unexpected in data. This was Florence Nightingale's achievement: what she unearthed through statistics and experience became the basis for revised procedures, new policy guidelines and invigorated public opinion--as a fulcrum for leveraging knowledge, tenacity and tact (1918, 84-97). Piero Mini suggests that Keynes's concerns with uncertainty probably followed Strachey's own musings (1991, 127, 141); certainly, the latter saw the troubled passage from empirical research (purged of excessive generalisation) to endorsed enactment in terms that could have been composed for Keynes's later policy battles:
... that tropical jungle of festooned obstructiveness, of intertwisted
irresponsibilities, of crouching prejudices, of abuses grown stiff and
rigid with antiquity, which for so many years to come was destined to
lure reforming ministers to their doom (1918, 104).

Much commentary on Bloomsbury notes its tangled personal interrelationships and has speculated about whether these resulted from, or reflected, the group's principled elevation of interactions (between people, between entities, between events, and between modes of presentation) as ontologically defining and methodologically intractable (Reed 2004, 51). The box relays a Swedish depiction:

Duncan Grant discovered his homosexuality early. He was in a relationship with Lytton Strachey when he met John Maynard Keynes, and he had relationships with among others Adrian Stephen, James Strachey and Bunny Garnett--as well as living together with Vanessa Bell.

Vanessa married the art critic Clive Bell in 1907. She had two sons with him and remained his wife, even if for two years she had a relationship with Roger Fry and thereafter moved in together with Duncan Grant. Their common daughter Angelica eventually married Duncan's former lover Bunny Garnett.

David (Bunny) Garnett lived during the first world war with Duncan Grant (and Vanessa Bell). When his first wife died of cancer he married Vanessa's daughter Angelica Bell.

Clive Bell had innumerable women's stories. The most well-known, apart from the marriage with Vanessa, was a several-year flirtation with his wife's sister, Virginia Woolf, and with Molly MacCarthy, wife of Bloomsbury member and critic Desmond MacCarthy. But the longest flirtation he had was with Mary Hutchinson.

Lytton Strachey lived in a triangle with the painter Dora Carrington and Ralph Partridge who were married to each other. Carrington was bisexual and loved Lytton. But he was homosexual and had a series of more or less unsuccessful relationships, among them with Duncan Grant, the artist Henry Lamb and the poet Roger Senhouse.

John Maynard Keynes was, while young, an extremely promiscuous homosexual with a series of relationships among them with James Strachey, Lytton Strachey, and Duncan Grant. In 1925 he married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova.

Ottoline Morrell was married to Philip Morrell but also had relationships with Henry Lamb, Augustus John, Roger Fry and Bertrand Russell...

Roger Fry was married to Helen Fry, who after eighteen months marriage became mentally ill. In 1910 he fell in love with Vanessa Bell. When she moved in together with Duncan Grant he had several short affairs and finally a long one with Helen Maitland, who earlier had lived in a triangle with the painter Boris Anrep and his Russian wife.

Virginia Woolf was married in 1912 to Leonard. The marriage was successful and lasted until her suicide in 1941. But for several years around the middle of the 1920s Virginia experienced a love affair with the author Vita Sackville-West. And in the 1930s she was intimate with the composer and feminist campaigner Ethel Smyth (Lind 2008, 204-205).

The commentaries persist and fascinate even now, not only for prurient reasons (Licence 2015; Rosner 2014). Mary Caws refers to the constant 'meshing and merging of the visual and verbal', of a propensity to explore and contradict the optimistic impulses in the inter-war period, but which had already animated Cambridge distrust of certitude (2014, 131; see also Banfield 2014). (6) Yet connections between art, lifestyle and methodological conundrum that are neglected by Skidelsky had been detected in Roy Harrod's discussion of the ballet:
We are far removed from the world of dialectic and debate, of criticism
and second thoughts. The achievement is perfect--or perhaps it is not
perfect--but it cannot be amended.... Lydia's droop of arms will
express the finest possible shade, but it cannot be corrected in detail
by discussion and analysis. This art achieves its purpose by direct
method; there may be trial and error; but each new trial is a new
beginning and is not guided by reasoning.... [Keynes'] imagination was
always ready to be stirred, even by the most absurd fancy (1951,

