Saturday, 26 November 2011

Bloomsbury Black





Rarely a month goes by without a newspaper (tabloid or broadsheet) smugly declaring that Oxbridge is ‘elitist’. "The intake from disadvantaged backgrounds is too low; the humanities courses designed only for those who think themselves superior; the universities serving as little more than reminders of Brideshead Revisited".
The first point about intake is valid. Unfortunately the standards of teaching experienced do have an impact on grades, and thus on University application. The only solution I can see to that particular problem is for the Government to work on genuinely improving state education (and therefore life chances) nationwide. Pigs might fly. But in some sense Oxbridge cannot help being selective – as they require the best exam results and commitment  - and even those won’t guarantee you a place.
Despite initial reservations over the jaw-slackeningly high fees, I still want to apply to some of the leading Russell Group Universities next year – preferably to study English Literature. I might change my mind again at some point, but I wonder if this aspiration makes me appear almost ‘snobby’ to some – as though my decision to aim high is a personal affront to any other life choices.  

Why do some consider it elitist to devote time to the in-depth study of great works of literature? If I do pursue this, it means I'll leave with a greater knowledge of literature than others might have gained, but I do not accuse a cabinet maker of elitism for understanding more about the construction of a cabinet than I do. Maybe it’s because the humanities and arts subjects – English, history and philosophy to name three – are more concerned with ideas and analysis than practicality. They don’t yield tangible results in the same way that maths and science do. There are no great discoveries that can be publicized and praised by a Government that is only concerned with the short term – the same Government that has slashed Arts Council funding in a way that denigrates the status of the humanities. Let me tell you Government Ministers – my history GCSE exam was ten times more challenging than my science GCSE. The former involved months of revision and preparation; the latter required about three evenings in which I learnt the contents of a revision book by rote, with the information it contained floating straight out of my head the minute the exam paper was closed.
And yet this pervasive anti-culture attitude continues. Those who enjoy art house movies and galleries may find themselves labeled as ‘pretentious’ (although this one is clearly subjective, as there is plenty of modern art – I’m looking at you Damien Hirst – that I loathe), while those who write for and read, say, the Guardian are accused of not understanding the real world.

These musings are centered on what many see as superfluous, as the arts are arguably not one of the necessities of survival. But who would wish to live in world without music, paintings, films, sculptures, dance, theatre, books or poetry? Furthermore, when did it become sadly true that three in ten UK households own no books? Stories are one of the most imaginative and exciting releases from day to day life.They instruct and provoke thought as well as entertain.

One reaction to this criticism is that it doesn’t matter what people are reading, so long as they are still casting their eyes over words in some form.  Really? So basically twitter is the same as Tolstoy? Who needs ‘War and Peace’ when you can instead concentrate on texts and misspelt Facebook statuses? I hate this argument for the simple reason that it makes no differentiation. We don’t equate a three-year-old’s finger-painting, charming as it may be, with Leonardo da Vinci.

One set of individuals who understood the power of literature was the Bloomsbury Group. Perhaps best known for including Virginia Woolf and EM Forster among its numbers, the group expanded and contracted in size during the 20th Century. As a collective they had many criticisms leveled at them, both at the time and in retrospect. One of the words most frequently thrown at the group was ‘elitist’. Maybe shades of this were true – everything has its grey area. I can’t pass judgment, as (much to my regret) I was born far too late to be a part of something like that. And yet, I am unashamedly drawn to the idea of a group of individuals who met to discuss literature, aesthetics, economics, feminism and other current issues of the time. My romantic notion of how I would like to live my life involves a lot of time spent drinking good coffee whilst debating the merits of classics or current affairs.
 Are there any examples of similar groups in the 21st century? I’d be interested to know, as they so far seem unparalleled in their values and aspirations. They lived in a time when a far greater emphasis seemed to be placed on the value of reading, writing and ideas.  

