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Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and to Judaism

Freema Gottlieb

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Leonard Woolf's Attitudes to his Jewish Background and to Judaism* FREEMA GOTTLIEB, M.A. Leonard Woolf is known principally simply for having been the husband of a genius, the famous experimental novelist, Virginia Woolf. The almost maternal solicitude he expended on her talent and personality and the stresses he endured due to her mental unbalance have made him a suitable candidate for humanist beatitude. Cambridge at the turn of the century special? ised in men of an independent and gifted cast of mind, and with many of these Leonard formed lifelong bonds of friendship under the aegis of a secret intellectual society called the Apostles. Here Leonard enjoyed the mental and emotional stimulus of intercourse with men of such very varied minds as G. E. Moore, A. N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Maynard Keynes, the economist, Lytton Strachey, satirist of Victorian morals, E. M. Forster, the novelist, and others, many of whom later formed the nucleus of the Blooms bury Group, the famous elite which dominated cultural England during the 'twenties and 'thirties. Fame in his own Right Along with his association with Bloomsbury and with Virginia, by which he is chiefly known, Leonard has considerable claim to fame in his own right. Straight after Cambridge he had been forced to undergo a seven-year separation from his Apostolic brethren and had to make his way in the philistine environ? ment of the Ceylon Civil Service, where he found himself rudely thrust from the lofty realms of philosophic speculation and intimacy into really gruelling hard work. As Assistant Government Agent for Hambantota, he was in charge, in his twenties, of over one million natives, and in his position as Police Magis? trate had to assist at trials and executions. His seven years in Ceylon (1904-1911) instilled in him a business acumen and a genius for facts that he was later to apply to the working of the Hogarth Press and an interest in com? munal psychology and social justice which was to find various outlets throughout his life. Back in England, also under the inspiration of the Ceylon experience, Leonard fulfilled his ambition of becoming a creative writer which he had harboured secretly since Cambridge and produced a novel and several short stories with an Eastern setting. His 'Eastern' novel, though little recognised in England, argues an understanding of other ways of life apart from the Western liberal model which compares with Forster's Passage to India for compassion and breadth of horizon. Leonard's writings about his experience of the primitive gained him an entree to literary London, and his acceptance was sealed by his marriage. Leonard wrote one further novel set in England about his relationship with Virginia and somewhat critical of the permissive mores of Bloomsbury. Then, except for the publication in 1939 of an extremely undramatic play, The Hotel, allego? rising the countries and their policies on the eve of the Second World War, he gave up the writing of fiction. Founding the Hogarth Press The rest of Leonard's career?and he wrote prolifically?was taken up with political and literary journalism and the editing of various reputable magazines such as the International Review, the Nation, of which he was Literary Editor from 1923 to 1930, and the Political Quarterly. With Virginia he founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, and so was responsible for the publication of her works, for helping * Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England, 21 November 1973. 25</page><page sequence="2">26 Freema Gottlieb to start on their careers such then comparatively unknowns as T. S. Eliot and Katherine Mans? field, and for the introduction of the writings of many Russian authors to an English reader? ship. The Hogarth Press also controlled the International Psychoanalytical Library, which brought out the authorised James Strachey translations of Freud in England and America. Leonard's one great passion besides Virginia was politics. He was a Fabian with Shaw, Wells, and the Webbs, and social justice provided him with a deep aesthetic pleasure, whereas an unjust law or a miscarriage of justice hurt and jarred, he wrote, 'like a false quantity or a discord in the wrong place, or a bad poem, picture or sonata, or the stupidity of the overclever, or the perversion of truth'.1 A supplement he was invited to write for the New Statesman in 1915, together with a formal draft treaty drawn up by him and Sidney Webb for the establishment of a supernational author? ity for the prevention of war, formed the substance of a book called International Govern? ment (1916), which influenced the British proposals put before the Versailles Peace Conference and became a kind of blueprint for the League of Nations. Leonard was Secretary to the Labour Advisory Committee on Imperial and Inter? national Affairs for over twenty years, and the influence he and people like him exercised on the mandate question led to the granting of independence to India and to the subsequent liberation of many other 'grown-up' colonies. So, from having been, in Ceylon, a servant of Empire, Leonard used his experience as a weapon against Imperialism. Innate 'Jewish' Qualities What sorts oddly with the upper-class Englishness of Leonard's multifarious career in relation to Virginia and Bloomsbury, publishing and British and Colonial politics, all notoriously Anglo-Saxon preserves, was the strange fact of his Jewish origins, and the question raises itself whether these made any difference to either his career or his attitudes. Probably vestiges of an inherited Jewish ethic coloured his puritanical reaction to Bloomsbury permissiveness, and the Autobiography speaks of the 'Jewish' anodyne of hard work, the striving for achievement foreign to the un? worldly and aristocratic Apostolic mentality. A difference is certainly to be sensed between Leonard and his Bloomsbury companions. His experience in Ceylon gave him a broader perspective and, as he writes, the isolation he suffered there barred him for ever from com? plete identification with any particular group or clique. When one examines the effects of his Jewishness upon Leonard, however, one is led to suspect that this process of estrange? ment from group identification had begun much earlier, and that his Oriental peregrina? tions called out in him innate qualities belong? ing to his Eastern Hebraic antecedents. An Air of Detachment In his Autobiography he reflects with quiet wonder that, although he feels his roots to be in Western culture and in scenery such as the Sussex garden which greets him when he raises his head from his writing, although he feels himself 'in my bones and brain and heart English', yet genetically he stems from an Eastern origin.2 In a sentence with echoes of Disraeli's reputed reply to Daniel O'Connell, 'Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island mine were priests in the temple of Solomon', Leonard comes out with: 'When my Rodmell neigh? bours' forefathers were herding swine on the plains of Eastern Europe and the Athenians were building the Acropolis, my Semitic ancestors, with the days of their national greatness, such as it was, already behind them, were in Persia or Palestine . . .'