Nor was Bloomsbury's anti-Victorianism just intellectual. The nineteenth-century Cambridge lifestyle and its affectations had been poignantly described, and condemned, in Period piece, by painter and wood-engraver Gwen Raverat (nee Darwin, and whose sister married Maynard's brother, Geoffrey):
One has only to think of the omissions in all the mid- and
late-Victorian novels to perceive the fantastic unreality of the
outlook of decent people from about 1850 to 1914. It is often hard to
believe that these decent people were not being deliberately
hypocritical, when they were so unwilling to face the facts... . For
nearly seventy years the English middle classes were locked up in a
great fortress of unreality and pretense; and no one who has not been
brought up inside the fortress can guess how thick the walls were, or
how little of the sky outside could be seen through the loopholes
(1952, 124).

Contiguous sentiments can be detected in Lytton Strachey's reflections on life at Lancaster Gate:
It was not a question of unhappiness so much as of restriction and
oppression--the subtle, unperceived weight of the circumambient air
(1922, 27).

Bloomsbury's internal mores themselves have been disparaged from within its core. Angelica Garnett resented her own upbringing as the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. (She was not told until the age of eighteen, just before her marriage, that her father was not Clive Bell; nor that David Garnett had been present at her birth in 1918.) Too much permissiveness and tolerance, she concluded, had left a damaging legacy including bitterness--even though she had consented ('I preferred the unknown to the known') (Garnett 1984, 158, 78-80).

However, the NPG's 'Memoir Club' by Vanessa Bell (1943, exhibit 6718), reveals something further about Bloomsbury. It shows 14 members of the set, seated (including the next generation, and three deceased--Woolf, Strachey, Fry--presented as portraits by Grant and Bell on the wall); it probably never transpired this way--the depiction includes the artist herself--but we are meant to presume there was an urge among all to preserve the impression of an ongoing collectivity. (An extended listing is appended.) And it was prescient: E. M. Forster commented in 1939 that 'Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where intolerance rules, and science who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp' (1939, 165).

4. Conclusion

Arguably, Keynes was less disdainful of Victorian values than many other Bloomsbury contributors (Winch 2010); but until the end of his life, he was uninclined to repudiate his early (Cambridge) views (as some have suggested). He conceded his 'croakings' had often been unable to influence the 'course of events in time' (1931, v). (Recall his indignation over the Versailles' negotiations, his campaigns against the Treasury view, and his ominous battles with Harry Dexter White and the Americans at Bretton Woods, not to mention the fate of Keynesian policy three decades after his death.) And in his evaluation of a lifetime's methodological (not political) stance (for the Memoir Club) he appears close to anger:
I myself was always an advocate of the principle of organic unity
through time, which still seems to me only sensible (... the state of
affairs as a whole which could not usefully be analysed into parts)....
[I. now regard the Benthamite tradition]... as the worm which has been
gnawing at the insides of modern civilisation and is responsible for
its present moral decay.... The attribution of rationality to human
nature, instead of enriching it, now seems to me to have impoverished
it (1938, 436-448).

