Leonard Woolf Papers

Scope and Content

The scope of the primary collection is indicated by the headings under which it is organised:

Part I: Work life, comprising groups of papers on:

Ceylon. Parliamentary Candidacy. Other Government service. Labour Party. Fabian Society. Peace Organisations 1914-18 War. Other Organisations. New Statesman. Nation. International Review. Political Quarterly. Books written. Articles, Reviews, Letters to editors, Prefaces, etc. Poetry. Lectures. Unidentified manuscripts. Hogarth Press. Broadcasting. External examining.

Part II: Personal life, comprising groups of papers on:

Education. Woolf family. Marriage. Virginia. Good works. Service as Executor or Trustee. Pets. London property. Sussex property. Other property and taxes. Personal purchases. Health. Religion. Travel. The Apostles. Other memberships. Miscellaneous. Diaries, etc

Part III: General correspondence.

Amongst the 'Additions', the most significant are Ad. 4, correspondence between Leonard Woolf and Trekkie Parsons, 1941-1968; Ad. 6, solicitors' papers concerning Leonard Woolf's will, 1968-1975; and Ad. 14, papers from the Hogarth Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Access Information

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

The primary collection was deposited by Mrs Trekkie Parsons, Leonard Woolf's heir, in December 1969, and subsequently presented. 'Additions' have been made to the collection since 1978 (32 down to July 2002). Some were once part of Leonard Woolf's own papers, other have independent origins.


Prepared by John Farrant, July 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website.

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, digital copies can be made.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner. The University of Sussex is the owner of the copyright in the works of Leonard Woolf and Trekkie Parsons.

Custodial History

The papers in the primary collection (and some of the additions) were part of the archive which Leonard Woolf and his wife Virginia accumulated at Monks House, Rodmell, their Sussex home. They were deposited in December 1969. Papers of Virginia Woolf and Leonard's related papers were later deposited, in 1973, under the title the Monks House Papers (SxMs 18).

Related Material

The other main collection at the University of Sussex which came from Monks House is SxMs 18, the Monks House Papers. Other collections at the University of Sussex relating to the Woolfs and to the 'Bloomsbury group' are:

SxMs 56 Charleston Papers (Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and friends)

SxMs 58 Birrell Papers (Francis Birrell)

SxMs 61 Nicolson Papers (Nigel Nicholson)

SxMs 70 A. O. Bell Papers (Anne Olivier Bell)


Material in this collection has been published in:

Frederic Spotts (ed.), Letters of Leonard Woolf (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989); and

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

and used in Duncan Wilson, Leonard Woolf: A Political Biography, 1979.