Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Leonard Woolf-A Life by Victoria Glendinning- More than Mr. Virginia Woolf

Leonard Woolf-A Life by Victoria Glendinning (2006, 529 pages)

Leonard Woolf is known by most people only as Virginia Woolf's husband just as John Middleton Murray is remembered only as the husband of Katherine Mansfield.     Readers of Victoria Glendinning's recent biography of Leonard Woolf will learn that he was much more.    He was a very successful British Empire colonial administrator in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), a distinguished journalist and near leading left leaning English political thinker.     He wrote several highly regarded novels as well as historical works.    Leonard Woolf (1880 to 1969) married Virginia Woolf  (1882 to 1941) in 1912.  

Glendinnig's biography is simply a wonderful book.    Every page is full of new information,  not just about Virginia Woolf or Bloomsbury figures,  but on a wide range of topics ranging from Jewish life in England in the early 20th century to colonial life in Ceylon to the nature of the book publishing industry in London.  Leonard  Woolf comes to life as a full person for us.   We see how he did all he could to help his wife through her periods of madness.

We also learn about a number of the fascinating people that were among the associates of the couple, including   Virginia's sister Vanessa Bell and her family, G. E. Moore, Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes, Vita Sackville-West and a host of others.    We can follow the events of Leonard's life after Virginia died (he lived on another 28 years), we see how he did his best to have her legacy protected and we go along on his trip to Israel.

Leonard Woolf was a wise, compassionate man in a difficult marriage to a genius.    He will always be Mr Virginia Woolf but at least now we will see the whole man.  

On a personal note, I  loved it  when I read that after Hitler took over Germany (but before WWII started) Leonard wanted to see Germany for himself so he could report on it for the publications he wrote for.
Leonard was a great animal lover and had a pet marmoset monkey, Mitz, that he loved and who slept in his bed (unlike his wife, it seems).     He took Virginia and Mitz along with him on the trip and as they drove through Nazi Germany Mitz sat on his shoulder.    This is an image that will always, I hope, have the power to make me smile.

Not long ago I read Victoria Glendinning's biography of Vita Sackville-West, an intimate of Virginia's and the inspiration for Orlando.    I was very glad when I saw in a local book store her biography of Leonard Woolf.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Virginia Woolf and her era and circle.   It is a very informative information rich work.

Mel u


ds said...

It is a wonderful biography, and you do well by it here, Mel. I'm glad you read it and especially glad you reviewed it!

Suko said...

It would be interesting to learn more about Mr. Virginia Woolf. I believe he was very supportive of Virginia and published her work. From your excellent review, it sounds like he was a bit of a character.

Frances said...

Ooo, I could go for either the LW or the Vita bios I think. Especially if the LW is even-handed as you show here. Some love to villainize LW as some sort of jail keeper to Virginia, a guardian of her talent while missing any of his own. Just not true.

Mel u said...

ds-thanks for your kind words as always

Suko-Leonard Woolf had a strong personality and he needed one!

Frances-if you have time for only one of Glendinning's biographies read the one on Woolf but to me both are very worth reading-thanks for your visit