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Leonard Woolf by Victoria Glendinning


Leonard Woolf by Victoria Glendinning

Many people today know Leonard Woolf mainly through the surname of his wife, Virginia, or his role in supporting her through her mental illness, depicted in films like The Hours. Some critics see him as his wife's oppressor. In Victoria Glendinning's biography, for the first time we see the whole man. As well as being a prominent member of the Bloomsbury group, Leonard was a formidable figure in his own right, first as an innovative civil administrator in Ceylon, then as a writer, leading light of the Fabian society and publisher of TS Eliot, EM Forster, Robert Graves, Katherine Mansfield and of course Virginia Woolf. He was interested in everything and knew everybody. The achievement of Glendinning's book is to make its readers wish that they knew him too.


Leonard Woolf has found the ideal biographer in Victoria Glendinning. Scintillating, subtle and wise, she lifts him out of the fog of Bloomsbury gossip and lets us see how various and remarkable he was in his own right. -- Claire Tomalin, author of Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self 'It needed a biography as compelling as this to bring out Woolf's full stature. Many will rate this as Glendinning's finest biography, for there is not a page that does not contain something of interest or surprise
Frances Spalding, Independent 8

/9 'Leonard Woolf contains the qualities that Woolf himself admired and possessed: truthfulness, integrity and rationality. With her compelling account, Glendinning has done a great service to Woolf by refusing to simplify a complex life
Christopher Ondaatje, the Times Higher 1

/9 'An absorbing read ... It is as if Glendinning has removed a low-wattage bulb and replaced it with a brighter one, shining her lamp on to Leonard. She succeeds in throwing his lean profile more sharply into view
Independent on Sunday 10

/9 'Glendinning - shrewd, admiring, affectionately teasing, occasionally reproachful - achieves that almost impossible feat: a fascinating portrait of a man without sin
Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail 8

/9 'Victoria Glendinning always writes concisely and her densely peopled narrative is pointed and easy to follow. She has an eye for detail
Peter Washington, Literary Review Sept issue

'Her deft writing and striking sympathy for her subject make this a landmark biography'
Observer 27

/8 'Being Virginia Woolf's husband is what made him famous, but Leonard Woolf was more than that. When I read his memoirs in the 1960s I decided that he was an exemplary figure; balanced yet passionate, practical, generous and wise. Victoria Glendinning's biography fills out the picture with a brilliant lightness of touch that takes into account the darknesses and depths of this remarkable man
Claire Tomalin, Book of the Week, Guardian 16

/9 'As this marvellous biography makes plain, Woolf's achievements were admirable and considerable
Jeremy Lewis, 4 stars Mail on Sunday 17

/9 'It was high time for a biography of Leonard Woolf, the forgotten man at the heart of Bloomsbury, who died in 1969. His contribution to politics, publishing and journalism, his distinction as a writer and thinker, his influence not just on his circle but on the public life of Britain in the first half of the 20th Century, all faded into the shadows as more and more attention was drawn towards Virginia, his brilliant, troubled wife. Now, he at last gets what he has long deserved: a full account of his life by an accomplished and sympathetic biographer ... excellent, authoritative and balanced
Sunday Telegraph 17

/9 'Victoria Glendinning, a most experienced British biographer, has, yes, proved the case for yet one more Bloomsbury biography ... she has constructed a meticulous but vivid portrait
The Economist 16

/9 'Glendinning's generous biography does not ignore that Woolf could be grumpy and was too often cheese-paring, but her account does justice to his range of passions, his literary and political contributions and, above all, his human goodness - he was a man who knew how to live
New Statesman 18

/9 'In Virginia Woolf's oft-told saga of suffering, her husband, Leonard, has mostly been allocated a minor role, and has not escaped criticism. Was he, her acolytes have asked, a fitting partner for her genius? Was he at all to blame when Virginia drowned herself in March 1941? Victoria Glendinning's searching, sympathetic biography returns a firm yes to the first question and no to the second
John Carey, Sunday Times 24

/9 'I suppose an unfriendly critic might suggest that a full-fig biography of Leonard Woolf is a scraping of the Bloomsbury barrel. How wrong that critic would be
Daily Telegraph 23

/9 'The test of a skilfully written book is whether its story grips from beginning to end. I never noticed the passage of time while I was reading this absorbing biography, right up to the final poignant paragraph about Leonard's dog Coco, who, when her master died, aged 88, in 1969 could not settle to life without him and had to be put down
The Spectator 7

