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Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries$
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Julie Vandivere and Megan Hicks

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954088

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954088.001.0001

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Woolf’s Imperialist Cousins: Missionary Vocations of Dorothea and Rosamond Stephen

Woolf’s Imperialist Cousins: Missionary Vocations of Dorothea and Rosamond Stephen

(p.62) Woolf’s Imperialist Cousins: Missionary Vocations of Dorothea and Rosamond Stephen
Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries

Eleanor McNees

Liverpool University Press

Now largely ignored, perhaps because Virginia Woolf mercilessly disparaged them in her diaries and letters, the two youngest daughters of James Fitzjames Stephen (Leslie Stephen’s older brother), Rosamond and Dorothea, together created a modest historical and literary legacy in their vocations and writings. Both embodied a characteristic Woolf and her father most despised—a religious missionary zeal reminiscent of the Stephen family’s strong evangelical roots in the Clapham sect of the 1830s. Dorothea’s and Rosamond’s writings reflect a desire to convert their respective audiences to a particularly English Christian perspective. Both moved to former British colonies, Dorothea to southern India where she taught in Christian religious schools, and Rosamond to Ireland where she founded the Church of Ireland-affiliated Irish Guild of Witness. In their separate endeavors they espoused and promoted their father’s beliefs in British superiority with its consequent civilizing mission. This essay reads Dorothea’s and Rosamond’s written records as examples of a revived British imperialism that Woolf inherited but strongly criticized. It suggests that Woolf’s negative reaction to her Stephen cousins who embodied that religious/imperialist ethos is more complex than has been previously acknowledged.

Keywords:   Civilizing mission, British imperialism, Evangelical, Ireland, India, Dorothea Stephen, Rosamond Stephen

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