. In a review in Commentary Dan Jacobson tried to make out that Leonard's affinity with Bloomsbury only touched the intellectual upper crust of his nature, but that 'emotion? ally ... he seems to stand apart even more so than he himself realizes; he appears to belong to no one. Not even to Bloomsbury; not even to 1 Leonard Woolf, The Journey not the Arrival Matters (London, 1969), p. 27. 2 Leonard Woolf, Sowing, pp. 12-13.</page><page sequence="3">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 27 the wife he cared for so devotedly, and about whom he writes, as a friend said to me, looking for words to describe his dispassionate tone "as if she were his sister".'3 Dan Jacobson daringly equates this detachment with Leon? ard's Jewishness. This, replying to the review, Leonard emphatically denied, while em? phasising his Englishness: T have always been conscious of being primarily British and have lived among people who without question accepted me as such'. He does, however, agree how very strange it is that his Jewishness should have had so little impact upon his life. T have always been conscious of being a Jew, but in the way in which, I imagine, a Catholic is conscious of being a Catholic in England, or someone else of being a Huguenot descendant or even perhaps in the way a man is conscious of having been at Cambridge not Oxford. . . .'4 His affiliation is merely external, a sociological badge, with no spiritual meaning. Leonard concluded that, although he had, all through his life, come up against the 'common or garden antisemitism from the Mosley type to "some of my best friends have been Jews",' he could not think of a single instance of its having had the slightest influence on his career or social life. Effects of Antisemitism Leonard may have believed he was writing the truth about himself but, as a staunch rationalist, he was probably unwilling to admit the irrationality implicit in human psychology in general and certainly in his own nature. About the facts of the case he was absolutely honest, and he was probably right in believing that that kind of thing did not prejudice his career to any large extent. What he does not say is that it hurt him so much that he framed his own early conception of Jewishness upon the antisemitic caricatures prevalent at the time. Tt has not touched me personally, only peripherally', he writes. However, although antisemitism did not prove a substantial set? back in either his career or his social life, it provided a great deal of internal tension and turmoil, and this is reflected in his youthful imaginative writings, which are remarkably obsessed by the problem of his Jewishness in a way quite out of keeping with the portrait of an urbane Englishman built up by the Auto? biography written at the end of his life and on which his public fame rests. His early novel, The Wise Virgins, is about its Jewish hero's dilemma between two women as representative of two different societies? the materialistic and respectable ethos of suburbia which closely resembled Leonard's own Putney origins and a cultural set approxi? mating to Bloomsbury. Finally he is trapped by philistine mediocrity, a fate which the writer himself was spared. For the young Leonard, making his breakaway from a Jewish back? ground devoid of all spiritual content, the beacons were all lit on the side of cultural assimilation. Age-old Prejudice Antisemitism brands both social groupings with which the Jewish hero seeks identification. It is really hardly surprising that the interest of the suburban virgins in this candidate for romance is tempered with disappointment when they learn of his racial liability. This is an entirely natural reaction on the part of a narrow 'unenlightened' suburban family whose only previous knowledge of Jews has been through unpalatable references in literature and the New Testament. Prejudice on the part of the denizens of this backwater is quite in order; less acceptable is the reaction of the educated Lawrence (Bloomsbury) circle to Harry (Leonard) 's Jewishness. In their bound? less sophistication one would have expected their experience to have opened them to a tolerance of different types of people and moral attitudes. They should have accepted Harry as an individual, not attributed his characteristics to his 'race' or to some legendary typology of the 'Jew'. A character called 'Arthur' is the spokesman for intellectual 3 Dan Jacobson, 'The Bloomsbury Idea', in Commentary, March 1968, p. 79. 4 L.W.'s personal reply to Dan Jacobson, 3 June 1968 (Monk's House Papers).</page><page sequence="4">28 Freema Gottlieb antisemitism in the novel. He picks upon an age-old argument when he suggests that the trouble with the Jews is that they do not really belong to the 'earth' of the countries in which they live, a charge of course which cut with peculiar poignancy in the days before the Balfour Declaration and the Independence of Israel: 'You were all right when you lived in Palestine, before the dispersal. You were farmers and agriculturalists: you produced Job and Ecclesiastes. Since then you've been wandering from city to city, and you've produced Mendelssohn and Barney Barnato. You never find a Jew on the land. . . .'5 Arthur is voicing an antisemitic challenge which was taken up by the modern Zionist movement and turned on its head by the kibbutz collect? ives. The point about Mendelssohn as opposed to Job and Ecclesiastes is that his compositions are in the German, not the Jewish, tradition, and what he produced, so that argument ran, was only an imitation of the productions of the true German Geist. It is primed with this type of prejudice that Arthur maintains that Jews have 'intellect, and not emotion' because they have no roots through which the sap of immemorial sub? conscious feeling can flow. Probably Leonard heard plenty of such talk within the precincts of Bloomsbury, furnishing him with the material for Arthur and for another enlightened spirit