A generous and sympathetic portrait of the complex and fiercely intelligent man (1880–1969) who is best known as Mr. Virginia Woolf.
A novelist (Electricity, 1995, etc.) and literary biographer (Jonathan Swift, 1999, etc.), the author brings to her work both a scholar’s fastidiousness and a novelist’s imagination and fondness for speculation. As Glendinning notes, Woolf in some ways led a remarkably happy life, his wife’s 1941 suicide and other family tragedies notwithstanding (his father was killed by a horse-drawn omnibus). Always a strong student, voracious reader and liberal thinker—a man who until the end of his life was firing off trenchant and contentious letters to newspaper editors—Woolf had a successful early career as a civil servant in Ceylon, wrote a novel about the country that remains a classic there today, befriended some of the leading minds of his generation (Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot), founded the Hogarth Press, married one of the most remarkable women in literary history, published countless essays and reviews in the most respected journals of the day, wrote well-received books of political theory and autobiography. And—perhaps his greatest pleasure—he created a prize-winning garden at the Woolfs’ home, Monks House, now a museum and literary shrine. Glendinning shows Leonard as a loving companion for the troubled and fragile Virginia, a man who never ceased caring for her even in her darkest moments. The author also deals thoroughly with the varied sexual interests and performances of the principals (late in life, Leonard blurted out at an editorial meeting: “My wife was a lesbian”) and writes with bemusement of the elderly Woolf’s appeal for younger women, one of whom, an American, wrote him hundreds of affectionate letters. Glendinning also writes frankly about Woolf’s intransigent insistence that religions—all of them—were primitive bunk.
A closely reasoned, well-researched and eminently fair account of a gifted and giving man who married a miracle.