Description

For many Leonard Woolf is principally remembered as the husband of Virginia Woolf, or perhaps as a tireless political theorist, writer, editor, and publisher. He is less well-known as a writer of fiction. After he left Cambridge in 1904 he took up an appointment in the colonial civil service and spent seven years in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, as a colonial administrator. It was his experience in Ceylon that influenced his anti-imperialists views and inspired his first novel The Village in the Jungle (1913) and the stories in Stories of the East written shortly after his return to Britain in 1911. He resigned from the colonial civil service in 1912 the year he married Virginia Stephen.

Stories of the East is a slim volume of three stories; ‘A Tale Told by Moonlight’, ‘Pearls and Swine’, and ‘The Two Brahmans’. The book was published in 1921 by the Woolfs' Hogarth Press in an edition of 300. It was hand-printed by the Woolfs, and decorated with a woodcut by Dora Carrington of a tiger between two palm trees on the front wrapper. The stories were favourably reviewed in the Daily Mail leading to the edition almost selling out in the first five months of publication. However, despite this, it has been rarely reprinted since.

The first story, ‘A Tale told by Moonlight’, recounts the doomed love affair between an Englishman and Ceylonese prostitute. The story is a tale of love, expectation, and the clash of two cultures at the beginning of the 20th century. The second story, ‘Pearls and Swine’, tells the story of a pearl fishery through which Woolf reveals the moral decay and greed of colonialism. The story follows the lives of three men and how they respond to the crowded and chaotic conditions of the fishery with tragic consequences. The final story, ‘The Two Brahmans’, is an adaptation of an old Ceylonese folk-tale which recounts the constrictions of the caste system and the tension between caste values and an individual’s desires, the consequences of which affect the successive generations of the two families. The story parallels the rigidity of the English class system at the beginning of the 20th century when an individual ran the risk of ostracism if rules and conventions were broken.

Leonard Woolf’s fiction has been largely overlooked. He abandoned fiction after the publication of his second novel, The Wise Virgins (1914) and concentrated on political journalism. Nevertheless, The Village in the Jungle and Stories of the East remain important sources in understanding how Woolf came to view colonialism and on his political development.

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