Leonard Sidney Woolf

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Leonard Woolf's bust of Charlotte Hewer in the garden of Monk's House , Rodmell, Sussex

Leonard Sidney Woolf (born November 25, 1880 in London - † August 14, 1969 in Rodmell , Sussex ), known as Leonard Woolf , was a British publisher , author and publicist . Along with Woodrow Wilson, he is considered to be an important representative of liberal internationalism , one of the main currents within the theoretical development of international relations . Today, his role as husband of the writer Virginia Woolf dominates the public eye.

life and work


Leonard Woolf was the third of ten children of the Jewish Crown Attorney Sidney Woolf and his wife Marie, nee. de Jongh. He inherited from his father a violent temperament, nervous hand tremors and a certain stubbornness. When her husband died in 1892 at the age of 48, the mother had to support nine children alone. She fired the servants and sold the big house. She sent twelve-year-old Leonard to boarding school in Brighton ; from 1894 to 1899 he then attended St. Paul's School in London. He performed excellently in school, including reading Greek and Latin with ease throughout his life. According to his own statements, Leonard broke with his parents' religion at the age of 14, but his own diaries show that he later went to the synagogue. The relationship with his mother was strained, among other things he did not invite her to his wedding.

Studied at Cambridge

Portrait of Virginia Woolf , 1902. Photograph by George Charles Beresford

In 1899 Leonard Woolf received a scholarship to Trinity College , Cambridge , where he was accepted by the Cambridge Apostles ; other "apostles" were for example Lytton Strachey , Clive Bell , Desmond MacCarthy , Thoby Stephen, the brother of his future wife Virginia, John Maynard Keynes , EM Forster and Bertrand Russell . The group was dominated, however, by the later philosophy professor GE Moore , at that time still a lecturer in moral philosophy at Trinity College. The members met day and night and often spent their holidays together. Numerous apostles later joined the Bloomsbury group that had formed around Virginia's sister Vanessa (46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, London ). Woolf earned a BA in 1902 but was still studying for a fifth year to prepare for the public service entrance exam. In it he did miserably because he had hardly prepared himself, so that he was out of the question for an elite position in the Foreign Ministry, for example.

Governor of the government in Ceylon

Leonard Woolf chose colonial service. In November 1904 he began as a trainee lawyer ( cadet ) in the Ceylon public service in Jaffna ; After a stopover in Kandy in 1907, he rose to the position of deputy governor of the government in the Southern Province until August 1908, where he administered the Hambantota district. He was responsible for about 100,000 people. At that time, the colonial service still had a broad field of activity, ranging from road construction to school administration, canal construction, customs administration, prison supervision, police service and justice to public welfare. Woolf worked restlessly, increased salt production, ran the annual pearl auctions in Mannar as Superintendent of Pearl Fisheries , successfully fought rinderpest , ensured effective administrative action, visited the prisons and introduced the plow. He treated local employees according to the method he had learned from an experienced officer of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), known for his effectiveness , FH Price : "Never use two words for something that you can express with one" and " 99 out of 100 things can be done on the same day ”. When he wanted to introduce the principle of answering correspondence on the same day in Kandy with the more than 100 employees there, it almost meant an “open rebellion”; Administrative files were usually processed only after weeks and months. "That made me extremely unpopular, and the Tamils ​​- later the Sinhalese - saw me as a stubborn, ruthless civil servant." Once the new way of working, which no one in the office had believed in its enforceability, had been introduced, it proved to be - also according to the local office manager - that the workload for the individual was lower than before. From then on, he introduced this procedure, which ensured rapid processing in the interests of the local population making the application, at all of his workplaces.

He criticized the conditions in prisons, the punishment of flogging and the death penalty as barbarous ( barbarous ), disgusting ( disgusting ) and above all as inefficient . In the negotiations with the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, with whom he dealt daily in his office, he received, especially in divorce matters, like no other insight into the private circumstances of the locals, also from the perspective of women. Over the years, however, he increasingly suffered from the ambivalence between his position as a white sahib - “a top dog liked by the underdogs” - and the feudal system of the old Kingdom of Kandy , which he was skeptical of (“the fuss and ceremonies of social systems ... I do hate them ”). While he valued the traditional harmony of local society, his experience as a magistrate - an administrative clerk entrusted with legal matters - made him aware of the tensions beneath the surface. His works over the years in Ceylon reveal a deep affection for the landscape and the people of today's Sri Lanka in terms of subject matter and content.

Return and marriage

Engagement photo 1912

In May 1911 Leonard Woolf took a year off and returned to England. He resigned from public service in May 1912 and married Virginia Stephen on August 10, who would later become world famous as a writer under the married name of Woolf. At the time of the marriage she was 30 and he was 31 years old. After their honeymoon, the two moved into a few rooms in an inn on a side street off Fleet Street . They had decided to live as freelance writers: Virginia was working on her first novel, Leonard on The Village in the Jungle , in which he processed his experiences in colonial service. The work was well received by the critics and later reprinted several times.

