Leonard Woolf
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Leonard Woolf

Leonard Woolf English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant

English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant
A.K.A. Leonard Woolf
Countries United Kingdom
Occupations Writer Editor Novelist Painter Publisher Journalist
Type Arts Business Journalism Literature
Gender male
Birth 25 November 1880 (Kensington, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London, London)
Death 14 August 1969 (Sussex, South East England, England, United Kingdom)
Spouse: Virginia Woolf
Education Trinity College, St. Paul's School
The details

Leonard Sidney Woolf (; 25 November 1880 – 14 August 1969) was an English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant, and husband of author Virginia Woolf.

Early life

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, where he was elected to the Cambridge Apostles. Other members included Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, GE Moore and EM Forster. Thoby Stephen, Virginia Stephen's brother, was friendly with the Apostles, though not a member himself. Woolf was awarded his BA in 1902, but stayed for another year to study for the Civil Service examinations.

In October 1904 Woolf moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to become a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service, in Jaffna and later Kandy, 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

Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived at 17 The Green Richmond starting from October 1914. Leonard talks about it in his autobiography called "Beginning again" (1964). In early March 1915 the couple moved to nearby Hogarth House, Paradise Road.

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 favored because of its orchard and garden. She then bought Monk’s House and sold the Round House.

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 his hand to writing and in 1913 published his first novel, The Village in the Jungle, which is based on his years in Sri Lanka. A series of books followed at roughly two-yearly 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 Atheneum, 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.

In 1960 Woolf revisited Sri Lanka and was surprised at the warmth of the welcome he received, and even the fact that he was still remembered. 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 CH in the Queen's Birthday honours list in 1966.[1]


Among his nine siblings, Bella Woolf was also an author.


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 Falmer.


  • The Village in the Jungle – 1913
  • The Wise Virgins – 1914 (Republished in 2003 by Persephone Books)
  • International Government – 1916
  • The Future of Constantinople – 1917
  • The Framework of a Lasting Peace - 1917
  • Cooperation and the Future of Industry – 1918
  • Economic Imperialism – 1920
  • Empire and Commerce in Africa – 1920
  • Socialism and Co-operation – 1921
  • International co-operative trade – 1922
  • Fear and Politics – 1925
  • Essays on Literature, History, Politics – 1927
  • Hunting the Highbrow – 1927
  • Imperialism and Civilization – 1928
  • After the Deluge (Principia Politica), 3 vols. – 1931, 1939, 1953
  • Quack! Quack! – 1935
  • Barbarians at the Gate – 1939
  • The War for Peace – 1940
  • A Calendar of Consolation – selected by Leonard Woolf, 1967

Autobiographical works

  •   Published in America as   Also OCLC 1339821.
  •   Also OCLC 21246847 (1977), OCLC 67527334 (1967), Eland (2015).
  •   Also OCLC 4194108
  •   Published in America as  
  •   Published in America as  

Biographical works on Woolf

  • De Silva, Prabhath, Leonard Woolf as a Judge in Ceylon: A British Civil Servant as a Judge in the Hambantota District of Colonial Sri Lanka(1908-1911), Neptune Publications(Pvt) Ltd, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka (2nd edition-2016)ISBN 978-955-0028-69-6
    • Edited excerpt of book available at  
    • Review of book with details about Leonard Woolf available at  

Related works and cultural references

  • In 1982 a film version in Sinhala of Woolf's novel, Village in the Jungle, called Bæddegama was released. It featured Arthur C. Clarke in the role of Woolf.
  • A film version of Michael Cunningham's 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Hours, was released in 2002, starring Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. The part of Leonard Woolf was played by Stephen Dillane.
  • In 2005 a book titled Woolf in Ceylon was published by author Christopher Ondaatje. This is an unusual "in-the-footsteps of" book by the older brother of novelist Michael Ondaatje.
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