It’s always exciting to scour the second hand bookshops in the Charing Cross Road and I was thrilled to find this for a fiver. It was published in 1977. There are no wild claims, no hidden agendas as can be the case with Woolf biographies. It’s an old fashioned biography concerned only with accumulating as many pertinent documents as possible to tell its story.
There are 150 photos, many of which I’d never seen before.
Leonard liked to keep lists and my favourite was his record of every single game of bowls he and Virginia had played. Poor Virginia usually got beaten. In 1935 he won 42 and she only 8 (you kind of sense he was galled by every defeat!). In 1940 he won 259 games and she 73 with three drawn games.
Another good list was his record of the sales of three books published on the same day by the Hogarth Press. Virginia told everyone she was inconsolable that of the three her book was selling the least. Truth was, in the first year, TS Eliot’s poems had sold 33 copies, John Middleton Murray’s The Critic in Judgement 27 while Virginia’s Kew Gardens had sold 42.
All in all it’s a moving account of what was clearly an unconventional but incredibly fruitful marriage. It’s a well-known fact that Virginia didn’t do sex and so Leonard too had to renounce his sexuality and, bearing that in mind, you have to say Leonard deserves a lot of credit for his fidelity to the bond they shared and for curating Virginia’s colossal gift. If there’s one husband feminists can have little argument with it’s probably him. It ends with a photo of her heartbreaking suicide note to Leonard.