And so to my outfit. The main part, the dress, was probably created at that same time as pacifism and poetry were being vociferously debated by the Bloomsbury Group: the primary outfit inspiration in this post. It is also the final installment of my Bertie’s styling series. This original thirties' translucent beauty of a dress was loaned to me temporarily by the wonderful Bertie's Vintage shop. It reminded me of sweeping staircases and decaying cinemas with velvet curtains. From the collar to the ruffled detailed on the sleeves, it deserved to be styled dramatically. And so I obliged with a simple slip, shoes from a charity shop and the other pair from Next, and for two shots a vintage boater, sunglasses and satin sash.

49 comments:

AngeliqueDama said...

Wonderful pictures! Love the dress!
Hugs and kisses

Dale said...

You look so gorgeous in this black sheer dress and you're such a good writer too.

xoDale
savvyspice.net

Kate said...

Three in ten UK households own no books? That is truly shocking. I completely agree with your reply to the argument that all writing is the same, as long as people are reading. I think it is so sad that so many of our generation are turning their backs on books and paintings and so much else that makes the world a richer, more fascinating place.

Your outfit, as usual, is gorgeous. I love the little details like the ruffled sleeves and mix of sheer and opaque.
Brilliant post!
www.styleisalwaysfashionable.blogspot.com

Born for Joy said...

As a 17 year old who is going to study English Literature at university next September who is also studying Woolf at the moment, I really connected with this article. I feel the same way about supposed 'elitism' at the top universities. And I get much the same criticisms that you described, from fellow Mathematicians and scientists, who accuse me of indulging myself in an impractical and useless degree. I'm sure you always hear this phrase, 'You can never be wrong in English, it's just your own interpretation' which always gets thrown at me when I say I want to study Literature along with some idea that Maths being 'definite' somehow renders it superior. But you're right; Definite subjects may be essential for practical life but what about everything beyond that? And that's where I justify my choice. Life is enriched by art!

Lydia said...

Aim high, Rosalind. Yes, it's sort of a shame that the better universities have such slim criteria for acceptance, but that's part of what makes them exceptional schools. Here in the US we have the Ivy League schools, which are notorious full of wealthier, white students, but for the large part they're also full of exceptional students with amazing grades who worked really hard.

I believe that anyone, from any background, can become anything they want if they work hard enough. They may have to work harder than more privileged people, but it's not impossible. People who admonish these types of schools as elitist, I think, don't have what it takes to work their way into them. Maybe I'm generalizing, but nothing stops anyone from achieving their goals but themselves. And I am pretty broke and non-elite, relatively speaking, with parents who don't even have savings accounts. I didn't attend Harvard not because of my background, but because I was too lazy and preoccupied with other things to bust my ass and earn good grades and a scholarship.

I ADORE literature, also. Nice post.

Rosa Fay said...

Wow, that dress is beautiful! You look stunning darling!

Sofie Marie said...

I wouldn't worry about the so called pretension of being interested in the arts,it all seems silly really and I think theres a lot of evidence to suggest that there's still a lot of people who don't have this mindset.

It is not justifiable-yet,I do think that being less priveleged seems to anger me,and does seem to turn me away from those who are able to afford high class universities.It's very close minded,and I don't like that part of myself.But to devote oneself to studies,isn't elitism.

Sofie
ps I agree,my History GCSE was far more challenging than science.

Gabriella said...

I don't know why some people consider it elitist to want to study literature? Maybe it's because they're not interested in it themselves and find it difficult to understand. Personally, I adore studying literature; I'm getting a minor degree in it right now. Lovely pictures, I love that black sheer dress! :)

Principessa Gabriella

Rachel, Cold Knees said...

I made the choice to go to uni and this was back when the fees were about £1,000 a year. I'm pretty sure I still would've applied now, regardless. I also chose to study a subject many would think superfluous (anthropology) but I don't regret it, although it still leaves me undecided about what to do with myself.. I can't imagine a house without books! It's shocking that so many live without them.
xx

AVY said...

Loving the style.

/ Avy
http://MyMotherFuckedMickJagger.blogspot.com



Closet Fashionista said...

