I visited Charleston at the weekend - the Sussex farmhouse and Bloomsbury retreat. I've been meaning to go for a long time and we had a Sunday to spare. There is a lot of Bloomsbury in the air of late and it interesting to try and connect with a physical reality rather than rumour or opinion. Life in Squares was pretty but silly and I found its lack of engagement with the art, with the work that the Bloomsbury group created, not just the gossip they generated, frustrating.
Charleston is not set amongst notable country and, truly, it is in the middle of nowhere. Even in August the house smells and feels damp. It was good to get a sense of the very real isolation of the place, even now, and the discomfort that must have been felt in the name of freedom. Which isn't to say that I have limitless sympathy for those involved. I enjoy the sexual liberty but shy away from the selfishness, applaud the distrust of patriotism but flinch from the unwillingness to engage with political realities, admire the artistic devotion but loathe the snobbishness. It's difficult - I love the disregard for sexual stigmas and much of the work but I don't always like the actions or the players.
I suppose that is the thing about reality. Not always straightforward or pleasant. But fascinating. And Charleston is strangely gripping. From the outside the farmhouse is unremarkable, except for a lovely garden, but inside it is tardis-like, beautiful and original. The commitment to colour and pattern and books and art is inspiring. It is a world fully imagined and I wandered around in something of a daze.
Tickets are very expensive and it's in the middle of nowhere so I can't recommend the trip unreservedly but if you are interested in Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, their siblings, lovers and friends, and you happen to be out and about in Sussex it is certainly worth a visit.