Facts and Events
Julian Heward Bell (4 February 1908 – 18 July 1937) was an English poet, and the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell (who was the elder sister of Virginia Woolf). The writer Quentin Bell was his younger brother and the writer and painter Angelica Garnett was his half-sister. His relationship with his mother is explored in Susan Sellers' novel Vanessa and Virginia.
Born in the St Pancras district of London, he was brought up mainly at Charleston, Sussex. He was educated at Leighton Park School and King's College, Cambridge, where he joined the Cambridge Apostles. He was a friend of some of the Cambridge Five, and sometimes claimed as Anthony Blunt's lover. (In the BBC dramatisation Cambridge Spies he appears as Blunt's lover and Guy Burgess's unrequited love interest.) After graduating he worked towards a college fellowship, without success.
In 1935 he went to China, to a position teaching English at Wuhan University. He wrote letters describing his relationship with a married lover, K.; the identity of this woman became a sensitive issue when the Chinese-British novelist Hong Ying published a fictionalized account, in 1999. After a 2002 ruling by a Chinese court, that the book was 'defamation of the dead', the author rewrote the book, which was published in 2003 under the title The English Lover.
In 1937, Bell became increasing supportive of the socialist and anti-fascist movements and decided to enlist in the Spanish Civil War. His parents and his aunt Virginia tried to dissuade him; eventually they persuaded Julian to get a job as an ambulance driver on the Republican side, rather than a soldier. His motive for going to Spain was a general sympathy for the cause of the Spanish Republic, plus "the usefulness of war experience in the future and the prestige one would gain in literature and - even more - Left politics". After just a month in Spain he was killed in the battle of Brunete, aged 29. He was hit by bomb fragments whilst driving an ambulance.
Quentin Bell's son, Julian's nephew, is also named Julian Bell. He is the author of Mirror of the World: A New History of Art (2007).