In my experience what cuts the deepest channels in our lives are the houses in which we live – deeper even than “marriage and death and division”, so that perhaps the chapters of one’s autobiography should be determined by the different periods in which one has lived in different houses and the man who had lived his whole life in one house would have no life to write about.

Beginning Again 1911-1918


Death of a Pearl Fisherman 1907

 I didn’t understand Arabic, but I could understand what he was saying. The dead man had lived, had worked, had died. He had died working, without suffering, as men should desire to die. . . . I heard continually the word Khallas—all is finished. I watched the figures outlined against the grey sky—the long lean outline of the corpse with the toes sticking up so straight and stark, the crouching huddled figure of the weeping man, and the tall upright sheik standing by his side. They were motionless, sombre, mysterious, part of the grey sea, of the grey sky.

Polgahawela [Field of Coconuts]

I went to the Rest House and lay in a long chair on the veranda, now I was bathed, embraced by the soft, warm, damp, luxuriance of the tropics. Here life was full of trees and changing leaves, it seemed embowered in ferns and flowers. As I lay back in my chair and looked up into the sky through the great trees, I saw through the branches the brilliant glittering stars, and all around the branches and the changing leaves were hundreds of tiny little brilliant glittering stars weaving a continually moving pattern – hundreds of fireflies.

Leonard Woolf: Growing: 1904-1911

Jaffna, Ceylon 1905-1907

… a country of sand and sun, an enormous blue sky stretching away unbroken to an immensely distant horizon. Many people dislike the arid sterility of this kind of Asiatic low country. But I lived in it for many years, indeed for most of my time in Ceylon, and it got into my heart and into my bones. Its austere beauty, its immobility and unchangeableness except for minute modulations of light and colour beneath the uncompromising sun, the silence, the emptiness, the melancholia and so the purging of the passions by complete solitude.

the lagoon Jaffna (2)

Leonard Woolf: Growing: 1904-11

photo copyright S P R Hoyle


The young ladies, Vanessa was twenty-one or twenty-two, Virginia eighteen or nineteen-were just as formidable and alarming as their father, perhaps even more so. I first saw them one summer afternoon in Thoby’s rooms; in white dresses and large hats, with parasols in their hands. Their beauty literally took one’s breath away, for suddenly seeing them one stopped astonished and everything including one’s breathing for one second also stopped, as it does when in a picture gallery you suddenly come face to face across the fields the lovely temple of Segesta.

Leonard Woolf: Sowing 1880-1904

Arlington House

I learned from Mr Wooley the seriousness of games, the importance of style, the duty when you go in to bat of making every stroke with the concentration which an artist puts into every stroke of his brush in painting a masterpiece.


Leonard Woolf: Sowing 1880-1904


I was eleven when my father* died. I admired him greatly and certainly thought that I was fond of him, and I think that he was both fond and proud of me, because as a small boy I was intelligent, reserved and had a violent temper, and so in fact resembled him.

Leonard Woolf :  Sowing 1880-1904

                                                                                                                       *Sidney Woolf Q.C.