on the fringes of the Lawrence circle, who remarks that there never has been a good Jewish artist (obviously untrue!) and that Jews were 'too cold and clammy and hard [to produce great art]. They're just like crabs or oysters. They give me the creeps.'6 It must, however, be admitted that Clive Bell, on whom the character of Arthur is based, referred to Leonard in print as 'the most passionate and poetical' of the friends and does not accuse him of either lack of feeling or lack of talent.7 While there is no actual evidence apart from Leonard's novel that Bloomsbury was 'tainted' with antisemitism, there are, however, hints that Virginia herself, hardly surprisingly for her period and class, was not free from pre? judice. Frankly she admitted to Leonard, when she was debating whether to marry him or not, that his being a Jew told against him, and to her friend Violet Dickinson she announced, when she had decided, that she was about to marry a 'penniless Jew'.8 As if a Jew were not bad enough, there was not even the usual palliative of money to recommend him. Virginia, of course, was not writing in complete earnest (!) and in any case, Leonard was a penniless Jew. Virginia throughout married life found it hard to get on with Leonard's Jewish family, loathed the philistin ism of Putney and suburbia, and felt that Leonard blamed her for preferring the Bell children to the Woolf side of the family. 'Work and love and Jews in Putney take it out of me', she confessed shortly after their marriage to Violet Dickinson.9 All this is one of the incid? ental hazards of intermarriage. Nevertheless Leonard could hardly have relished it when she referred to the circle surrounding Gertrude Stein as 'swarming Semites', and there are passages in The Tears which savour of the genteel antisemitism which afflicted Chamber? lain's England in the years immediately preceding the Second World War. Virginia Woolf's Attitude The Tears chronicles the fate of the Pargiters, an upper middle-class family, from the end of the Victorian era till the end of the First World War. Changes in the social fabric particularly affected members of a privileged class. Along with the breakdown of Victorian conventions, the levelling of class differences, the greater freedom, there was a disintegration of a hierarchical society in which everyone had his place and few suffered from 'anomie'. From being an organic unit of an elite in a Victorian mansion, Sara Pargiter is forced to 5 L.W., The Wise Virgins (London, 1914), p. 133. 6 The Wise Virgins, p. 141. 7 Glive Bell, Old Friends: Personal Recollections (1956), p. 27. 8 Virginia Stephen/Violet Dickinson, 4 June 1912 (Monk's House Papers), University of Sussex. 9 Virginia Woolf/Violet Dickinson, 5 August 1912 (Berg Collection), see Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, vol. 2, Mrs. Woolf (1972), p. 4.</page><page sequence="5">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 29 rent a bed-sitter. Partitions are of the flimsiest, so that she has no privacy but must put up with the sordid sounds of living of the various unsavoury tenants. She hears, for instance, her Jewish neighbour running his bath water in the communal bathroom. The Jew snorts in his bath, he leaves hairs. . . .10 The next day there will be a ring of Jewish grease on the bath. Abrahamson is in the tallow trade, so the ring of fat will be pronounced! An almost physical repulsion from this forced proximity with strangers is compressed into this image of Jewish grease, and the whole pathos of the disintegration of a society is epitomised by the fate of this girl cut off from her niche in the lower aristocracy and forced to share the destiny of the jetsam of society, the most intimate parts of her daily routine with a Jew. But why a Jew particularly ? Why place on the Jew the whole burden of responsibility for the evils of industrialisation and capitalism? Secret Doubts Of course the association in The Tears of the Jew with the modern industrial nightmare can? not be taken exactly as a real indication of antisemitic bias on the part of the writer. First of all, Virginia is exploring the irrational prejudice of a character in her novel without herself pronouncing judgment. Then the whole net of association is all part of her exag? gerated art of caricature which fed on oddities of class and race. From experience people understood that they should not take what Virginia said seriously. . . . Still, the result is that, in 1937, just two years before the out? break of the Second World War, she reinforces the association of Jews with a Nazi typology. . . . One remembers that the swimming baths were one of the first places closed to Jews when Hitler came to power in 1933, 'as if, says Sartre, in his definitive study of antisemitism, 'the body of the Jew would render the bath wholly unclean'.11 However much Leonard felt bound to encourage Virginia by praising the book to her face, the doubts he secretly harboured as to its literary merit must have been tempered with qualms also on this score. Introspection and Self-Analysis In The Wise Virgins, not only are the two societies of suburbia and Bohemia in which the hero moves stamped with antisemitism, but he himself is deeply affected by it. In his study Sartre remarks that Jews often develop such a sensitivity to calumny that the poison enters their own system. Racial arrogance, mingled with acute self-depreciation, are the uneasy attitudes in Leonard's hero indicative of his insecurities. A general predisposition towards introspection and self-analysis applies particularly to the strain that he regards as typically 'Jewish' in himself. In front of Camilla, the Virginia-type heroine he loves, he blames himself for being unable to let him? self go emotionally, and he assumes that this psychological check is a racial and not a purely individual defect: 'Jews wait for what is worth while before letting themselves go', he claims. 'There isn't sensibility, they call it, in us. We want to get, to feel our hands upon what's worth while. Is it worth while? Is it worth getting? That's the first and only question to buzz in our brains.'12 Harry's attitude veers from contempt to pride and racial self assertion : 'We've been born that way: I suppose we're born that way 20,000 years ago in Asia. Personally I'm proud of it. I like it. (The only thing that a Jew is sentimental about is Judaism, you know) [This is certainly not true of either Leonard Woolf or Harry Davis, his self-portrait in the novel.]?T am a good Jew; I obey the fifth commandment and honour my father and my mother?at any rate in myself. We aren't as pleasant and beautiful as you are. We're hard and grasping, we're out after definite things, which we think worth while. We don't drift, we watch and wait, wait and watch.'13 What Harry, and Leonard with him, are !? Virginia Woolf, The Tears (1937), pp. 365-368. 