Some critics of Leonard Woolf’s writings on Sir Lanka have described him as a “passionate anti-imperialist” while others argue that he is a “Eurocentric racist.” What is your view?
Leonard Sidney Woolf was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service who served the colonial enterprise in Ceylon for seven years, from 1904 to 1911. His writings on Sri Lanka hold a central place in postcolonial studies and English Literature in Sri Lanka. Woolf’s writings on Sri Lanka are significant as they were the earliest factual accounts written on Ceylon by a European based on the personal experiences of local living.
At numerous occasions, such as his comments in his autobiography Growing, Woolf has claimed himself to be an anti imperialist. In Growing, he says that he is “an anti-imperialist who enjoyed the fleshpots of imperialism.” (235) Even some of the earlier critics of Woolf’s writings like Yasmine Gooneratne, D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke, Mervyn de Silva considered Woolf as an anti-imperialist who wrote on Ceylon out of sympathy and compassion for the Ceylonese and the colonial liberation movement. Mervyn de Silva in his introduction to L.S.Woolf’s Diaries in Ceylon 1908-1911 mentions that Woolf was “never a perfect piece in the mechanism of colonial rule…but the system called for habits of feeling and action which his whole personality must have steadily resist.”(l) Yet, a closer look at his writings show that he is not an anti imperialist at heart, rather a typical Eurocentric colonizer.
The label of Woolf being a “racist” has been first brought up by the critic Rajiva Wijesinghe in his criticism Leonard Woolf’s Sacred Cow which was published in 1980. This radical point of view adopted by Wijesinghe shed new light on the reception of Woolf’s works, especially his first novel The Village in the Jungle among its readers and critics. According to Wijesinghe, the novel is a “vulgar and patronizing work” (139) and he further criticises the earlier “absurd...