Leonard Woolf

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Leonard Woolf
Virginia Woolf (3)-2.jpg
Bust of Leonard Woolf at Monk's House
Leonard Sidney Woolf

(1880-11-25)25 November 1880
Kensington, London, England
Died14 August 1969(1969-08-14) (aged 88)
Rodmell, East Sussex, England
OccupationPolitical theorist, author, publisher and civil servant
Virginia Woolf
(m. 1912;d. 1941)
Partner(s) Trekkie Parsons
Relatives Bella Sidney Woolf (sister)

Leonard Sidney Woolf ( /ˈwʊlf/ ; 25 November 1880 – 14 August 1969) was a British political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant. He is married to author Virginia Woolf.


Early life

Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1912 Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1912.jpg
Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1912

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 contemporary members included Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, G. E. Moore and E. M. Forster. Thoby Stephen (his future wife's brother) was friendly with the Apostles, though not a member himself. Woolf was awarded his BA in 1902, but stayed there for another year to study for the Civil Service examinations held then.

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.

17 The Green Richmond, 2017 17 The Green Richmond, 2017.jpg
17 The Green Richmond, 2017

Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived at 17 The Green Richmond starting from October 1914. In early March 1915, the couple moved to nearby Hogarth House, Paradise Road. [3]

The Round House, Lewes, 2017 The Round House, Lewes, 2017.jpg
The Round House, Lewes, 2017

In 1919, the Woolfs purchased the Round House in Pipe Passage, Lewes. The same year they discovered Monk's House in nearby Rodmell, which both she and Leonard favoured because of its orchard and garden. She then bought Monk's House and sold the Round House. [4]

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 to writing and published his first novel, The Village in the Jungle (1913), which is based on his years in Ceylon. A series of books followed at roughly bi-annual 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 Athenaeum , 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.

General Election 1922: Combined English Universities (2 seats)
PartyCandidateFPv%Count 1Count 2Count 3Count 4Count 5
Unionist Martin Conway 32.89689821,093  
National Liberal H. A. L. Fisher 27.78198218498831,009
Independent John Strong 19.4571575595611813
Labour Leonard Woolf 12.2361361365366eliminated
Independent Unionist Wilfred Faraday 4.8141206eliminated  
Independent Unionist Sidney C. Lawrence3.190eliminated   
Electorate: 3,967  Valid: 2,946  Quota: 983  Turnout: 74.3

    In 1960, Woolf revisited Ceylon and was surprised at the warmth of the welcome he received, and even the fact that he was still remembered. [5] 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 Companion of Honour (CH) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 1966. [6]


    Among his nine siblings, Bella Woolf was also an author. His brother Cecil Nathan Sidney Woolf was the author of Poems (published 1918); Cecil was killed in World War I in 1917. His dissertation Bartolus of Sassoferrato, his Position in the History of Medieval Political Thought was expanded to a book published by Cambridge University Press in 1913 in collaboration with his brother Philip. Philip and Cecil also translated Stendhal's On Love (Duckworth, 1915). [7]


    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 the Falmer campus.


    Autobiographical works

    Biographical works on Woolf

    See also

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