11 J. P. Sartre, Portrait of the Anti-Semite, trans? lated by Erik de Mauny, p. 28. 12 The Wise Virgins, p. 156. 13 The Wise Virgins, p. 157.</page><page sequence="6">30 Freema Gottlieb really talking about is their own sense of homelessness, their search for something with which to identify. It is this which makes them look for 'definite' goals, because they cannot take the ground under their feet, or the whole English way of life, for granted. Estrangement from Environment Leonard returns to this aching sense of homelessness in his story Three Jews, written at about the same time as The Wise Virgins. The narrator feels himself entirely out of place in the temperate sunshine of a spring day at Kew. Crowds of decent equable English men and women blend with the gentle green grass, the blue sky, and the apple blossom; only he feels himself alien to all this. On meeting a fellow-Jew there is no possibility of camouflage. He greets him, 'You knew me at once and I knew you. We show up, don't we, under the apple-blossom and this sky. It doesn't belong to us, do you wish it did?'14 Striking is the sense of estrangement from his environment which is expressed in both story and novel, but of which there is little indication in the Autobiography. As a young man, from the apple blossom of Kew he stood out; as an old man he merged with his garden at Rodmell! Harry describes to Camilla just what goals Jews find it worth their while to pursue. Money, of course, is worth while, but not for its own sake so much as for the power it buys. 'Then knowledge, intelligence, taste.' But these things are not valued as ends in them? selves, so much because they too, like money, 'give power to do things, influence people'. 'That's what we really want, to feel ourselves working on people in any way, it doesn't matter. It's a sort of artistic feeling, a desire to create. To feel people moving under your hands or your brains, just as you want them to move.'15 The traditional link between the Jew and money is not a matter of parsimony but because money means power, opening up the kind of imaginative perspectives which intoxicated Marlowe's Jew. According to Sartre, money is a kind of abstraction, a 'mental entity' as opposed to the more sub? stantial concept of property tied up in land. The kind of malaise which Leonard depicts, while it is true of any rootless person trying to achieve social status, and not a monopoly of the Jew, was certainly an acute diagnosis of his own condition. Despite his egalitarian views, by temperament Leonard had a natural flair for authority, and this was very useful in a practical way in his term as a colonial servant in Ceylon. Whatever his theoretical and conscientious objections as a Fabian to the imposition of one man's or nation's will on another, he had an inborn gift for command and it was a clash between temperament and conscience which drove him to abdicate from the position of temptation. On his return to England his urge for dominance was siphoned off into sidelines such as his manage? ment of the Hogarth Press. Consciously Leonard attempted to expunge what he considered as a reprehensible trait from his personal relations, but the late Mrs. James Strachey told me that she thought he deflected his appetite for power on to his dogs, over whom he exerted absolute sway. From his exile in Ceylon onwards, he always had a dog about him, and usually they were spaniels, fawning with complete loyalty underneath the yoke of a benevolent tyranny. Psychological Malaise Leonard's latent desires for dominance as reflected in the hero of his novel has reper? cussions only on his individual psychology and has very little to do with the antisemitic typology of the 'Jew'. It is surprising that he was not himself aware of this and that he thinks that all Jews suffer from exactly the same psychological malaise as he did. Harry in the novel runs down his Jewish background and the philistine environment of middle-class suburbia from which the heroine is cut off imaginatively. This revelation of the inner contortions of the mind of her friend blurs Camilla's pellucid vision: 'It was as if she were being jarred and jolted out of a pleasant, 14 L.W., 'Three Jews', in Publication No. 1. Two Stories (1917), written and printed by Virginia Woolf and Leonard Sidney Woolf, p. 8. 15 The Wise Virgins, p. 158.</page><page sequence="7">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 31 peaceful country of smooth roads and country lanes and dreamy fields [England] into a[n Eastern] desert of jagged rocks and stones.'16 Two landscapes to represent two different natures and views of the world. The primeval rock and sand of the desert for Leonard, the gently undulating contours of the Sussex Downs for Virginia. (Leonard loved the strong and skeletal as opposed to the soft, yielding, and pretty-pretty in landscape as in women, and the cactus was a favourite flower.) In Ceylon Leonard recognised an inborn affinity with the bleak austerity of the countryside: 'Many people dislike the arid sterility of this kind of Asiatic low country. But I lived in it for many years, indeed for most of my life in Ceylon, and it got into my heart and my bones, its austere beauty, its im? mobility, and its unchangeableness except for minute modulation of light and colour beneath the uncompromising sun, the silence, the emptiness, the melancholia, and so the purging of the passions by complete soli? tude.'^ Sense of Homelessness One of the most moving things in The Wise Virgins is Harry's description of the effect upon him of the English countryside. It is like some romantic impossible love, for which there can be no consummation. It is his passion for Camilla. 