Life with Virginia

Since his wife suffered from an intermittent mental disorder with depression and delusions, Leonard devoted a lot of time to her care when a new flare-up of illness set in. Less than a year after they got married, she made her first suicide attempt. After she recovered, the couple moved to Richmond, where they lived from 1914 to 1924. In the spring of 1915, Virginia suffered a second nervous breakdown. Leonard worked out a lifestyle plan for her that included good nutrition and plenty of rest. He prescribed fixed lay times for her, restricted visits and even kept records of her periods. These measures were later vehemently criticized by feminists, on the other hand, Virginia did not experience a crisis in the next 24 years that would have been comparable to that of 1913-1915. Virginia was extremely productive and creative during this period under her husband's strict regime. One of the riddles of their marriage is their frequent anti-Semitic failures, which he apparently endured quietly.

Own novels and works on politics

The second book, The Wise Virgins, is of interest because the two main characters are Leonard and Virginia (she wrote a counterpart to that with Night and Day ). More works followed every two years. Leonard became a member of the Labor Party and the Fabian Society and made regular contributions to the New Statesman . He also worked as an editor and freelancer for other magazines and newspapers. When conscription was introduced as part of the First World War in 1916 , Woolf was retired as unfit. That year, in the book International Government , he proposed an organization to enforce world peace. The ideas represented here remained practically unchanged as the basis of British policy when the League of Nations was founded . The US delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference also received his book from the British. With Empire and Commerce in Africa he wrote a critique of colonial policy in 1920. In 1922 Leonard Woolf ran for parliament without much success; he received only twelve percent of the vote. Mainly due to the immense costs associated with Virginia's illness, however, the couple was unable to make a living from writing and journalistic work during this time and had to attack the fortunes that Virginia had brought into the marriage.

Hogarth Press

Hogarth House, 34 Paradise Road, Richmond , London. The Woolfs lived on the top two floors until 1924. The ground floor was rented to a law firm, and the publisher named after this house was housed in the basement.

In 1917 the Woolfs bought a small hand-operated printing press, the basis for the famous Hogarth Press . Leonard Woolf has always denied that he planned the publishing house as work therapy for his wife, but the idea came about in 1915 during her longest depression. The first project was a 34-page booklet with the title Two Stories , each with a contribution by the couple, set, printed and bound by hand. Virginia Woolf became the publisher's editor , Leonard the merchant. Hogarth Press became the most important publisher of Russian writers in the English language, including Chekhov , Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky , but also published the works of Sigmund Freud and Rainer Maria Rilke . Hogarth Press earned its legendary reputation through the discovery of unknown talent. One of the most important works of 20th century literature, TS Eliot's monumental poem The Waste Land , was published here in 1923 . Above all, however, Hogarth Press printed Virginia Woolf's own works, which gave her great artistic freedom, in her own words: “I am the only woman in England who is free to write what she wants. The others have to think of series and editions. ”In March 1938, Virginia Woolf handed over her shares in the publishing house to the writer John Lehmann , with whom Leonard Woolf worked until 1946; then Hogarth Press became a subcontractor of Chatto & Windus .

Work as an editor and consultant

In 1919 Woolf was editor of the International Review and editor of the international section of Contemporary Review (1920-1922). In 1923 he became Nation's literary editor on a part-time position of two and a half days. With a regular income of 500 pounds a year, the Woolfs were able to make a living from the current income. In 1930, after they had become financially independent through the success of Virginia's books, he gave up that position. Leonard focused on his work on After the Deluge , referring to the First World War with the Flood . The book received mixed reviews. In 1939 he published three books on the growing threat of war, including Barbarians at the Gate . Accordingly, the greatest danger did not come from dictators like Hitler or Mussolini , but from the capitalist systems in Great Britain and France and the suppression of freedom in the Soviet Union . As much as Leonard Woolf was wrong on the first points, he was one of the first British socialists to condemn Stalin . He served the Labor Party as an advisor in committees dealing with international and colonial issues.

World War II and Virginia's suicide

Front view of Monk's House

From 1924 to 1939 the Woolfs lived at number 52 on Tavistock Square in London, then at 37 Mecklenburgh Square. From the beginning they had a second residence in Sussex, from 1912 to 1919 in Asheham, from 1919 Monk's House in Rodmell. They spent about a third of their time here in the 1930s. In 1927 Leonard bought his first car and from 1927 the Woolfs drove regularly abroad. That being said, however, they kept their rather modest lifestyle.

At the beginning of World War II , the Woolfs moved their main residence to Monk's House, but there were constant air raids here too. In the event of a German invasion, they prepared their joint suicide. Getting food also became increasingly difficult, putting the two premises on which Leonard's lifestyle plan for Virginia Woolf was based - rest and good nutrition - at risk. In March 1941, the dreaded depression set in, and on March 28, she drowned herself in the nearby river Ouse .

