Woolf, Leonard Sidney, 1880-1969; Parsons, Majorie Tulip Ritchie, 1902-1995

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Leonard Sidney Woolf (1880-1969), author, publisher, and political worker, was born 25 November 1880 in Kensington, the second son of Sidney Woolf, QC, and his wife, Marie de Jongh. Woolf was a scholar, first at St. Paul's School, London, then at Trinity College, Cambridge. He met and was much influenced by G. E. Moore; Lytton Strachey, Maynard (later Lord) Keynes, and Saxon Sydney-Turner were friends and contemporaries.

Woolf entered the Colonial Service and was posted in 1904 to Ceylon. Returning to England on leave in 1911 he found the Cambridge circle of his youth very much extended and already becoming known as 'Bloomsbury'. It included Virginia, a daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen. In 1912 Woolf left the Colonial Service (concerning which he now had political doubts) in order to marry her. At the time of their marriage both Leonard and Virginia Woolf were writing novels. His, The Village in the Jungle, was published in 1913; it was followed by The Wise Virgins (1914). In 1913 Woolf became a socialist and joined the Fabian Society; he took a special interest in the Co-operative Movement; this led to some political journalism and later to Co-operation and the Future of Industry (1919) and Socialism and Co-operation (1921). Woolf's political and literary activities were hampered by his wife's precarious mental balance. She had a major breakdown in 1913-14 and again in 1915; in each case recovery was very slow. Until her death her husband did not cease carefully and constantly to act as her monitor and her physician.

Exempted, on medical grounds, from national service, Woolf turned during the war of 1914-18 to the study of international relations and of colonialism. His book International Government (1916) formed one of the bases for the British proposals for a League of Nations; in 1920 he published a devastating analysis of imperialist greed: Empire and Commerce in Africa . He was editor of the International Review in 1919 and of the international section of the Contemporary Review in 1920-1. In 1919 he became honorary secretary of the Labour Party's advisory committees on international and imperial affairs; in 1922 he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as Labour candidate for the Combined Universities.

His wife's health kept Woolf away from London for long periods until 1924, when they moved to Tavistock Square. From 1912 he lived at Asham House in Beddingham, near Lewes, East Sussex, moving a short distance in 1919 to Monks House, Rodmell; but from 1915 until 1924, they also lived in Hogarth House, Richmond, Surrey. It was there that the Hogarth Press, beginning in 1917 as a hobby, became one of the most remarkable publishing houses of the time; E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Freud, Gorki, Maynard Keynes, and the Woolfs themselves were amongst its authors.

He found time to become joint editor of the Political Quarterly (1931-59) and literary editor (1959-62). He was also (1923-30) literary editor of the Nation and served on the board after it amalgamated with the New Statesman in 1931. He wrote Imperialism and Civilization (1928), The Intelligent Man's Way to Prevent War (1933), Quack, Quack! (1935), Barbarians at the Gate (1939), and The War for Peace (1940). He also attempted a systematic statement of socialism as he understood it in After the Deluge (vol. i, 1931, vol. ii, 1939), but these volumes, although they were received with respect, did not excite enthusiasm and, after Principia Politica (1953), he made no further attempt to elaborate a complete political philosophy.

The war of 1939-45 was not only the shipwreck of Woolf's hopes for the establishment of international sanity, it also ended his long struggle to preserve his wife from harm; she drowned herself in 1941. Nevertheless, he rebuilt his life and achieved an extremely happy old age. He continued to work for the Hogarth Press and for the Labour Party. From late in 1941 he formed an increasingly intimate friendship with 'Trekkie' Ritchie Parsons (on whom see below), wife of Ian Parsons. Living increasingly at Monks House he cultivated his garden and wrote five autobiographical volumes: Sowing (1960), Growing (1961), Beginning Again (1964), Downhill all the Way (1967), and The Journey not the Arrival Matters (1969). These volumes which, with The Village in the Jungle, reveal a very attractive character: highly moral but humorous and tolerant, austerely sceptical but gently humane. He declined a CH but accepted an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex in 1964. He died at Monks House on 14 August 1969.

Source: based largely on the article on Leonard Woolf by his wife's nephew, Quentin Bell, which appeared in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1961-70 (Oxford University Press, 1981).

'Trekkie' Ritchie Parsons was born Majorie Tulip Ritchie in 1902, in Durban, South Africa. In 1917 her family came to England and she attended school at Tunbridge Wells, before entering, in 1920, the Slade School of Fine Art, to study with Philip Steer and Henry Tonks. In 1926 she married Peter A. Brooker. Tonks had encouraged her towards graphic design for commercial purposes. She designed the jacket for her sister Alice's novel Occupied territory (1930), published by the Hogarth Press which, through Leonard Woolf, gave further commissions. Work for other publishers led her to meet, at Chatto & Windus, Ian Macnaghten Parsons (d. 1980) whom, having divorced Peter, she married in 1934. In 1941 Leonard's wife Virginia Woolf drowned herself and Trekkie's sister Alice died of cancer; Ian Parsons was on war service mainly overseas. So the friendship of Leonard and Trekkie began, 'in mutual loss and the dangers of war'; by the end of 1943 they were deeply in love. From 1945 Woolf and the Parsons had homes adjoining in London and within a couple of miles in Sussex, and for the next 24 years Trekkie moved between the four, to the evident contentment of the three parties. Meanwhile, Chatto & Windus, of which Parsons was a director, had in 1946 absorbed the Hogarth Press of which Woolf retained editorial control. She inherited Monk's House and Woolf's papers and was his executrix. His will was contest and the court hearing exposed for the media's scrutiny the mnage trois . She died in 1995.

Source: Judith Adamson (ed.), Love letters. Leonard Woolf and Trekkie Ritchie Parsons (1941-1968) (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001), Introduction.

From the guide to the Leonard Woolf Papers, 1894-1995, (University of Sussex Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Leonard Woolf Papers, 1894-1995 University of Sussex Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Ashcroft Edith Margaret Emily Peggy 1907-1991 person
associatedWith Bell Clive 1881-1964 person
associatedWith Fabian Society (Great Britain) corporateBody
associatedWith Garnett Angelica Vanessa b 1918 person
associatedWith Garnett David 1892-1981 person
associatedWith Hogarth Press Ltd, publishers corporateBody
associatedWith Labour Party (Great Britain) corporateBody
associatedWith Martin Basil Kingsley 1897-1969 person
associatedWith New Statesman, magazine corporateBody
associatedWith Sackville-West Victoria Mary 1892-1962 person
associatedWith Webb Sidney James 1859-1947 person
associatedWith Woolf Adeline Virginia 1882-1941 person
associatedWith Woolf Leonard Sidney 1880-1969 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Political scientists Great Britain 20th century


Birth 1880

Death 1969

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