Posts Tagged ‘The Platform of Time’

Dreadnought Hoax cover

The Dreadnought Hoax, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University.

A bit of a back and forth about the Dreadnought Hoax took place on the VWoolf Listserv today. So now that the dust has cleared, here are the facts, as established by our Woolf experts:

  • The hoax occurred Monday, Feb. 7, 1910.  Peter Stansky verified the date by checking the original telegram related to the affair. It is housed in the National Archives at Kew, which was formerly known as the Public Records Office. You can access the Archives’ Dreadnought folder here. Stanksy included a full account of the hoax in his book, On or About December 1910: Early Bloomsbury and its Intimate World, published by Harvard University Press in 1996.
  • Quentin Bell gives Feb. 10 as the date of the hoax in his biography of Woolf. In her biography, Hermione Lee gives Feb. 7 as the date, although she does not cite her source. In her 1997 biography Duncan Grant, Frances Spalding doesn’t give a source for her date either, but she does use the correct date of Feb. 7.
  • The Daily Mirror reported on Feb. 16, 1910, that “All England is laughing at the practical joke played a few days ago…”, beneath a photograph of the participants in the hoax.
  • The Dreadnought talk that Woolf gave to the Rodmell branch of the Women’s Institute is published in The Platform of Time, edited by S. P Rosenbaum. Georgia Johnston discovered the manuscript of the talk, and her account was published in the Woolf Studies Annual, Vol XV in 2009.
  • Adrian Stephen wrote The Dreadnought Hoax, published by the Hogarth Press in 1936.

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platform-of-timeThis week in one of the women’s studies classes I teach, our discussion centered around Marxist-socialist feminist theory. After class, I wondered: What would Virginia say?

The answer — at least one of them — was close at hand. In her introductory letter to Life as We Have Known It (1931), Woolf writes of her “benevolent spectator” status at the 1913 meeting of the Women’s Co-operative Guild. 

As the working class women at the meeting talk about their demands for higher wages and a shorter workday, Woolf realizes that, as a privileged upper middle class woman, these issues don’t really affect her. Instead, she says, they ”leave me, in my own blood and bones, untouched.” She admits that, “If every reform they [working class women] demand was granted this very instant it would not touch one hair of my comfortable capitalistic head.”

I am struck by the empathy that Woolf expresses in this piece. She talks about the working class women “who worked, who bore children, who scrubbed and cooked and bargained” and contrasts them with women like herself who sit in comfy chairs reading books and taking exotic trips to picturesque places.

Middle class women may express sympathy for women of the working class, but their sympathy is “fictitious,” Woolf argues. For women of privilege have no idea what it is like to heat bath water for a husband who works as a miner and scrub his blackened clothes by hand, she says. They don’t know what it’s like to be sent out to work in the fields at the age of eight or be comforted by a glimpse of the sun through a factory window. They don’t know what it’s like to rely on old magazines for their only reading material.

One myth about Woolf is that she was an apolitical effete snob who had no awareness of issues regarding class. I think this essay, written to introduce this volume of autobiographical sketches by Co-operative Guildswomen, proves otherwise.

Roy Johnson has posted a review of the Hesperus Press book in which this essay appears, The Platform of Time: Memoirs of Family and Friends on the Mantex Web site. You can read his review here.

The Platform of Time, published in 2007, also contains Woolf’s account of the infamous Dreadnought Hoax, and for the first time in book form, her complete memoir of her nephew Julian Bell.

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