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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 Rodmell Women’s Institute, 1940–1

Virginia Woolf and the Rodmell Women’s Institute, 1940–1

(p.154) Chapter 4 Virginia Woolf and the Rodmell Women’s Institute, 1940–1
Virginia Woolf

Clara Jones

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter addresses Woolf’s involvement with the Rodmell WI, focusing on her ‘Dreadnought Hoax’ talk to her branch in July 1940 and the plays that she helped to produce with the branch’s drama society throughout 1940 and 1941. Much has been made of Virginia Stephen’s involvement in the 1910 ‘Dreadnought Hoax’ but little attention has been paid to the significance of the 1940 talk’s W.I. setting. The talk’s irreverent treatment of imperial institutions represent not only a flouting of the WI’s prized rule that forbade remarks that might cause ‘friction or offense’ but also a coded challenge to the Institute’s deeply nationalist ideology. This chapter reads Woolf’s work on WI plays in the context of a wider revival in village drama in the inter-war period. Referring to the institutional literature of both the WI and the Society for Village Drama, it sets out the ambitious social project these groups imagined for their work, including their desire for village drama to promote class conciliation. The chapter closes by exploring how the politics of this village theatre revival are interpreted, staged and critiqued in Woolf’s final novel Between the Acts, offering a new context in which to read its prominent themes of performance, national identity, nostalgia and democracy.

Keywords:   Village drama, The Dreadnought Hoax, National Federation of Women’s Institute, Between the Acts, class

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