That dress is gorgeous! I love the first shot!
And yes, I know what you mean. Twitter and award winning books are totally not the same. Reading Twitter won't expand your vocabulary (unless you count lol and slang as vocabulary ;) ) I do love Twitter but I totally agree, how can people put it in the same category as Pride and Prejudice, etc. I don't read nearly as much as I should but I know it is very important to expand our horizons through books.
http://www.closet-fashionista.com/

wingeddeer said...

You should start the 21st century Bloomsbury group! The world needs more intelligent discussing of art, economics and feminism.

styleeast said...

Such a thought provoking post. I am shocked and saddened by the stats on households with no books. I'm sad for what they dont know they're missing. Good for you for aiming high, why shouldn't you. One day, I suspect, by doing so, you'll find yourself an inspiration to the next generation xx

AvaPilar said...

Your dress reminds me of something worn by one of the Crawley Girls on Downton Abbey. Is the collar silk or velvet?
It's tragic that three in ten UK households own no books! People are foolish if they believe that their self-absorbed twitter messages can replace the brilliance of classic literature. Er, that makes me angry. However your able to communicate the absurdness of the matter is a more eloquent way then I am able.

My goodness! I wish I had the motivation to study at Oxbridge. I'm aiming for performance costume at Edinburgh though.

Fashion, Art and other fancies said...

Hmmm, I attended Oxbridge, and yes, it's known as being very elite, but the standards are quite high dare I say. I shan't write an essay here. Shall send an e-mail.
I adore you in this lovely black dress, and what a charming hat, too.

Leanna Kay said...

Oh gosh, that dress look stunning on you. Your hair is so pretty. I love your blog!!!!

XXLeanna

Ebony Sharie said...

I love your blog! I own a fashion blog too but sometimes I doubt my abilities because of my age. But to know that you're so young and you have a successful blog is such a motivation for other young fashion bloggers like me! Keep up the good work!

I'm a follower. Hope you can follow back :)

Chicintentions.blogspot.com

sacramento said...

Absolutely breathtaking, Rosalind.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Diana said...

beautiful dress!

Jessica said...

Lovely post, the dress is fantastic and I love the necklace. Great article too!!

http://chicgeekblogger.blogspot.com/

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Ginta said...

Unfortunately, this is a global problem - to consider humanitarian science elitist and reading old fashioned. It's so sad! Our attention span gets shorter every day. We all are becoming ADD. I take tram to work and sometime I feel I'm the only one who reads a book there! How strange is that? It doesn't matter that it's just 7 min commute, you still can squeeze a book there, can't you? You can even read Tolstoy's Resurrection in Russian if you want like I did, it took me couple of months as it was just 3 pages a ride but still.

Comtesse de ferveur said...

I did English Literature and French in uni precisely because I loved them and that automatically made them useful and wonderful to me. I abhor the anti-Letters attitude too and you've raised so many relevant points here.
You look beautiful, I love the nicely irreverent Gothic edge to this Bloomsbury look.
xx

Shophopper said...

Another thought-provoking post - so many things to respond to I think I'm just going to send you an e-mail!

Let me just say this: I've only once entered a household without any books in it, and I felt utterly unhappy there. Filling your days with books, discussion and reviving the days of Café de la Rotonde sounds like a great life. I'd sign up for it in a second!

Vix said...

Beautifully written, as always. I find it insane that 1 in 3 households don't own a book. That's ludicrous.
Studying English Literature makes perfect sense to me. I went to an all-girl grammar school and that was considered "elitist" in my working class town. People are far too quick to label others.
You look gloriously and timelessly elegant. x

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I heartfully concur (in this case, you are preaching to the converted!)! The Bloomsbury Group is also an ideal for me -- there is nothing higher than to be part of a gathering of the minds across different spheres of expertise. For years, I felt most at home with my own family, where music, literature, the arts AND the sciences held equal veneration. Fortunately, I have been discovering a subset of humanity (like you, dear Rosalind!) with the same feelings.

In the last few years of house hunting, my husband and I were dismayed to see so many beautiful homes with nary a bookshelf nor book (aside from the artificially staged art book on a coffee table). I dare say we will never be able to sell our house when the time comes if the presence of literature detracts from its appeal!

