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 Post subject: Woolf in Ceylon by Christopher Ondaatje
 Post Posted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:28 pm 
Woolf in Ceylon by Christopher Ondaatje

An Imperial Journey in the Shadow of Leonard Woolf - 1904-1911

by Christopher Ondaatje

to be launched on October 1st 2005
Harper Collins Canada
Price: f,24.95


Sir Christopher Ondaatje’s penetrating look into Leonard Woolf’s seven years spent in Ceylon is a fascinating account of both the man and the country. Ondaatje, an expatriate of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) is perfectly placed to use Woolf as a shadow behind which to write a history of the island from colonial times to the present day, including colonial exploitation, the decline of imperialism, independence and the strife- torn current situation.

Leonard Woolf began his career as a minor official in the Home Office, signing letters for the colonial secretary in Ceylon. A hundred years after Woolf first made landfall there, Sir Christopher Ondaatje revisits the island that was to be the making of one of the foremost men of letters of the 20th century. Part travelogue, part biography, part history and part literary criticism, Woolf in Ceylon is beautifully illuminated by Ondaatje’s own stunning photographs, many of which depict areas that were destroyed by the tsunami only a matter of days after they were taken. These sit alongside rarely seen pictures of Ceylon taken from the Royal Geographical Society’s archives.

Ondaatje. explains the imperial workings of the British Civil Service, and the obvious disillusionment with the system that Woolf experienced. Woolf was one of the first people to see the cracks appearing in the British Empire - and his understanding of the situation clearly influenced the thinking of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party in the years leading up to 1945. By the time of writing his masterpiece, The Village in the Jungle, in 1911, he was totally disillusioned with the British Colonial System, with a marked antiimperial attitude which was to be with him for the rest of his life.

Ondaatje also explores the strange and emotional courtship of Leonard and Virginia, probing Leonard Woolf’s writings to understand more fully the loving but sexless marriage between two of the most influential people in Victorian literary circles. Ondaatje’s analysis of Woolf is a frank one: he discusses much of the darker side of Leonard Woolf’s character including his ambition, his early sexual promiscuity his handling of his wife’s suicide, and his later relationship with Trekkie Parsons, who accompanied him on his final visit to Ceylon in 1960.

Woolf in Ceylon interweaves Ondaatje’s own experiences with those of Woolf, and gives the reader a true insight into the formative years of one of the most fascinating figures in our literary heritage.


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