Leonard Woolf’s Colonial Days

Of all the books competing for my attention at the moment, Leonard Woolf’s Growing is the victor. My own roots are in the Far East, in a one-oil-field country at the fag-end of English colonialism. Woolf’s time as a civil servant in Ceylon at the peak of England’s imperial past is engrossing.

Of the characters Woolf says he “could never make up [his] mind whether Kipling had moulded his characters accurately in the image of Anglo-Indian society or whether we were moulding our characters accurately in the image of a Kipling story.”

In describing the Office Assistant to the Government Agent (OA) and his wife, Woolf says, “His wife, Mrs. Lewis, was the exact opposite of him. She was the kind of wife which so many slow, silent, shy men marry. Large, plump, floridly good-looking, she never stopped talking at the top of her voice.” This is so accurate that it is painful.

So far, Woolf’s autobiography is superb. I’ve skipped the first volume to read of his Ceylon years but will go back to it and inevitably the other three volumes. They are a joy to read as first Hogarth Press editions.

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