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Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader$
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Helen Wussow and Mary Ann Gillies

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780989082679

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780989082679.001.0001

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James Stephen’s Anti-Slavery Politics

James Stephen’s Anti-Slavery Politics

A Woolfian Inheritance

(p.27) James Stephen’s Anti-Slavery Politics
Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader

Jane de Gay

Liverpool University Press

Biographies of Virginia Woolf often incorporate a genealogy of her male Stephen ancestors: a succession of writers, lawyers, politicians, churchmen, and academics. If scholars accord them any relevance at all, it is often by classifying them as a patriarchal force that Woolf rejected. This chapter seeks to uncover a more subtle and complex aspect of this legacy by focusing on Woolf's great-grandfather, James (Jem) Stephen (1758–1832), MP and lawyer, Clapham Sect Evangelical, and vociferous anti-slavery campaigner. While it would be easy to dismiss this Stephen as yet another representative of the patriarchal establishment that Woolf pitted herself against, his legacy is more complex than this for, despite his involvement in key pillars of patriarchy (law, religion, and politics), his position was ambivalent and liminal.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, ancestors, genealogy, great grandfather, James Stephen

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