Do Not Feed the Birds: Night and Day and the Defence of the Realm Act

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


For Katherine Mansfield, reading Night and Day in 1919 was akin ‘to find[ing] on the great ocean of literature a ship that was unaware of what has been happening’. The opening pages of Chapter XIII (the manuscript draft of which was written October/November 1916) would seem to back up Mansfield’s verdict: after all, what could a short scene in which a young man spends his lunch hour feeding sparrows in Lincoln’s Inn Fields possibly have to do with the events of the 1914–18 war? But then under the wartime Defence of the Realm Act it became illegal to feed wild animals; ‘Rat and Sparrow’ clubs were revived across the country; letters were written to The Times in January, June and July 1917 on the subject of ‘Destructive Birds’ and ‘The Sparrow Pest’; and in June that same year The Times reported the case of ‘Mrs. Sophia G. Stuart, 76’, who had been ‘fined £2 for feeding sparrows with bread’. ‘I have nothing else to love’, she had said, ‘since my poor boy was killed in Mesopotamia’. Did Woolf, a lifelong reader of The Times, take note of these developments? And did she revise her novel in order to allude to them – and thus, if only in a very minor fashion, engage in some form of public protest against the war? This paper will suggest that perhaps she did.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContradictory Woolf
Subtitle of host publicationSelected Papers from the Twenty-first Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf
EditorsDerek Ryan, Stella Bolaki
Place of PublicationClemson
PublisherClemson University Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)978-0-9835339-5-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012


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