the other woolf


What Leonard Woolf really liked, he had said in an essay in 1927, was “diaries and letters and memoirs,” in which “one gets the most vivid and important vision of a pageant of history.” His own history books come alive when they are anecdotal and digressive and at their least systematic—when “they pulled Lord North out of his barouche,” or when, in “Principia Politica” (1953), he describes his own typically bourgeois household of the eighteen-nineties. Friends and reviewers said of that book’s long discussion of Hitler, Stalin, and authoritarianism that what they liked best was the passage about his methods of training animals. After nearly thirty years of trying to enforce reason on the chaos of history, Woolf threw it over, and began to write his autobiography. “I write this looking out of a window upon a garden in Sussex,” he said on one of the first pages. “I feel that my roots are here and in the Greece of Herodotus.”

more from The New Yorker here.