Keynes's reflection on what he called his early beliefs reveals the pertinent connection between Keynes the political economist and Bloomsbury artists, writers and social critics. It was not political, nor a matter of the discipline in which they chose to work. It was not even a common methodological preference, which in any case, as we have seen, remained unfixed. It would be as incomplete to suggest that Bloomsbury endorsed Keynes's epistemological ruminations as it would be to claim that Keynes borrowed approaches from the former. Rather, what constituted the nexus was its members' joint recognition of limits to knowledge, something which in turn has intrigued and horrified them, because in their public lives, they felt bound to act. For Keynesians, gaps in political knowledge, magnifying uncertainty about what can or cannot be achieved, are especially challenging. The resultant need to devise and to modify scientific, literary and artistic strategies to deal with uncertainty--even if the problem (inability to use the past as a guide to the future) had been long-known and would be forever irremediable (King 2015; Kirshner 2015; O'Donnell 2013; Veblen 1900). This has become a defining issue for heterodox post-Keynesianism; but all members of Bloomsbury, more or less consciously and collectively unapologetic, had already concurred.


(1.) Translations vary (and are controversial); this is the Russian original: Anna: [phrase omitted]. Levin: [phrase omitted].

(2.) An extensive list of early pre-1920s associates is provided by Levy (1975) who also comments on internal tensions--particularly over the contradictions between the group ethos and JMK's continuing service in the Treasury. A cryptic delineation of the group's anti-rationalism has been submitted by Desmond MacCarthy: he seems to have admired 'not possessing a sense that everything ought to serve a particular purpose and no other' (1929, 867).

(3.) It appears he regarded Albert Einstein somewhat similarly (in 1926).

(4.) Roy Harrod reports it was Dickens that was read aloud (1951, 12).

(5.) Originally designated 'religious' social thought, sociological and historical approaches came, in the twentieth century, to be termed the 'social economy tradition'; efforts are apparently under way now to recast it as 'contextual economics' (see Goldschmidt, Grimmer-Solem and Zweynert 2016).

(6.) Agnosticism towards knowledge was not unvarying, with Bertrand Russell being less enamoured of G.E. Moore's doctrines (1951, 95).

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


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Appendix: Bloomsbury members and associates

Leslie Stephen           1832-1904
Lowes Dickinson          1862-1932
Roger Fry                1866-1934

Bertrand Russell         1872-1970
G E Moore                1873-1958
Desmond MacCarthy        1877-1952

E M Forster              1879-1970
Vanessa Bell             1879-1961

Lytton Strachey          1880-1932

Leonard Woolf            1880-1969

Clive Bell               1881-1964

Virginia Woolf           1882-1941

John Maynard Keynes      1883-1946
Duncan Grant             1885-1978

Rupert Brooke            1887-1915
David Garnett            1892-1981

Saxon Sydney-Turner      1880-1962

Thoby Stephen            1880-1906

Molly McCarthy           1882-1953

Adrian Stephen           1883-1948

George Duckworth         1868-1934

Stella Duckworth         1869-1897

Gerald Duckworth         1870-1937

Ottoline Morrell         1873-1938

Margery Fry              1874-1958

Harold Nicolson          1886-1968
James Strachey           1887-1967

Katherine Mansfield      1888-1923

Mary Hutchinson          1889-1977

Vita Sackville-West      1892-1962

Dora Carrington          1893-1932

Gerald Brennan           1894-1987

Ralph Partridge          1894-1960

Frances Partridge        1900-2004

Julian Bell              1908-1937

Quentin Bell             1910-1996

Anne Olivier Bell        1916-

Virginia Nicholson       1955-

Additional significant
Albert Einstein          1879-1955

Pablo Picasso            1881-1973

Margaret Neville Keynes  1885-1970

Geoffrey L Keynes        1887-1982
Ludwig Wittgenstein      1889-1951
Margaret Darwin          1890-1974
Lydia Lopokova           1892-1981

