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Virginia Woolf: writing death and illness into the national story of post-first world war Britain

By Jess Cotton, Lecturer at School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
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Illness, unlike war, as English academic and writer Elizabeth Outka brilliantly demonstrates in her book Viral Modernism (2019), is a story that easily slips out of cultural and historical memory.

In illness, the modernist writer Virginia Woolf observed, “We cease to be soldiers in the army of the upright; we become deserters.” Woolf, writing in the wake of the first world war, saw the threat that the Spanish flu of 1919 posed to the stories of national triumph. Influenza moves in invisible and…


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