/10 'A landmark biography
Paul Levy, Guardian 22

/9 This [biography] deserves the highest praise for telling his story with so much vim and flair... Victoria Glendinning is that rarity among biographers: an admirable stylist
Irish Times 30

/9 'YOU REALLY MUST READ... Virginia's husband steps out of her shadow
Sunday Times 1

/10 'A solid, sober, well-considered piece of writing, the meticulous portrait of a man who lived a busy life - in the thick of literary and political events for some 50 years - but who somehow managed to retain a certain quiet integrity
The Tablet 23

/9 'Absorbing... It is hard to imagine a better book that examines, with the same clear eye that Woolf himself employed for pen-portraits of his Cambridge friends, the relationship between intellectual, assimilated Jews and their non-Jewish British counterparts in the first half of the 20th century
The Jewish Chronicle 22

/9 'Glendinning perceives a whole, exemplary man behind the public persona, and his strength of character that enables his wife, Virginia Woolf, to write and publish her great novels. Her husband's moral integrity is the strong backbone of this fine, subtle biography
The Times 28

/10 LEONARD WOOLF by Victoria Glendinning Claire Tomalin's choice 'Leonard Woolf would have approved of it, and he has found his ideal biographer in Victoria Glendinning, who charts his long, hard-working and hard-thinking life with wit and sympathy
Guardian 25

/11 'This exemplary biography reveals Woolf to be not only surprisingly lovable but also passionate
Sunday Times Top 5 Biographies of the Year 27

/11 Roy Foster's choice 'Notably perceptive, empathetic and surprising, bringing a brisk intelligence to familiar subjects and illuminating them from a new angle
Times Literary Supplement 30

/11 Jane Gardam's choice 'Saved from being another slice of Bloomsbury pie by Glendinning's scholarship and blessed lack of awe
Spectator 18

/11 Anthony Howard's choice 'A masterly account of the somewhat austere figure who deserves to be remembered for more than being Virginia Woolf's long-suffering husband
Sunday Telegraph 26

/11 'Many biographies end so sadly that they leave one feeling cast down, but not this one. In the last party of it an exceptionally valuable life moves gently through many unexpectedly good and productive years, then comes to a quiet end. That lie has now been recorded in a manner truly worthy of it
The Oldie magazine, December issue

'A first biography of Woolf is long overdue, especially given that there have been frequent biographies of his wife Virginia and of many far less significant figures in the Bloomsbury group. Victoria Glendinning's enjoyable, copiously researched book is therefore thoroughly welcome'
History Today Feb

'07 'As sympathetic, far-sighted and wide-ranging as its subject, this tremendous biography brings a dark star out of the shadow cast by his wife Virginia -- whose work, far from impeding, his loving care made possible'
Boyd Tonkin, Independent 31

/8 'It's sad that his literary work, including a five-volume autobiography, has been so overshadowed by his wife's. In what is perhaps her best book so far, Victoria Glendinning puts all these matters straight
Sunday Telegraph 2

/9 'Glendinning has made prodigious inquiries. She masters the daily round of her subject's life, but it does not master her. Her familiarity with the separate parts of Leonard Woolf's life enables her to see the whole. As well as one Woolf's life, she catches the tenor of two Woolf's fascinating times. Her humour is leavening, her touch light but sure. If Virginia was a comet, searing across the sky, her husband was the lodestar
The Times 2

/9 'This study captures Woolf's presence by elegantly skipping between the histories of these many worlds -- political, literary, social and, critically, psychological -- and, like Woolf himself, seems to tremble with creative energy
Observer 9

/9 'This study captures Woolf's presence by elegantly skipping between the histories of these many worlds -- political, literary, social and, critically, psychological -- and, like Woolf himself, seems to tremble with creative energy
Observer 9


About the Author

Victoria Glendinning is the award-winning biographer of Elizabeth Bowen, Leonard Woolf, Anthony Trollope, Edith Sitwell, Vita Sackville-West, Rebecca West and Jonathan Swift. Her novels, The Grown-Ups, Electricity and Flight, were critical and commercial successes. She divides her time between London, Provence and Ireland.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd September 2007


Victoria Glendinning

More books by Victoria Glendinning
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Simon & Schuster


544 pages


Biography: literary
Publishing industry & book trade



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