Good luck with your intentions to study English Literature at the best of institutions. You look divine, as always, in your photos. xxx

Irina Lakicevic said...

beautiful dress and fantastic styling!

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

totally agree with you on the dress description: "sweeping staircases and decaying cinemas..."

literature considered "elitist"? how sad when the study of literature is increasingly considered a pursuit "for those who think themselves superior". a similar thing has been happened for decades in regard to the study and pursuit of all the arts. (i observed this while i was at uni studying art studio and art history). for it's the humanities and the fine arts that make us human!
keep aiming high, roz.

adrielleroyale said...

Elitist or not, I almost think you should become a stateswoman or politician with the way you think and speak so eloquently about political and educational subjects! You have so many talents, you could seriously be anything you wanted. If you do study Literature, do right a book about the importance of the arts and literature, etc. If anyone could do it justice, it would most certainly be you! :)

You look lovely as always. :)

Flis said...

I am with you entirely on this one. It's high time that people recognised that the arts are just as challenging (if not more so) as sciences, but because the sciences are seen to have more of an application in the 'real world', they are deemed to be more difficult.

http://felicityotoole.blogspot.com/

The life after said...

Fabulous outfit!

The Life After

Zorian said...

Ros, Thank You, for the lovely comment on my blog.
ps. for me, Aria,is the brightest star in all the heavens.

Carla said...

"Be fearful of mediocrity"
Jonathon Ellery

Expressive piece,fab dress,great location and pics!! What talent... thanks for stopping by my blog
Carla x

isa telaraña said...

You are so sure about what you want, I think that is a very important step. Continue dreaming and working hard... it is clear you will go far!!!

Style Diaries said...

love the whole look. so amazing

Clara Turbay said...

Gorgeous pieces and glam style!

http://paquetevistasbien.blogspot.com

100%soie said...

Hi, I am so happy you wrote a comment on my blog. you are an inspiration for me and even if I don't understand (me too !) all your text, I enjoy reading it. thank you again for your nice comment, it's a pleasure and I forgive not to write it in french !
your outfit is stunning, as usual !
thank you and have a nice evening !

awishisarainbow said...

I love this dress...and the photos....beautiful!!

the milk avenue. said...

i love that dress is so nice!!
xx

Yen said...

I really enjoy your writing and your point of view on the elitists is rather interesting.
Let me tell you something I read a while ago. It's about the Illuminati, which I'm sure you must already have heard. The Illuminati enlisted freethinkers, naturally, they were opposed and detested by the Church. What exciting is that the Illuminati included some of the greatest minds of the world's history, yet, these people once had to live in the era of secret meetings in which they discussed literature, science, and probably anything innovative. I was not yet born to know whether their stories are fictional or not, and how many of them really happened, but from these stories, I figured out that there are always two groups of people existing parallel in the society, those always thinking ahead of their time, and those who were born to enforce and blindly oblige laws, conventions, traditional rules.

I think this society is harsh, it always is. The world may not have enough rooms and open its arms to those who are disregarded because of what they believe in (the literary elitists for example), but they will still survive simply because our society needs more of those people.

I'm not sure whether you have made up your mind, but I recommend that you pursue what you love to do. We all live for that. I also need that...
I hope to read more of your writings, you are truly gifted and your opinions raises higher than any of the fellow of your age.

And I love your translucent dress, it tells a romantic story, really cute and still elegant. I really love its lamented collar detail.

Yen,
x.

the Citizen Rosebud said...

Phenom!

Fabrizia said...

Such a great post, I enjoyed it so much! Really nice photos!

Last day to enter the Fox House giveaway on my blog!
Take a look and maybe follow?: Cosa mi metto???

shooting star said...

loving your hat.....
and an interesting read on the universities scenario in UK...we are having a similar situation in india right now..with the top end universities facing a lot of flak for being elitist..

http://sushmita-smile.blogspot.com

Jen Umm said...

this is incred, love the photos
Great post, thanks for sharing!

if you like we can follow each other on bloglovin :)
let me know!
STYLE DECORUM

Izzy/Bella said...

