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Leonard Woolf


Leonard Woolf was born in London in 1880.  He spent five years at Trinity College, Cambridge - probably the most formative of his life - where he began lasting friendships with men like Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster and John Maynard Keynes.  In 1904, Woolf applied to join the home civil service but failed the exam.  Instead, he was sent to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service.  He remained there for nearly seven years.  His resignation from the Ceylon civil service was formally accepted on 7 May 1912 and he married Virginia Stephen a few months later on 10 August. 
An opponent of Britain's involvement in the First World War, Woolf was spared becoming a conscientious objector by being rejected by the military as unfit for duty. Woolf joined the Fabian Society in 1916 and the following year founded the Hogarth Press. Over the next few years Leonard and Virginia Woolf became the centre of what became known as the Bloomsbury Group.
In November 1912 his first novel The Village in the Jungle was published, and a second novel The Wise Virgins was published in 1914.  Stories of the East was first published in 1921.


Stories of the East

ISBN 1590482530

Although Leonard Woolf has long been revered as one of the great literary minds of the 20th century, he is seldom remembered as a writer of fiction. While his novel The Village in the Jungle has the status of a minor classic, his superb collection of short stories dating back to his time as a colonial administrator in Ceylon has been almost completely forgotten.

This slender volume represents the first time that Stories of the East has been available to the general reader. Originally published in 1921 by the Hogarth Press in an edition limited to 300 copies, these stories have hardly seen the light of day since.

Sir Christopher Ondaatje, an expert on Leonard Woolf and author of Woolf in Ceylon, provides a specially commissioned introduction to this edition of Stories of the East, in which he argues the case for the enduring importance of the three stories ‘A Tale Told by Midnight,’ ‘The Two Brahmans’ and ‘Pearls and Swine’.

Stories of the East is not typical of Woolf, but these three pieces are of vital importance in understanding his mistrust of and dislike for colonialism. The stories provide disturbing commentaries about the disintegration of the colonial process and the uncomfortable moral ground occupied by the servants of the British Government in Ceylon prior to the Great War.
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The Village in the Jungle

ISBN 1590482549

‘All jungles are evil, but no jungle is more evil than that which lay about the village of Beddagama.’

In a literary career spanning more than 60 years the highly prolific man of letters Leonard Woolf published hardly any fiction. Of the little he did produce, by far the most important was The Village in the Jungle (1913), a debut novel set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) of such literary accomplishment that it should have propelled him on a career to match his great contemporaries D H Lawrence or Thomas Hardy. Instead Woolf chose to devote himself to publishing fiction by his more famous wife, Virginia, while running the famous Hogarth Press.

Despite being virtually unknown The Village in the Jungle is an important classic, rare among English novels of the Edwardian era. While most take the viewpoint of the coloniser, Woolf tells his tale of native life in a colonial outpost from the point of view of the colonised. It is also a tale of superstition and murder set against a backdrop of the jungle that threatens to swallow everything up in its path.

The Village in the Jungle is the work of a young writer of immense skill and maturity. His flawlessly lyrical and intense prose brings the jungle chillingly to life, while his innate understanding of the Sinhalese people garnered from seven years as a colonial administrator on the island gives the novel real authenticity. Widely regarded as one of the best books in English about Ceylon, The Village in the Jungle is regarded in Sri Lanka today as a national treasure.

Despite the early success of The Village in the Jungle Woolf’s only other fiction about Ceylon is a slim volume of three short stories called Stories of the East (1921), also available from Classic Travel Books.

With an introduction by travel writer Nick Smith

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