'The country?it's like the highest art, it purges the passions; one is more like what one was as a boy. But there it ends with me. I just feel it aesthetically. I can never give way to it. . . .' Because he was a Jew, because his roots are all elsewhere? Among a set of 'characters' of his friends written at about this time Leonard included one directed satirically against himself. By the adoption of a fictional nationhood he describes his 'Jewish' sense of homelessness and insecurity of tenure in Bloomsbury: habitants of Jericho I have a large nose and black hair. I wander between Athens [Cambridge?] and Egypt and sometimes I visit Olympus [Apostledom ?]; that is how I came to know the Olympians. I should like to live on Olympus but all Syrians are wanderers, and I rather doubt whether any of them are really Olympian. There is some taint in their blood, and blood you know has a great deal to do with the heart. . . ,'18 A bitterness springing from deep unhappincss speaks from this passage. The autobiographical sketches in the novel of Harry's Jewish family are not very sym? pathetic. His sister Hetty is depicted as one of those people who view life as a business to be got through. Brilliance, 'cunning', sensuality, and an ostentatious vulgarity of dress are emphasised in contrast to the aristocratic simplicity of the heroine. Harry's father con? forms to the stereotype of the Jewish business? man with certain very definite and material aims in view, but with no patience for in? tangibles. He is a machine, utterly without personality, and with the regrettable 'Jewish habit of manipulating his capital'.19 Except that both belonged to the legal profession, Mr. Davis bears no resemblance to all to Leonard's own father, whom, as he shows in the Auto? biography, he loved and admired greatly. He says that, although his father was not orthodox, he was one of those rare people 'whose morality is instinctive, springing from a delicacy or nicety of taste or aesthetic sensibility.'20 From Leonard's own words it seems that it was because his ancestors, if not he himself, had once been religious, that his father's ethic had become so engrained as to be instinctive. Here it is the moral fervour of the prophet Micah: 'to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God', and not Mr. Davis's 'habit of manipulating his capital,' that Leonard associates with Judaism. Leonard's youthful novel was a diatribe against the conservative possessiveness of the T was born at Jericho [in Jewish middle class suburbia], and like most of the in 16 The Wise Virgins, p. 159. 17 L. W., Growing, p. 27. 18 Monk's House Papers. 19 The Wise Virgins, pp. 50-51. 20 Sowing, p. 25.</page><page sequence="8">32 Freema Gottlieb archetypal Jewish matriarch. According to his sister, Bella Sidney Woolf, the portrait of Harry's mother is done from the life, although from a superficial comparison with the more likeable vignette in the Autobiography we would hardly guess at this resemblance. The deni gratory and simplistic associations the young Leonard linked with his racial origins in his early writings are considerably toned down in the Autobiography, where his mother is depicted as an extremely interesting and lively person, good-looking, and with a sense of fun that made life sparkle for her husband and children. Leonard proceeds to tell an anecdote of how his mother disguised herself as a client of her husband and completely deceived him. But even in the Autobiography, in the flattering portrait of the lovely young wife, there are hints at less pleasant characteristics such as her exclusive preoccupation with her family. She lived, Leonard wrote, in a dream world of rosy sentiment which was ultimately com? pletely self-centred, consisting as it did of nine perfect children worshipping a mother to whom they owed everything. It was from Mrs. Woolf's Victorian myth of motherhood as much as anything that Leonard sought to escape by marrying 'out'. In her Diary Virginia noted how little Leonard liked his mother's annual visits to Rodmell?though, as a dutiful son, he himself visited her every fortnight in Putney?because her horizons did not extend beyond worship of the Family. The Matriarch Convention Mothers in the novel act as the priestesses of social convention. If she could, Mrs. Davis would have kept her brood under her wing for the rest of her and their lives. Harry dimly remembers that he once adored his mother, that once she formed all his world, but he cannot recall that time and indicts himself of lack of feeling. Perhaps both portraits, in novel and Autobiography, are authentic, but of different stages of life. While the Autobiography gives us the picture of the young mother whom, even when he was a child, Leonard could not vividly recall as having loved, that in the novel is of a monstrous overgrown womb. Leonard's picture of Harry's mother is a somewhat curious one?that of a tribal chief tainess strayed into suburbia: 'The big, curved nose, the curling, full lips, the great brown eyes would have made a fine old woman of her if she had been squatting under a palm tree with a white linen cloth thrown over her head and drawn round her heavy, oval face. The monotonous sing-song voice would have sounded all right if she had sung the song of Miriam which tells how the Egyptian horse and his rider were overwhelmed by Jehovah in the sea; it came incongruously through the large nose in her quiet, voluble and thin-sounding English.'21 What Leonard criticises in her is not her Jewish origins but that she is very willing to betray them in order to assimilate into the English scene. Although Mrs. Davis 'prays' every morning, she considers it more appropri? ate in the circumstances for her son's wedding to take place in church rather than in syna? gogue. Leonard's parents were already Reform Jews who placed more importance on the philistine social mores of the English bourgeoisie they were assimilating into than on the tradi? tions of the past. From an incompetent teacher he had picked up a smattering of Hebrew? 'just enough to enable us to repeat a few Hebrew prayers', without, of course, under? standing at all what they meant. It was from such scanty knowledge that Leonard's whole attitude to Judaism and to religion in general was formed. Ignorance of Judaism It was the god and religion of his upbringing which he hated too much to be capable of forming objective judgments. Indeed, his own ignorance of Judaism is demonstrated when he has Mrs. Davis recite the Shema with her face pointing to the North Pole, which she presumed to be the direction of Jerusalem. While Leonard is busy exposing Mrs. Davis's superstitious ignorance for equating the North 21 The Wise Virgins, pp. 32-33.