Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist

Fred Leventhal
Oxford University Press
Publication - Peter Stansky

This is a wide-ranging biography of Leonard Woolf (1880–1969), an important yet somewhat neglected figure in British life. He is in the unusual position of being overshadowed by his wife, Virginia Woolf, and his role in helping her is part of this study. He was born in London to a father who was a successful barrister but whose early death left the family in economic difficulty. Though he abandoned his Judaism when young, being Jewish was deeply significant in shaping Leonard’s ideas, as well as the Hellenism imbibed as a student at both St Paul’s and Trinity College, Cambridge. Despite his secularism, there were surprisingly spiritual dimensions to his life. At Cambridge he was a member of the secret discussion group, the Apostles, as were his friends Lytton Stracheyand John Maynard Keynes, thus becoming part of the later Bloomsbury Group. He spent seven years as a successful civil servant in Ceylon, which later enabled him to write brilliantly about empire as well as a powerful novel, The Village in the Jungle. Returning to London in 1911, he married Virginia Woolf the next year. In 1917 they founded the Hogarth Press, a successful and significant publishing house. During his long life he became a major figure, a prolific writer on a range of subjects, most importantly international affairs, especially the creation of the League of Nations, a range of domestic problems, and issues of imperialism, particularly in Africa. He was a seminal figure in twentieth-century British life.