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The Wise Virgins

by Leonard Woolf
Persephone book no:

42 43 44

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155332

The Wise Virgins (1913) is a semi-autobiographical novel about a dilemma: whether Harry, the hero, should go into the family business and marry the suitable but dull girl next door or move in artistic circles and marry one of the entrancing 'Lawrence' girls. For, as Lyndall Gordon writes: 'It is a truth widely acknowledged that Camilla Lawrence is a portrait of the author's wife – Virginia Woolf.'

This is one reason why the novel is so intriguing. But it is also a Forsterian social comedy, funny, perceptive, highly intelligent, full of clever dialogue and at times bitterly satirical; while the dramatic and emotional dénouement still retains a great deal of its power to shock.

It was on his honeymoon in 1912 that Leonard Woolf began writing his second (and final) novel. He was 31, newly returned from seven years as a colonial administrator, and asking himself much the same questions as his hero. Helen Dunmore wrote in The Sunday Times: 'It's a passionate, cuttingly truthful story of a love affair between two people struggling against the prejudices of their time and place. Woolf's writing is almost unbearably honest.'


The endpaper we chose is 'White', an Omega Workshop linen designed by Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf's sister, in 1913.

Picture Caption

Leonard Woolf and Virginia Stephen in July 1912, the month before their wedding.

Read What Readers Say


‘The Wise Virgins’ is a very interesting book which, while falling into a common Persephone Books theme of the suburban domestic and the plight of the unmarried daughter, also goes on, as so many of their books do, to look at wider societal changes and the fates of those who push against convention in whatever way, for however long. The style is interesting, with a certain amount of shifting perspective and stream of consciousness and a fair bit of meta-fictional authorial intervention as well, when he exhorts the reader to imagine the next few minutes for themselves or adds “a few more words” to flesh out a character. This makes for an attractive and engaging read.

Categories: Bloomsbury Men (books by) Sex

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