Virginia Woolf’s ‘unacceptable views’ explained via QR code on her statue

Bust of Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's statue in Tavistock Square, London - PjrTravel /Alamy

A statue of Virginia Woolf has had a QR code added that explains her “imperialist attitudes and offensive opinions”.

It is part of a scheme by Labour’s Camden council in London drawn up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests to address the connections between local monuments and “racism, slavery… imperialism”.

The QR code has been attached to a statue of the author of Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse in Bloomsbury. When scanned it brings up a lengthy explanation of her “unacceptable” views.

It is part of a project, backed by National Lottery funding, to make “meaningful connections between our diverse communities and Camden’s public realm”.

A short biography of the author says: “Her diaries and letters also present challenging, offensive comments and descriptions of race, class and ability which we would find unacceptable today.”

It adds that Woolf, and other members of her literary set, the Bloomsbury Group, dressed in blackface as Abyssinian royals for a hoax which showed her to be “someone who was a product of imperialist attitudes of the time”.

Noor Inayat Khan Memorial statue in Gordon Square Bloomsbury London
The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial statue in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. The Indian-heritage British Second World War agent was executed by the Nazis - Robert Evans/Alamy

The overview also notes that she had negative and offensive views of Jewish people despite marrying Leonard Woolf, an author of Jewish heritage.

Extracts from her work have been criticised by some for the use of racial epithets such as “n-----”, and her diaries include remarks labelled as racist, including a description of skin as “black as a monkey’s”.

Regarded as a modernist master, she drowned herself in 1941 aged 59. Her statue was unveiled in Tavistock Square, close to one of her London homes, in 2004.

The project, RePresenting Bloomsbury, aims to ensure public memorials and the individuals commemorated are presented through “multiple, diverse perspectives”.

This will include “any discriminatory ideas or behaviours, as well as positive contributions to society”.

The work is designed to “enable us to better understand the impact of these individuals on society, and to make new meaningful connections between our diverse communities and Camden’s public realm”.

Bertrand Russell statue
The Bertrand Russell statue in Red Lion Square. He changed his mind about empire and race later in life - PjrStatues/Alamy

Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, has also been swept into the statue review with a QR code. His early views on empire and race, which he later repudiated, are discussed via his monument in Red Lion Square.

The outline notes that he ultimately supported gay rights, women’s rights and the rights of people from different races but that works written in the 1920s were suggestive of “white supremacy”.

Noor Inyat Khan, the Indian-heritage British Second World War agent, who was executed by the Nazis after being captured in France, has also been included in the project.

More will be done from 2024 to 2028 to ensure that all of Camden’s commemorative works are investigated.

The borough boasts numerous statues including monuments to George I, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud and Amy Winehouse.

In 2021, Camden renamed Cecil Rhodes House over concerns about the empire-building policies of the late 19th-century English mining magnate and politician.

Camden Council has been contacted for comment.