</page><page sequence="9">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 33 Pole with the East, he is himself showing his meagre acquaintance with Jewish religious ritual?Jews do not turn to face the East when uttering that particular prayer. Actually, what Leonard and Mrs. Davis are confusing are the two most important but quite separate prayers in the Jewish liturgy: one, called the 'Eighteen Benedictions' or the 'Amida', which, as Leonard quite correctly says, is said standing and facing eastwards, and the other, shorter prayer the Hebrew words of which are actually quoted in the novel. The meaningless nursery jingle he awards his memory full marks for recalling Leonard takes to be the sum of a religion. He again shows his ignorance of the actual ritual of the Jewish religion when, in his story 'Three Jews', he has one of the 'three' place flowers piously on his wife's grave, an act forbidden by Jewish law, although condoned by Reform?and Leonard's family actually were Reform Jews. Although Leonard's attitude to his back? ground had mellowed as he became more sure of his actual position by the time he came to write the Autobiography, his irrational intolerance for any manifestation of religion, with the questionable exception of Buddhism, never altered. His usually open mind was completely out of sympathy whether with Anglican vicars or the Hasidim of Jerusalem. Perhaps because he felt that he and the liberal-minded had been written off by them did he show this un? characteristic narrow-mindedness. Conflicts of Class In his Autobiography, Leonard talks of the 'bitterness and ambivalence' involved in his attitude to his Jewish background: 'Most people are both proud and ashamed of their families, and nearly all Jews are both proud and ashamed of being Jews . . .'.22 The resulting unpleasantness is similar in kind to that of many novels of working-class writers trying to make a painful social transition while looking back nostalgically to the background from which they are struggling to be free, and inveighing against the corruptions of the new society by which they are powerfully drawn. Lawrence is an example of a writer eaten up with this kind of inner bile. Even in childhood Leonard's family were only 'socio? logical Jews'. What he actually effected for himself by his career at St. Paul's and Trinity, in the Colonial Service, and most of all by marrying the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, was a social rise. In his Autobiography he makes the point that he was an outsider to the upper middle-class of his Cambridge friends because, although his father belonged to the professional middle class, they had 'only struggled up from the status of Jewish shopkeepers'. His grandfather on his father's side was described as a 'tailor, outfitter and portable warehouse' and as a 'waterproofer', with shops in Regent Street, Piccadilly, and Old Bond Street, and his mother's family, the de Jonghs, were diamond merchants from Amsterdam.23 Leon? ard's autobiographical novel is the product, therefore, of conflicts both of class and race, and this accounts for its uneasiness of tone. When he came to write his Autobiography more than fifty years later, his bitterness about his racial origins had been tempered and moderated by time and detachment. He then had no longer any need for the thera? peutic relief of the writing of an autobiograph? ical novel, but could view that part of his life in perspective. For an objective treatment of his early life, therefore, his Autobiography is the book to read, but if we want a biased account, that is, one based on his actual feelings at the time, then the novel is the more interesting. In the Autobiography Leonard was able to paint some rather noble portraits of his fore? bears, which are very different from the unpleasant caricatures in his novel: his grand? father, for instance, with his appearance of 'stern, rabbinical orthodoxy', and his great grandmother, who used to walk to synagogue on the eve of the Day of Atonement with hard peas in her boots until she was over seventy, and 'used to stand upright on the peas in her place in the synagogue for twenty-four hours without sitting down until sunset of the following day, fasting of course the whole time'.24 The Spartan dignity, the shadows and 22 Sowing, p. 196. 23 Idem., pp. 13-14. 24 Idem., p. 15.</page><page sequence="10">34 Freema Gottlieb solemnities of religious expiation, would have made a deep impression on the mind of the young Leonard. Anomalous Feelings In his 'Three Jews', which, with Virginia's 'Mark on the Wall', was the first handprinted publication of the Hogarth Press, Leonard crystallised what Judaism meant to him. In the story nothing actually happens except the narrator's confrontation with two different strands of his personality exteriorised in the form of two separate people (both Jews). It is on a spring day at Kew that he meets up with the Second Jew, who shifts the scene to a foggy November day in a graveyard, where the Third Jew is encountered. At the outset, the narrator marks the difference between himself and the other 'decent, law abiding citizens', who never 'run about or laugh' but 'take care to keep off the edges of the grass because the notices told them to do so'. One cannot suppose that Leonard (the sketch is obviously autobiographical) did do all these things. Presumably he behaved in the same sober fashion as his fellow-Englishmen. Yet in himself he notices a difference which in later life he would have ignored. The narrator writes either as if he had just come back from a long journey out East?and Leonard had!? or as if he was seeing the scene through foreign eyes. Otherwise he would scarcely seize upon these Englishnesses as anomalies in nature. Outwardly indistinguishable from the crowd of tea-drinkers, he takes note of a stranger with typically 'Jewish' characteristics, a 'bustle, and roll and energy in his walk', 'thickness of his legs above the knee', 'arms that hung so loosely and limply by his sides, as they do with people who wear hanging clothes without sleeves', a 'dark fat face' and 'sensual mouth'.25 The 'Jewish' features singled out by the narrator compose a kind of cartoon. Leonard might be one of those people who have never actually met a flesh-and-blood Jew in his life instead of being one. The face is 'clever', 'thick', 'in? scrutable', the eyes 'mysterious', with 'the heavy lids which went into deep folds at the corners'. The observer takes note of the 'high forehead' signifying intelligence, the 'black hair', 'well-shaped fat hands', the 'slight thickness of the voice', once they fall into conversation, the 'over-emphasis' in tone and the 'little note of assertiveness' betraying insecurity, and recognises a fellow-Jew. What is strange is not the portrait?it is an all-too typical one?but the fact that a Jew has made it. It is the epithets 'mysterious' and 'in? scrutable' which suggest a writer with a romantic gulf between him and his subject. For Leonard, however, there could have been no mystery not of his own choosing by his intentionally adopting so external a viewpoint. It is significant that the other context in which Leonard uses the word 'mysterious' is with reference to the East, which is approached through the romantic Victorian tradition of Orientalism. 