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Leonard Woolf

Leonard Woolf
Bust of Leonard Woolf at Monk's House
Born Leonard Sidney Woolf
(1880-11-25)25 November 1880
Kensington, London, England, United Kingdom
Died 14 August 1969(1969-08-14) (aged 88)
Rodmell, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Occupation Political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant
Spouse(s) Virginia Woolf
(m. 1912–41) (her death)
Partner(s) Trekkie Parsons

Leonard Sidney Woolf (; 25 November 1880 – 14 August 1969) was an English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant, and husband of author Virginia Woolf.


  • Early life 1
  • Writing 2
  • Family 3
  • Death 4
  • Works 5
  • Autobiographical works 6
  • Biographical works on Woolf 7
  • Related works and cultural references 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Woolf was born in London, the third of ten children of Solomon Rees Sidney Woolf (known as Sidney Woolf), a barrister and Queen's Counsel, and Marie (née de Jongh). His family was Jewish. After his father died in 1892 Woolf was sent to board at Arlington House School near Brighton, Sussex. From 1894 to 1899 he attended St Paul's School, and in 1899 he won a classical scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] where he was elected to the Cambridge Apostles. Other members included Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, GE Moore and EM Forster. Thoby Stephen, Virginia Stephen's brother, was friendly with the Apostles, though not a member himself. Woolf was awarded his BA in 1902, but stayed for another year to study for the Civil Service examinations.

In October 1904 Woolf moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to become a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service, in Jaffna and later Kandy,[2] and by August 1908 was named an assistant government agent in the Southern Province, where he administered the District of Hambantota. Woolf returned to England in May 1911 for a year's leave. Instead, however, he resigned in early 1912 and that same year married Virginia Stephen (Virginia Woolf).

Together Leonard and Virginia Woolf became influential in the Bloomsbury group, which also included various other former Apostles.

In December 1917 Woolf became one of the co-founders of the 1917 Club, which met in Gerrard Street, Soho.


After marriage, Woolf turned his hand to writing and in 1913 published his first novel, The Village in the Jungle, which is based on his years in Sri Lanka. A series of books followed at roughly two-yearly intervals.

On the introduction of conscription in 1916, during the First World War, Woolf was rejected for military service on medical grounds, and turned to politics and sociology. He joined the Labour Party and the Fabian Society, and became a regular contributor to the New Statesman. In 1916 he wrote International Government, proposing an international agency to enforce world peace.

As his wife's mental health worsened, Woolf devoted much of his time to caring for her (he himself suffered from depression). In 1917 the Woolfs bought a small hand-operated printing press and with it they founded the Hogarth Press. Their first project was a pamphlet, hand-printed and bound by themselves. Within ten years the Press had become a full-scale publishing house, issuing Virginia's novels, Leonard's tracts and, among other works, the first edition of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Woolf continued as the main director of the Press until his death. His wife suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, until her suicide by drowning in 1941. Later Leonard fell in love with a married artist, Trekkie Parsons.

In 1919 Woolf became editor of the International Review. He also edited the international section of the Contemporary Review from 1920 to 1922. He was literary editor of The Nation and Atheneum, generally referred to simply as The Nation, from 1923 to 1930), and joint founder and editor of The Political Quarterly from 1931 to 1959), and for a time he served as secretary of the Labour Party's advisory committees on international and colonial questions.

In 1960 Woolf revisited Sri Lanka and was surprised at the warmth of the welcome he received, and even the fact that he was still remembered.[3] Woolf accepted an honorary doctorate from the then-new University of Sussex in 1964 and in 1965 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He declined the offer of CH in the Queen's Birthday honours list in 1966.[2]


Among his nine siblings, Bella Woolf was also an author.


Woolf died on 14 August 1969 from a stroke. He was cremated and his ashes were buried alongside his wife's beneath an elm tree in his beloved garden at Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex. The tree subsequently blew down and Woolf's remains have since been marked by a bronze bust.

His papers are held by the University of Sussex at Falmer.


  • The Village in the Jungle – 1913
  • The Wise Virgins – 1914 (Republished in 2003 by Persephone Books)
  • International Government – 1916
  • The Future of Constantinople – 1917
  • The Framework of a Lasting Peace - 1917
  • Cooperation and the Future of Industry – 1918
  • Economic Imperialism – 1920
  • Empire and Commerce in Africa – 1920
  • Socialism and Co-operation – 1921
  • International co-operative trade – 1922
  • Fear and Politics – 1925
  • Essays on Literature, History, Politics – 1927
  • Hunting the Highbrow – 1927
  • Imperialism and Civilization – 1928
  • After the Deluge (Principia Politica), 3 vols. – 1931, 1939, 1953
  • Quack! Quack! – 1935
  • Barbarians at the Gate – 1939
  • The War for Peace – 1940
  • A Calendar of Consolation – selected by Leonard Woolf, 1967

Autobiographical works

  • Woolf, Leonard (1960). Sowing: an autobiography of the years, 1880–1904. London:   1339821. OCLC Also  
  • Woolf, Leonard (1961). Growing: an autobiography of the years 1904–1911 (1st American ed.). New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.  67527334 (1967). OCLC  21246847 (1977), OCLC Also  
  • Woolf, Leonard (1963). Diaries in Ceylon, 1908–1911, and Stories from the East: records of a colonial administrator. London: Hogarth Press.   4194108 OCLC Also  
  • Woolf, Leonard (1964). Beginning again: an autobiography of the years 1911–1918. London: Hogarth Press.  
  • Woolf, Leonard (1967). Downhill all the way: an autobiography of the years 1919–1939 (1st American ed.). New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.  
  • Woolf, Leonard (1969). The journey not the arrival matters: an autobiography of the years 1939–1969. London: Hogarth Press.  

Biographical works on Woolf

    • Edited excerpt of book available at Glendinning, Victoria (26 August 2006). "A fresh spirit". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
    • Review of book with details about Leonard Woolf available at Gross, John (December 2006). "Mr. Virginia Woolf".  

Related works and cultural references

See also

  • Trekkie Parsons
  • Woolf, Leonard; Ritchie, Trekkie (2002). Adamson, Judith, ed. Love letters. London:  
  • Adam Smith, Janet (29 July 1995). "Obituary: Trekkie Parsons". The Independent. UK:  


  1. ^ "Woolf, Leonard Sidney (WLF899LS)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ "Letter", Daily News ( .
  3. ^ Hettiarachchi, Kumudini (9 September 2002), "Still a village in the jungle", Sunday Times (LK) .

External links

  • Works by Leonard Woolf at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Leonard Woolf at Internet Archive
  • The Leonard Woolf fonds at the Victoria University Library at the University of Toronto consists of correspondence from Woolf to Ellen Alderm, 1935, and Mrs. Easdale, 1935, 1964–1968, primarily re submissions to Hogarth Press
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