1. I ADORE the dress. The buttons and the sheer material together remind me of a modern petticoat or a very delicate old-fashioned coat; I don't why that should make me love it more but it does.

2. As for 21st century equivalents: I think what you're coming up against is a (sad I think) shift in the intellectual landscape. John Fowles ( a great English writer...although why am I telling you that? I'm sure you've read him. Oh my God, if you haven't! You would DIE for The French Lieutenant's Woman...I can see so much inspiration for your blogpost's coming from the early feminist, Romantic (yes, with a capital "r" character who hangs with another literary group a la Dante Gabriel Rossetti's pack in the book. Stopping now before I spoil it.) Anyway there's a collectcion of Fowle's bromides somewhere, and he talks about how intellectuals are moving from the verbal to the visual world-- F.R. Leavis is becoming Steve Jobs is maybe a good analogy. I can't help it...I think it's sad. Books are SO much more visceral than any film.

3. Yes, by all means study literature! I'm half French and half American, so I chose to study comparative literature over English, but it was essentially the same thing. Many tried to dissuade me. "You're going to end up flipping burgers at Mickey D's" were some particularly memorable and horrifying words, but it's invaluable to me. It helped me begin to learn how to think for myself and from there I've always felt I could do anything else I wanted to. That's what education (as my headmaster loved to tell us) literally means- from "ex ducere" a leading out of oneself literally.

Good luck and thanks for another heartfelt, passionate and thoughtful post!
xx
Izzy
www.misadventuresofme.com

EIGHT LONDON said...

Roz,

Best of luck with your university applications. Your narrative sends me back 5 years to when I was in the same position - struggling to find like-minded souls with similar interests. I was young and needed inspiration from those who were older and wiser than myself. Very few of my schoolgirl friends were as culturally, policically or artistically motivated as I was. It sucked.

I too, looked to the internet. Not to blogging, which I had never heard of, but to myspace. For a short while, we, a small group of strangers shared films, books and music across cyber space. In a dark time for me, it was like a prescription delivery service. If I had known blogging had been like this, it would have helped - a lot.

Count yourself extremely fortunate that you have found your calling. I too, had my heart set on going to a Russell Group and studying english literature. It was just going to happen. I will be honest here, in saying that being good at writing, and being good at reading, does not necessarily make for a good english lit student. I have whole heartedly enjoyed myself for the past 2 years on my course, and have worked extremely hard, seemingly reading more than anyone else, but my marks have been middling. After some disappointment, I have accepted that I am a creative writer, not a critic, and that is essentially what most eng lit courses are about. I would advise you to read a really great book that has reached out and 'taken my hand' as Alan Bennett's Cultural studies teacher character in the History Boys describes : The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. It made me feel a lot better about my experience studying lit at uni.

On your second topic, I will say this. You will find that new Bloomsbury group, or they will find you. I found mine here in Paris, they're brilliant. They are all young and beautiful and in possession of a shocking intelligence: its a deadly spell to fall under. I will add that there's not really much coffee-drinking. There's a lot of wine drinking, dinner-party arguments over a rotisserie chicken, out-witting each other on lunchbreaks over twitter. I guarantee you there wasn't much coffee drinking amongst the bloomsbury set either!

All my luck Roz, it's yours.

Fashionistable said...

Humanities and the Arts. Even when I was at school, while sitting, working in the 6th form art room a teacher from another subject came in and told us all we were wasting our time. How could we ever earn a living with art! So sadly this is not a new story.I found your comments about learning by rote very interesting and very true. And am also saddened by the very stark fact 3 in 10 households with no books. Makes me want to cry.
Aim high Rosalind. You are on the right path. It would be wrong if you didn't. Too many people aim far too low. You will always to well. Xxxx

Quinn B said...

This dress is so gorgeous. I love sheer black dresses. Your photos are o lovely and I really like your style. It's very unique. Good luck with your applications! I'm doing mine very soon as well.

Babes in Woods said...

Love this shoot!

Linsey @ Babes in Woods Vintage Online

B. said...

This dress is amazing! Where do you get all your clothes - looks stunning
B.x
wewantshops.blogspot.com