Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writer Stories: Virginia Woolf Edition

Some of the most famous authors and poets in history have biographies just as interesting as their works. From Emily Dickinson's hermitage of a life to F. Scott Fitzgerald's outrageous partying, brilliant people never seem content to live ordinary lives. In this section, I'll focus on some of my favorite/ most interesting anecdotes from these crazy awesome people's lives.

Virginia Woolf, who was writing as a part of the Modernist movement of the early nineteen hundreds,  was part of an emerging intellectual society that was defined as much by their nonconformity as by their talent. It was thus that she got involved in what can only be described as the most epic prank of all time: and affair known as the Dreadnaught Hoax. (Feb. 7, 1910)
Essentially, what happened was this: Virginia and several of her friends dressed themselves up as Epiopian royalty; they wore bright gems and colorful silk robes and darkened their skin with make up. The men even put on false beards and mustaches (a bad move, since one of them would later lose half his mustache on a carriage ride... not to worry, though- he managed to keep his face obscured long enough to get it fixed.) The nerdy badasses then send a forged telegram to the local authorities from the "British Viceroy of India" informing them of the arrival of Ethiopian foriegn dignitaries, who planned to board the famous British ship, the Dreadnaught. He blamed the short notice on "problems with an interpreter."
When Virginia's little troup arrived, they were greeted not only by government officials, but also a full on marching band. They had their picture taken for the newspapers, and were issued royal-caliber carriages in which to parade through the streets, which they did with aplomb (and which was when the mustache problem arose).
They kept up the charade by saying things like "bunga, bunga" and mixing Swahili with quotes from Homer. Moderately offensive? Possibly. But hilarious because of its patent inauthenticity? Absolutely.
No one found out about the charade until a good five days later, when an anonymous tipster (possibly one of the costumers) tipped off the press, who, understandably had a field day. The government had had some misgivings, but dimissed them, as expressed by this statement from one of the admirals present.  "From the telegram I naturally concluded Sir Charles Hardinge had forgotten to send the [earlier] telegram & had then short-circuited the Admiralty . . . Willoughby now says he thinks the interpreter had a false beard. The Abyssinians were in native dress and appeared to be genuine..."
Ultimately, though, the only law that the troublemakers had broken was the forgery of the viceroy's signature. Wasting the government's time, resources, money, and dignity was technically all within their rights. They weren't charged with anything, however, and made off like bandits. And so the author of Mrs. Dalloway is, in conclusion, immeasurably cooler than Aston Kutcher will ever be.

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