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Stephen Tomlin

John Simkin

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Stephen Tomlin is one of the most interesting members of the Bloomsbury Group. Frances Marshall described Tomlin: "The two sides of his personality were fused together as it were by an excellent brain inherited from his father the judge (Lord Tomlin), shown in his enjoyment of arguments with a distinctly legal flavour.... Tommy (Tomlin) was on the short side, squarely built, with a large head set on a short neck. He had the striking profile of a Roman emperor on a coin, fair straight hair brushed back from a fine forehead, a pale face and grey eyes."

Tomlin became a regular visitor to Ham Spray House, the home of Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington and Ralph Partridge. According to Strachey's biographer, Stanford Patrick Rosenbaum, they created: "A polygonal ménage that survived the various affairs of both without destroying the deep love that lasted the rest of their lives. Strachey's relation to Carrington was partly paternal; he gave her a literary education while she painted and managed the household. Ralph Partridge... became indispensable to both Strachey, who fell in love with him, and Carrington." However, Frances Marshall denied that the two men were lovers and that Lytton quickly realised that Ralph was "completely heterosexual".

Michael Holroyd, the author of Lytton Strachey (1994), has argued: "Tomlin, being bisexual, for a brief spell occupied a virtuoso position in the Ham Spray régime... The mercurial Stephen Tomlin who, greatly attracting Lytton and repelling Ralph, spiralled round the Ham Spray molecule causing shock waves everywhere." " Tomlin began an affair with Henrietta Bingham, Carrington's lover. In July 1924 he took Bingham to Scotland. Carrington wrote to Gerald Brenan complaining that "Henrietta repays my affections almost as negatively as you find I do yours."

Tomlin began an affair with Carrington in 1926. Carrington's husband Ralph Partridge, strongly objected to the relationship, "fearing he (Tomlin) was someone more likely to destroy than to create happiness." Frances Marshall agreed: "One side of his character was creatively gifted, charming and sensitive; the other was dominated by a destructive impulse (fuelled probably by deep neurotic despair) whose effect was that he couldn't see two people happy together without being impelled to intervene and take one away, leaving the other bereft. Or it would take the form of a direct bid for power over others - whether male or female, for he was bi-sexual - which he was well-equipped to exert. The sequel would be a fit of suicidal depression and guilt-feelings."

Tomlin was also having an affair with Carrington's friend, Julia Strachey. His affair with Carrington came to an end when Tomlin married Julia in July 1927. The married couple rented a stone cottage at Swallowcliffe in Wiltshire. Carrington was a regular visitor: "Really its equal to Ham Spray in elegance and comfort, only cleaner and tidier."

In July 1931 Tomlin began working on a bust of Virginia Woolf. Her biographer, Hermione Lee, argued that being sculpted by Tomlin "made her think of herself as an image, a thing: she hated it, even more than sitting for her portrait." Quentin Bell added: "For somehow Virginia managed to forget, in agreeing to the proposal, that the sculptor must inevitably wish to look at his sitter and Virginia should have recollected that one of the things she most disliked in life was being peered at. A very few friends had been allowed to make pictures; some were made by stealth." Despite this, Bell believes that it was a successful work of art: "It is not flattering. It makes Virginia look older and fiercer than she was, but it has a force, a life, a truth, which his other works (those I have seen) do not possess."


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