Review of life

Monk's House: Garden with the graves of the Woolfs, marked by busts and plaques

Leonard Woolf was 60 years old at the time. For the next 19 years he wrote only one book, Principia Politica , while when his wife was alive he had written 17 books. In 1953 he began work on his autobiography, but interrupted it several times before the first volume was published in 1960. Until the end of his life he devoted most of his time to this project, which is considered by many to be his most important work.

Leonard Woolf died on August 14, 1969 after a high fever at the age of 88. His urn was buried under an elm tree in the garden of Monk's House next to his wife's grave. Busts of Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf as well as memorial plaques commemorate the extraordinary writer and publisher couple. The estate is administered by the University of Sussex .


“I know that I'm ruining your life, that you could work without me. And you will too, I know it. You see, I can't even write this properly. I can not read. What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness in my life to you. "

- Virginia Woolf

Leonard Woolf's books

The following books have been published in English :

  • The Village in the Jungle (1913)
  • The Wise Virgins (1914)
  • International Government (1916)
  • Cooperation and the Future of Industry (1918)
  • Economic Imperialism (1920)
  • Empire and Commerce in Africa (1920)
  • Socialism and Co-operation (1921)
  • Fear and Politics (1925)
  • Essays on Literature, History, Politics (1927)
  • Hunting the Highbrow (1927)
  • Imperialism and Civilization (1928)
  • After the Deluge (Principia Politica), 3 volumes. (1931, 1939, 1953)
  • Quack! Quack! (1935)
  • The League and Abyssinia (1936)
  • Barbarians At The Gate (1939)
  • The War for Peace (1940)
  • A Calendar of Consolation (selected by Leonard Woolf, 1967)

In German translation appeared:

The autobiography

Unless otherwise stated, the following books have been published in English:

  • Sowing (1960)
  • Growing (1961)
  • Ceylon Diaries (1963)
  • Beginning Again (1964)
  • Downhill all the way (1967)
  • The Journey not the Arrival Matters (1969)
  • My life with Virginia. Memories (German, edited by Friederike Groth). 6th edition, Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., Frankfurt am Main 2003 (= Fischer-Taschenbücher; 5686), ISBN 3-596-25686-0 . (Note: The book focuses on, but is not limited to, the time they were married. Very personal observations of Virginia Woolf up close.)

Secondary literature

  • Victoria Glendinning : Leonard Woolf. A life . Simon & Schuster, London 2006, ISBN 978-0-7432-2030-9 . (English; biography)
  • Hermione Lee : Virginia Woolf. One life . Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 978-3-596-17374-7 . (German translation; English original title: Virginia Woolf ) (Note: This also contains detailed descriptions of Leonard Woolf's life.)
  • George Spater, Ian Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage. Virginia & Leonard Woolf . Revised Neuausg., Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verl., Frankfurt am Main 2002 (= Fischer; 13445), ISBN 3-596-13445-5 . (German translation; English original title: A marriage of true minds ; with an afterward by Quentin Bell) (Note: The English original edition was published in 1977 by Jonathan Cape Ltd./The Hogarth Press, London. George Spater cataloged the Woolf Archives. Ian Parsons was a friend and, after the merger of the Hogarth Press with Chatto & Windus, also business partner Leonard Woolfs.)
  • Peter Wilson: The International Theory of Leonard Woolf. A Study in Twentieth-Century Idealism . Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, ISBN 978-0-312-29473-1 .

Web links

Commons : Leonard Sidney Woolf  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 22.
  2. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 26.
  3. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 75 f.
  4. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 77. In his autobiography he incorrectly states October.
  5. ^ Woolf, Growing , p. 55
  6. Woolf, Growing , pp. 86-98
  7. ^ Woolf, Growing , p. 107
  8. Woolf, Growing p. 109: “a strict and ruthless civil servant”
  9. Woolf, Growing , pp. 109-111
  10. His relationship to “Law and Order” was of course not affected: “I was never an indulgent judge and administrative lawyer”. Woolf, Growing , pp. 166, 169
  11. ^ Woolf, Growing , p. 164
  12. Woolf, Growing , pp. 40, 158
  13. On the question of anti-Semitism in Virginia Woolf cf. Jean Moorcroft Wilson: Virginia Woolf and Anti-Semitism . Cecil Woolf, London 1995 (= The Bloomsbury heritage series; 8), ISBN 1-897967-40-3 . (engl.)
  14. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 131.
  15. Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an Unusual Marriage ..., p. 157 f.
  16. Quoted from Spater and Parsons: Portrait of an unusual marriage ..., p. 75 f.
  17. From Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband Leonard before she committed suicide in 1941. Quoted from H. Broder , Jüdischer Kalender 2010–2011 , 25 November / 18. Kislew