'Hanging on' to the Faith Leonard and the stranger exchange con? versation, in which they acknowledge a common sense of recognition. They feel unpopular with the people around (they are 'too clever perhaps, too sharp, too go-ahead'), the saving remark is made that, as well as being clever, Jews have sentiment and family affection, all rather large generalisations and not very applicable to Leonard himself. While both came from Jewish backgrounds, neither actually believes in the religion of Judaism. Leonard tells us in his Autobiography that he became an unbeliever at the age of 13 (Bar mitzvah), and the stranger only attends services out of respect for 'custom' on the Day of Atonement. The latter, however, sees, even in this negative attitude of 'hanging on' to the fag-end of a faith, something that is of positive value, and illustrates this with the story of the Third Jew, a cemetery-keeper met while visiting the grave of his wife. The Third Jew also has the typical clothes hanger arms which personally I have never seen on any Jew, 'clever Cunning grey eyes' (why the 'cunning'?), and what is perhaps the most glorious description of the Jewish nose in existence; 25 Two Stories, p. 7.</page><page sequence="11">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 35 4 ... a nose, by Jove, Sir, one of the best, one of those noses, white and shiny, which when you look it full face seems almost flat on the face, but immensely broad, curving down like a broad highroad, from between the bushy eye-brows down over the lips. And side-face it was colossal; it stood out like an elephant's trunk with its florid curves and scrolls.'26 Growth of Scepticism Despite the sacramental aspect of his occupa? tion, this simple cemetery-keeper is as sceptical as either second or first narrator. He does not believe in a life after death. Everything ends at his cemetery. There is nothing in the Bible ?he means of course the Old Testament? about an after-life. About God, like the Leonard of the Autobiography, he is open to persuasion, but he is adamant that there is no such thing as immortality for human-beings. ' . . . One don't have to believe everything now: it was different when I was young. You had to believe every? thing they told you in Schul [Synagogue]. Now you may think for yourself. . . .' He sees no need for a life after death to make some sense of this one. ' . . . Lead a pure clean life,' he maintains, 'and the reward is to be enjoyed here.' Despite his own sophisticated scepticism, the second narrator is saddened by the dis? belief of even this simple Jewish cemetery keeper. 'And I thought of our race, its traditions and its faith, how they are vanishing in the life that surrounds us.' He makes the often repeated charge that 'when Jews had to suffer and die for their religion it was a vital force to them, but after the universal tolerance which was ushered in by social historic movements like the French Revolution, faced with no external challenge, faith dwindled'. The 'stranger' feels momentarily with sadness that the three of them are not true Jews at all. 'We're Jews only externally now, in our black hair, and our large noses, in the way we stand and the way we walk. But inside, we're Jews no longer. Even he doesn't believe, the keeper of Jewish graves! The old spirit, the ancient faith has gone out of him.' Buffets of Misfortune Three times the second narrator visits the graveyard, and on each occasion the keeper is a little less complacent about the justice automatically meted out for 'clean living', and each time he is struck with additional misfortune. At one time his wife dies, at another his son marries 'out': not only is his daughter in-law not Jewish, she is also a servant. ' . . . Times change,' muses the philosophical old scarecrow. T might have received his wife even though she was a Goy (non-Jew). But a servant-girl who washed my dishes! I couldn't do it. One must have some dignity. . . .' Such reprehensible sentiments?disapproval of the marriage not on religious but on purely snobbish grounds?were certainly not shared by the egalitarian Leonard. The effect is that the Third Jew emerges, perhaps because of all his prejudices, with a pathos of individuality which is all his own. Morally, the old man's attitude is nothing to be proud of, and even in appearance he is more beaten-down and seedy than ever, like 'a great black bird folding its wings round itself, and rock[ing] himself backwards and forwards first on his toes and then on his heels . . . '. The cemetery-keeper has discovered that, if justice is to be found anywhere, it is not in this world, and, paradoxically, each buffet of fortune gives him a kind of dignity: 'He was beaten, degraded, down, gone under, gone all to bits, and yet somehow he looked as if that was just what hadn't happened?he hadn't gone all to bits: there was something in him that still stood up and held together, something like a rock which, beaten and buffeted, still held out indomitable'.27 The old Jew is a symbol of humanity who only in adversity comes into full grandeur. And it is with this sombre aspect of Jewish history, that of suffering, that Leonard empa? thises, seeing in this negative of all the intrinsic spiritual values of Judaism, the sheer ability to survive, a truly positive human value. 26 Idem., pp. 11-12. 27 Idem., p. 14.</page><page sequence="12">36 Freema Gottlieb The stoic theme is one which obsessed Leonard. Of all the qualities he chose to own to in being Jewish this desperate hardihood is perhaps the most important. When writing of the terrible period after Virginia's suicide, he admits to possessing his 'full share of the inveterate, the immemorial fatalism of the Jew', seared into his flesh by a tragic history of persecution and pogrom, together with 'an internal passive resistance, a silent, unyielding self-control'.28 In the first part of the Auto? biography, he described his grandmother sitting very upright in her ebony chair, her resolute spirit 'unconquered by the nineteenth century and her ten children', and defying fate, his grandfather cherishing 'in the small of his back and the cockles of his heart that particle of steel which alone enabled him to walk so upright, and alone can account for his sur? vival,'29 and Leonard evidently was proud to believe that he inherited his own fatalistic courage from them. Pride of Jewishness The very same quality as that which emerges from the Autobiography written at the end of his life was prized by the young Leonard in a set of verses defending a Jewish pawnbroker against a charge of manslaughter which was written at about the time of the Dreyfus Affair, when Leonard was still at Cambridge.30 The main thesis of this piece is that society bears the guilt for moulding the pawnbroker into what he is. In mediaeval times the Jew was debarred from practising any other profession than that of moneylender. Shame of external