Virginia Woolf: 'Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid"

Prof. Michèle Barrett

This presentation was a part of Session three: Writing, Poetry and Peace Monuments, From 4:00 pm until 6:00 pm on Friday 11th November, 2011, Lower Ground 02, New Academic Building, Goldsmiths


Virginia Woolf's 1940 essay, 'Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid' , is most frequently read in relation to the arguments about feminism and pacifism that she had been developing through the 1930s and which reached their fullest expression in Three Guineas in 1938.    However, when Woolf speaks of the "ancient instincts" of the young airman up in the sky, and  of  "the desire to dominate and enslave", she is also be invoking the violence of Europe's colonial past.  In this paper I look back to Woolf's experience of aerial bombardment during the First World War, and to the influence in her later writing of the research she undertook then, during the early years of her marriage to Leonard Woolf, on British and French colonial violence in Africa.   The extent and detailed nature of her research into European imperialism in Africa  provide a fresh context for reconsidering the relationship between feminist and anti-colonial ideas in this striking essay.