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Archive for June 11th, 2019

It is with great sadness that I share news of the passing of Cecil Woolf, the oldest living relative of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, who died Monday, June 10, in London at the age of 92 after suffering a stroke. He was also a dear personal friend and a much-loved member of the Woolf community, revered by scholars and common readers alike.

Cecil Woolf stops at 46 Gordon Square, London, while giving Blogging Woolf a tour of Bloomsbury in 2016.

A mentor and friend

A speaker at Woolf conferences and the founder and publisher of Cecil Woolf Publishers, a small London publishing house in the tradition of the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press, Cecil was also a tremendous mentor and friend to the many Woolf scholars, both new and old, that he met at Woolf-related events.

Wherever he went, whether an Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, an event sponsored by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, or a simple visit to a London bookshop, he impressed those he met with his unassuming charm, astute intelligence, and subtle wit.

I was lucky enough to meet Cecil at my first Woolf conference, the 17th, held at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford. I had just completed my Master’s degree at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, for which I had written my thesis on Woolf and war.

Drew Shannon, organizer of this year’s 29th Woolf conference, which ended Sunday at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, and Kristin Czarnecki, current president of the International Virginia Woolf Society, realized I was a newcomer and graciously took me under their wing. In the process, they pointed out Cecil Woolf. I was awed, excited, and determined to meet him.

The next day, I wasted no time introducing myself to this famous but amazingly approachable gem of a man. We hit it off immediately and a 12-year friendship began, during which Cecil published five monographs I wrote for his Bloomsbury Heritage Series. Throughout those years, we corresponded by Royal Mail and email, with Cecil offering gentle encouragement, helpful advice, recommended reading, and moral support. Later, I learned that all his authors received the same considerate care. I was not surprised.

Paula Maggio of Blogging Woolf and Cecil Woolf at his London home in June 2018.

A street-haunter and host

Ever the gracious host for newcomers to his city of London, Cecil gave me a personal tour of Bloomsbury after the 2016 Woolf conference. We spent seven hours exploring Bloomsbury together, with one stop for lunch and another for tea. Throughout our six-mile walk on that fine June day, the conversation with this witty, insightful, and well-read man never flagged.

Knowing I was alone in London, he and his wife Jean Moorcroft Wilson also hosted me for dinner at their London townhouse during that trip, a meal we ate on the table where Virginia and Leonard worked at the original Hogarth Press. I was thrilled.

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My little “mascot” Virginia on the Hogarth Press table at the home of Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson.

I was so thrilled by the experience that I left behind my small Virginia Woolf doll — which Cecil always called my “mascot” — after setting her up for a photo shoot on the Hogarth Press table. Upon arriving at my hotel without her, I emailed Cecil about my forgetfulness. He graciously delivered my little Virginia the next day, adding a bit of whimsey. He delivered her in a box wrapped in white paper and marked with the address of my hotel. Included was a clever card that read, “Dear Paula, I’ve come home! Love, Virginia XX”

Cecil and Jean regularly invited Woolf scholars and common readers into their home, where the wine was plentiful, the food expertly prepared, the company delightful, and the ambiance distinctly Bloomsbury.

After the 2017 event, they held a post-conference party, where art by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell surrounded guests. And after the 2018 conference in Canterbury, the couple hosted a dinner for a small group of Woolf conference attendees still in London.

A speaker and presence

Cecil Woolf with his 2017 monograph, The Other Boy at the Hogarth Press.

At conferences, Cecil displayed and sold his volumes in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series and was often a featured speaker at those events. The reminiscences about his famous aunt and uncle and the time he spent with them are treasured by conference-goers.

Cecil later documented his stories in The Other Boy at the Hogarth Press: Virginia and Leonard Woolf as I Remember Them, the monograph he published in 2017 as part of his Bloomsbury Heritage Series. I will always treasure the copy he signed for me.

Two years ago, at the 27th conference at the University of Reading in Reading, England, Cecil was also called upon to speak and perform a ceremonial cake cutting at the 100th anniversary of the Hogarth Press.

Cecil was often invited to assist at ceremonies honoring his Uncle Leonard. In 2014, he planted a Gingko biloba tree in Tavistock Square garden to commemorate the centennial of the arrival of Leonard in Colombo, Ceylon. Also that year, Cecil spoke at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque commemorating his uncle’s 1912 marriage proposal to Virginia at Frome Station.

Cecil Woolf cuts the cake designed by Cressida Bell for the 100th birthday party of the Hogarth Press in June 2017 at the University of Reading in Reading, England.

He sometimes attracted media attention. At the Woolf conference in New York City in 2009, he was interviewed by The Rumpus, sharing stories of Virginia and Leonard, as well as his own history in publishing.

An advocate and legacy

It is fortuitous that at this year’s Woolf conference, with its theme of social justice, an entire panel was devoted to Cecil’s publishing work on the topic of war and peace. Held on June 8, it featured papers by me and four other Woolf scholars.

The panel title was “The Woolfs, Bloomsbury, and Social Justice: Cecil Woolf Monographs Past and Present” and it included the following:

  • Chair: Karen Levenback (Franciscan Monastery). Introduction to Cecil Woolf Publishers
  • Lois Gilmore (Bucks County Community College), “A Legacy of Social Justice in Times of War and Peace.”
  • Paula Maggio (Blogging Woolf, Independent Scholar), “Cecil Woolf Publishers: Using the Power of the Press to Advocate for Peace.”
  • Todd Avery (University of Massachusetts, Lowell), “Just Lives of the Obscure: Cecil Woolf, Biography, and Social Justice.”
  • Vara Neverow (Southern Connecticut State University) Respondent

After our panel ended, we made a commitment to publish our papers in a suitable medium. We agreed that such work should be made available to current and future scholars who want to explore, recognize, and document the legacy of Cecil Woolf and Cecil Woolf Publishers regarding topics of Woolf, war, peace, Bloomsbury, and more.

Condolences and comments

Cecil was loved and revered by countless friends and scholars around the world, including those who study John Cowper Powys, another of Cecil’s areas of speaking and publishing expertise.

Those who would like to send a message of condolence to the family may direct it to Jean Moorcroft Wilson at 1 Mornington Place, London NW1 7RP, England.

Meanwhile, I invite you to share your recollections and tributes to Cecil in the comment box located under the heading “Leave a reply” at the very bottom of this post. 

Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Cecil Woolf with their display of Bloomsbury Heritage monographs at the 26th Woolf conference at Leeds Trinity University in Leeds, England, in 2016.
Emma Woolf with her father Cecil Woolf at his London home in June 2017.
Cecil Woolf, Jean Moorcroft Wilson, and Vara Neverow at the 25th Conference at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., in June 2015. 
Paula Maggio of Blogging Woolf takes a break with Cecil Woolf in the Tavistock Square garden after the 26th Woolf Conference in June 2016.
Patrizia Muscogiuri and Cecil Woolf chat at the 20th Woolf Conference at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky., in 2010.
Some of the monographs in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series.

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