circumstance make for a fierce assertion of pride in that which is being de? graded?his Jewishness: A remnant of the old Earth's sons In whose veins the dark blood runs Of kings and princes of the East. Even before he himself had made the journey to Ceylon, the East was a figure to Leonard for his own Jewishness. His origins, shameful in the bleak realistic light of contemporaneity, were nevertheless romantic in the splendid afterglow of a distant past. The pawnbroker is charged with the murder of someone who had flung antisemitic taunts at him, so touching him to a violence for which he cannot be held responsible. He describes the irrational passion that gripped him ' . . . when [he] Shrieked at me "Jew!" ' . . . Then suddenly The gas-jets faded far from me? I saw the mystic desert gleam Mile upon mile, the burning beam Of Eastern sun was on the land, A naked sword was in my hand . . . Romanticised Views Leonard's view of his people is extremely interesting. Two thousand years of 'shame' are blotted out. He appears to be supremely ignorant of the great intellectual and spiritual tradition of his people which was evolved des? pite, and even perhaps because of, that suffer? ing. Owing to his own inner conflict, he seems to have swallowed whole the antisemitic typology. The Jew is like that, only it is his alien environment which has made him so, social conditions that must be changed. Back, therefore, to an age and a part of the world where the position was different. Leonard's portrait of the 'authentic' Jew brandishing a naked sword is as exotic as anything out of Disraeli. A Jew is simply an Arab equipped with horses, flowing robes, and a flashing blade. This curious atavism emerges again in his pen portrait of Kotelianski, the Russian translator of genius with whom he for a time collaborated. Kotelianski resembled, he felt, what a major Hebrew prophet must have been like 3,000 years ago. 'There are some Jews', Leonard claimed, 'who, though their ancestors have lived for centuries in European ghettoes, are born with certain characteristics which the sun and sand of the desert beat into the bodies and minds of Semites', tempering their bodies to steel, and purifying their minds to an austere passion. There is surely an element of wish-identification in this picture of the heroic Semite.31 28 The Journey not the Arrival Matters, pp. 127-128. 29 Sowing, pp. 19-20. 30 Monk's House Papers. 31 Beginning Again, p. 249.</page><page sequence="13">Leonard Woolf's Attitude to his Jewish Background and Judaism 37 Leonard's attitude to his Jewishness was really far more complicated than the innocuous portrait of a rather phlegmatic Englishman intentionally fostered by the Autobiography would give him credit for, and this only comes out in the early imaginative writings, where his shame at his more recent Jewish background ? its materialism, its lack of all spiritual and cultural values, its lack of grace - and his pride in his more remote ancestry come across, and where his Jewishness is certainly something very much more than an accident. It was only at the end of his life, however, when he had come to terms with his background, when, in fact, he had left Jewishness behind, that he was able to see the whole problem untainted by the bitterness of his struggle to get away. His attitude to Israel is an example of this. Opinions on Zionism Leonard was far from being a Zionist in the early days of the movement, although the Zionist position was roughly analogous to his own in that the modern pioneers tended also to identify with Biblical warrior heroes of thousands of years ago rather than with the internalised virtues of their more immediate forebears. It was a tacit acceptance of the antisemitic typology spun by their enemies that made them regard the ghetto as the breeding ground of humiliation, the farming collectives as the womb of freedom and true identity. All the eloquence of Lewis Namier and Chaim Weizmann, however, could not shake Leonard's view that to introduce a racial and religious minority into the Middle East was to court trouble. Only when the refugees from Hitler clamoured for a place of settlement, and even after that, when the State was actually established, did Leonard reluctantly give his assent, although he never actually recanted on his former opinion. He had said that the existence of a minority race among the Arabs would cause trouble and it did. He nevertheless held the view that in politics and history one must be realist and face up readily to a changed situation. The refugees, the actual existence of the State as a fait accompli, presented a radically altered case. Leonard engaged in many epistolatory controversies in defence of Jews and of Israel, although in his younger days he had himself been guilty of bias. Quite naturally, being himself a Jew, his opinions were suspect as incapable of objectivity, and of anyone else this might have been true. Most people usually are motivated by personal feeling, but this is precisely what Leonard was not willing to concede about himself, and no charge enraged him more. He made it a point of honour to be doubly detached where anything which touched him personally was concerned. In fact, he would more likely have been swayed to the opposite side to where his personal interest lay, as he might have instantly been placed on his guard against undue sympathy if he had been a judge and a pretty blonde were arraigned before him. It was because he had left his home background behind, as his Autobiography shows, and identified himself with England and Western culture, that he could claim, with some justice, T do not think I'm motivated ... by the fact that I'm "Jewish",' and defend Jews or Israel as he would any other victim of injustice and not with any special sense of identifica? tion. 32 When Leonard visited Israel in 1957 he was exhilarated by the 'physical and mental effer? vescence' he encountered. 'It was the vision of a civilised community creating materially out of the rocky soil and spiritually out of the terrible history of all the peoples of the world in all the millennia since Adam a new and civilized way of life.'33 In his awakening sympathy for Israel, Leonard projected upon the arid scenery of the Israeli Negev the one 'Jewish' quality of an immemorial fatalism he was proud to admit to, and here in this new context he owned that those old passive qualities of human fortitude had been given a more dynamic and creative impetus. 32 L.W., private correspondence on the position of A. J. P. Taylor, 16 December 1962. Monk's House Papers. 33 The Journey not the Arrival Matters, pp. 185-187.</page></plain_text>

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