Serving on the Eugenic Homefront: Virginia Woolf, Race, and Disability

Franks, Matt
March 2017
Feminist Formations;Spring2017, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p1
Academic Journal
If eugenics was a "war against the weak," as Edwin Black characterizes it, then interwar Britain was a homefront in the crusade against contagion from all sides: disabled, sexually perverse, working class, and nonwhite enemies at home in England and abroad in the colonies. I contend that modernists like Virginia Woolf enlisted dysgenic subjects to serve on the battlefield in order to lay the foundations for new, seemingly more inclusive, versions of eugenics and also to provide the raw material for the intellectual and bodily fragmentation of modernist aesthetics. I read this phenomenon in Woolf's own blackface, cross-dressing performance in the 1910 Dreadnought Hoax and in her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse. These examples demonstrate how the nation was beginning to recruit unfit subjects and put them on the frontlines of the war on degeneracy, rather than eliminate them. By demonstrating how such service members were nonetheless stripped of their worth and even sacrificed in battle, my reading of Woolf excavates the modernist roots of liberal biopolitics--or what I call the afterlife of eugenics.


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