A Little Bit More On (The Real) Virginia Woolf

That's the real Virginia Woolf on the far left. She's really nothing to fear after all.

That's the real Virginia Woolf on the far left. She's really nothing to fear after all.

Ah, and since I can't stop talking about Virginia Woolf, I thought I'd point out the sole exception to the blanket condemnation of blackface I issued Monday. (I am a bold one, aren't I? Quite a controversial stand, coming out against racism.) Blackface is only acceptable if it's before 1914, and you're using it to humiliate the British navy.

On February 7th, 1910, one Herbert Cholmondesly of HMFO demanded a special train from London’s Paddington Station to convey four Abyssinian princes to Weymouth docks. In fact, the troupe who boarded HMS Dreadnought that morning were pranksters, recruited by the noted adventurer William Horace de Vere Cole, the ‘Cholmondesly of the FO’. Under the elaborate disguises as African potentates were novelist Virginia Woolf, sportsman Anthony Buxton, artist Duncan Grant and a judge’s son Guy Ridley. Their interpreter was Woolf’s brother Adrian. Red carpet and a guard of honour awaited them at Weymouth, with Admiral Sir William May himself welcoming the company.
When rain threatened their make-ups, the ‘princes’ requested the permission to inspect the ship. Inside, they overacted to a ludicrous degree: they handed out visiting cards printed in Swahili. Being at a loss of what to say, Buxton improvised Virgil’s Aeneid in a strange accent, lest the navy recognized Latin. They asked for prayer mats at sunset, and tried to bestow Abyssinian honours on senior officers. ‘Bunga-bunga,’ they exclaimed whenever they were shown some great aspect of the ship; this except Virginia Woolf who had to try hard to disguise her womanish voice.

Goodness, I do love that story. "Bunga Bunga," of course, would later reappear in peculiar guise as part of the unfunny sex farce that is Berlusconi's Italy, and Virginia Woolf would go on to write all sorts of important novels which are funnier than people think. Anyone who's forgotten that Woolf had a sense of humor, and that blackface has its navy-humiliating uses, can consult the picture above.