The colonial actress: empire, modernity and the exotic in twentieth-century London

Angela Woollacott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Sonya O. Rose has been a major influence on recent modern British history, through her generous mentoring of a sizeable cohort of currently active scholars, her always-constructive commentary on the work of younger scholars in the field, and especially through her own imaginative and meticulous research. In 1992 Rose compelled the attention of the field to the interconstitutive process in which gender ideologies and class structures evolved and shaped the daily lives of working women and men in the nineteenth century.1 In 2003 she recast the central subject of national identity and citizenship in World War II Britain, using social and cultural history methodology to explore the political processes of inclusion and exclusion at a defining historical moment. In this chapter, I pay tribute to Rose’s work by addressing some of its themes in the context of my own recent research on gender, women’s lives and the colonialism that stretched between Australia and the British metropole. In Which People’s War?, her study of World War II, Rose considered the controversial figure of “the good-time girl”, the trope representing young women who challenged sexual propriety, were accused of selfish indulgence and, especially, linked to interracial sex with African-American GIs present in Britain.2 The controversy over the “good-time girl” was a classic instance of debates over the female body, the fusing of issues of sexuality, gender, race and the nation so characteristic of modernity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender, labour, war and empire
Subtitle of host publicationessays on modern Britain
EditorsPhilippa Levine, Susan R. Grayzel
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780230582927
ISBN (Print)9780230521193
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


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