Photo: My own taken at Monk’s House, September 2015
Leonard Sidney Woolf was an author and political theorist. He was a British man of letters and publisher who influenced both literature and politics.
Q. A (wo)man of letters?
A. A (wo)man who is devoted to literary or scholarly pursuits.
In 1899 at the age of 19 Leonard won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met most of the other Bloomsberries. In 1904 he moved to what is now Sri Lanka to become a cadet in the Civil Service. To become a cadet the prerequisite was a first class honours degree in order to even be able to sit the exams. A very exclusive group.
To be honest though, much of the above doesn’t mean a great deal to me. Political Theorist? Cadet in the Civil Service? Who are these sorts of people?
Well, the following people were political theorists that I remember from my degree days. Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Paine, Friedrich Engels. Even Plato, Cicero and Marx. Big names. So, in my quest for understanding, I can put Leonard in to some sort of ‘place’ in my mind. Also, when I think of high ranking officials in the Civil Service I think of people like Chris Patten in Hong Kong. Leonard was not your average type of guy.
Well, Leonard resigned from his role in 1912 partly because he fell out with Imperialism and partly to marry Virginia. He then published The Village in the Jungle, a novel based on his Sri Lanka experiences but from the viewpoint of the indigenous people, not the colonisers. Another one to add to my reading list perhaps. I am reminded of Things Fall Apart, Achebe (another of my favourites).
Woolf went on to join the Labour Party and the Fabian Society and contributed to the New Statesman. In 1916 he wrote International Government, proposing an international agency to enforce world peace.
Leonard spent much of his life caring for Virginia and after her death he fell in love with a married artist, Trekkie Parsons.
I think I would have liked Leonard. It seems he was a man of integrity who worked hard for the right reasons. Apparently he never published a book purely for profit and he turned down a high position in the Civil Service in the hope that Virginia would marry him.