Last year I decided that I would expand my Bloomsbury interest by finding out more about Leonard Woolf, and by the power of Amazon was able to get a hold of all five volumes of his autobiography. I have just finished the first, Sowing, which covers the period from his birth in 1880 until his departure for Ceylon in 1904. It’s a nice little Hogarth Press edition from the early 1960s (not the more widely available paperback shown here), designed to slip into the kind of large handbag favoured by the Bride, and is inscribed by a previous owner with her name and the date (of purchase or gift?) – 14 February 1962, 2 weeks after I was born, which feels nice in an odd sort of way.
The book is fascinating in its portrayal of Leonard’s years at Cambridge where he first met many of the figures who would become so prominent in the Bloomsbury circle but I also got a lot of enjoyment from the section on his childhood, particularly the reference to the Marsham Street cow which was pastured at the corner of St James Park in London. The death of his father when Leonard was a boy clearly had a huge impact both emotionally and financially on the family, and the description of his school days makes me glad that things have moved on somewhat. Next volume covers his years in the colonies, and I will read it alongside Christopher Ondaatje’s Woolf in Ceylon, a journey in Leonard’s footsteps.