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“Keep calm and carry on”: War propaganda and Virginia Woolf

Blogging Woolf

The slogan “Keep calm and carry on” is now appearing on everything from coffee mugs to note pads. I have both. But where did it come from?

As this PBS video shows, the slogan originated on a propaganda poster during World War II, but the poster itself was never displayed publicly.

Watching this video led me to think about Virginia Woolf and propaganda, and that thought led me to Mark Wollaeger’s book Modernism, Media, and Propaganda: British Narrative From 1900 To 1945 (2006). It  provides an excellent discussion of Woolf’s views on the subject — and the ways she struggles with propaganda in her novels.

As Wollaeger puts it, Woolf thought of modernism as antithetical to propaganda, and her goal was to steer clear of it. He mentions, for example, that while writing “The Pargiters,” she wrote that “this fiction is dangerously near propaganda, I must keep my hands clear”…

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