Angelica Garnett         1918-2012

Leslie Stephen           (A) ed. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885
Lowes Dickinson          (A) Cambridge and LSE, political scientist
Roger Fry                (A) painter, Quaker; from 1910 championed
                         post-impressionism in UK
Bertrand Russell         (A) philosopher
G E Moore                (A) Cambridge moral philosopher; not Bloomsbury
Desmond MacCarthy        (A) journalist incl. for New Statesman; helped
                         RF w. post-impressionism
E M Forster              (A) novelist
Vanessa Bell             painter; nee Stephen; long-term resident of
Lytton Strachey          (A) biographer, historian--Eminent Victorians
Leonard Woolf            (A) writer, essayist and publisher (Hogarth
Clive Bell               art critic; author of Civilization, 1928;
                         advocate of post impressionism
Virginia Woolf           writer and publisher (Hogarth Press); nee
John Maynard Keynes      (A) Cambridge economist
Duncan Grant             painter, cousin of Lytton Strachey, lived with
                         VB from 1915
Rupert Brooke            (A) poet; died from sepsis (Greece)
David Garnett            writer, son of Constance; married Angelica
                         Bell/Grant 1942
Saxon Sydney-Turner      (A) Cambridge, opera enthusiast, public servant
Thoby Stephen            brother of Vanessa and Virginia; friend of LS;
                         (died of typhoid)
Molly McCarthy           Stephen family; began Memoir Club 1922; married
Adrian Stephen           brother of Vanessa and Virginia; translated
George Duckworth         step-brother of Stephen sisters, mother Julia
                         married L Stephen
Stella Duckworth         step-sister of Stephen sisters, mother Julia
                         married L Stephen
Gerald Duckworth         step-brother of Stephen sisters, mother Julia
                         married L Stephen
Ottoline Morrell         arts patron, friend of BR, DC, DG, CB, LS, RF,
                         TSE, DHL +
Margery Fry              sister of Roger; educationalist, prison
                         reformer, magistrate
Harold Nicolson          Labour MP, husband of Vita Sackville-West
James Strachey           younger brother of Lytton Strachey; translated
Katherine Mansfield      NZ writer, rented part of JMK's 3 Gower St
                         house, 1915
Mary Hutchinson          L Strachey's cousin; Clive Bell's lover, also
                         TSE, A Huxley
Vita Sackville-West      writer, wife of Harold Nicolson; lover of
                         Virginia Woolf (1920s)
Dora Carrington          painter, lived with Lytton Strachey, married to
                         Ralph Partridge
Gerald Brennan           writer, friend of Ralph Partridge, wooed Dora
Ralph Partridge          married Frances Marshall after death of Dora
Frances Partridge        niece of L Strachey, sister-in-law of David
Julian Bell              (A) son of Vanessa Bell; died as ambulance
                         driver, Spain
Quentin Bell             son of Vanessa and Clive Bell; art historian;
                         biographer of VW
Anne Olivier Bell        wife of Quentin, art historian, edited VW's
Virginia Nicholson       writer, daughter of Quentin Bell; trustee of
Additional significant
Albert Einstein          not Bloomsbury; but JMK met and liked 'impish'
                         AE (Berlin 1926)
Pablo Picasso            not Bloomsbury; but sketched Lydia Lopokova
                         twice (1919)
Margaret Neville Keynes  sister of JMK, married AV Hill 1913; affair
                         with Eglantyne Jebb
Geoffrey L Keynes        brother of JMK, surgeon, literary scholar
Ludwig Wittgenstein      (A) Cambridge, not Bloomsbury
Margaret Darwin          married Geoffrey Keynes 1917
Lydia Lopokova           married JMK 1925, not fully accepted by
Angelica Garnett         daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant;
                         disliked parents' experiments

(*) This paper links controversies over method during the past century with the strands of reasoning (including Keynes's concerns with uncertainty) that gave heft to the Cambridge-Bloomsbury nexus.

Geoff Dow

School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

CONTACT Geoff Dow School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Notes on Contributor

Geoff Dow is an honorary researcher in the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland. He has taught and researched post-Keynesianism and other the strands of heterodox political economy. With Winton Higgins, he has recently published Politics against pessimism: social democratic possibilities since Ernst Wigforss. Bern: Peter Lang, 2013.


Received 5 June 2017

Accepted 24 February 2018

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