Julian Bell: The Violent Pacifist (biography, Monograph)

London: Cecil Woolf Publishers, June 2006.

 

      Virginia Woolf described Julian Bell, her nephew, as ‘a wild ruffian’ as he rambled across the grounds of Charleston, the spoiled and favorite child of Vanessa Bell. As he grew into a man, he was variously labeled a poet, military strategist, conscientious objector, teacher, libertine, journalist, activist, but, most decidedly, a young man who needed, as Charles Mauron would say, ‘physically no less than spiritually…elbow room.’  He became ‘ a man of action’ during his years of teaching and political involvement in China (1935-1937), and, as an ambulance driver in the Spanish Civil War (June 6-July 18, 1937). He died at the age of twenty-nine when his ambulance was bombed in Fuencarral, Spain—the kind of end he wanted.

     Yet there was another side to Julian: he was a poet and a pacifist. When in China, Julian sent home what he called ‘travelogue snapshots’ to Leonard Woolf and his mother (1). These rarely seen eighty photographs that Julian snapped in China reveal his unarmed eye—his visual gifts, his curiosity about how others saw the world, and his sympathetic personality. Julian wrote regularly describing the landscapes of China but it was Vanessa’s prodding--‘describe it for me,’ ‘send pictures—that stimulated his descriptions as well as the photos. These photographs will flicker throughout this narrative revealing that he had an eye for framing forms and shapes and creating a feeling of distance. As Julian develops into an activist, they remind us of his poetic and lyrical self....