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Virginia WoolfAmbivalent Activist$
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Clara Jones

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474401920

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474401920.001.0001

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Virginia Woolf and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1913–31

Virginia Woolf and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1913–31

(p.108) Chapter 3 Virginia Woolf and the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1913–31
Virginia Woolf

Clara Jones

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter focuses on Woolf’s attendance at the 1913 Newcastle WCG congress. I considers how her record of this event in her 1931 ‘Introductory Letter’ to Life as We Have Known It is inflected by memories of her mental breakdown of the same year, suggesting that her hallucinatory depiction of the congress delegates in this essay is informed by her experience of being nursed by working-class women during her periods of mental illness. The chapter moves on to read the ‘Introductory Letter’ alongside Woolf’s essay ‘On Being Ill’, showing how these apparently dissimilar projects collectively explore the effects of illness, the limits of sympathy and possibilities of solidarity. This chapter closes with a detailed discussion of the narrative strategies deployed in the ‘Introductory Letter’ and an untitled and unpublished sketch written in the same year, which I call the ‘Cook Sketch’. This sketch, produced a matter of months after the completion of the ‘Introductory Letter’, is written entirely in the voice of domestic cook and represents a rare instance of class ventriloquism. This discussion compares the approaches to voice in these pieces and makes a case for reading them as a highly performative attempt by Woolf to articulate the difficulties of speaking for a class that was not her own.

Keywords:   The Women’s Co-operative Guild, Class and voice, ‘Introductory Letter’, ‘On Being Ill’, History of Mental Health Treatment

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