Village in the Jungle by Leonard Woolf

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Sidelined by Leonard Woolf’s involvement in politics after he left the Civil Service, overshadowed by Virginia Woolf's continuous and brilliant achievement as a novelist, The Village in the Jungle (1913) fell from notice in Britain until, by the time its author died in 1969, it was almost forgotten. In Sri Lanka and southeast Asia, however, scholars recognize this classic novel as part of a distinguished literary line extending from Kipling through Conrad and Forster, to Paul Scott and Ruth Jhabvala. The value to scholarship of Professor Yasmine Gooneratne's edition is enhanced by perceptive comparisons, now made for the first time, of the novel's various editions with Woolf’s original manuscript. Highlighting substantial amendments made by the author prior to publication, she shows in detailed notes how they reflect his passion for accuracy, his wish to maintain objectivity while writing of another culture, and his humane sympathy for the people among whom he had worked for seven years as a civil servant in Sri Lanka. Errors and misprints in the first edition are corrected, local customs explained, Sinhala words glossed, the novel's themes related to the politics of colonialism, and the entire work brought within the ambit of the 21st century.


The Village in the Jungle is a novel that should be far better known. One may hope that now, in this fully restored edition, it will find a readership moved by its carefully developed tragic narrative and challenged by its prescient political analysis. It is a fiction whose human drama is driven by the economic motor of imperial policy, its enforcement, its interests, self interests and murderous entanglements ... One of the many benefits offered by this scrupulously annotated scholarly edition is that, by providing cancelled passages as well as other emendations and substitutions in the Notes, it enables us to watch the narrator in this act of disappearing. As one reads, one gradually enters a text that seems to be happening outside the narrator’s earshot, beyond his power to influence or control. It becomes as a result a witness text by the voiceless. The village world, the jungle landscape are their own space, not symbols of the writer’s metaphysical anxieties. The western presence is there, but only at the margins, in the brief appearances of the magistrate. Constructed directly out of Woolf’s own experiences in that role, he is a reluctant but complicit imperial agent, what Woolf came to understand his own role to have been in the imperial system ... In detail after detail, this remarkable novel’s analysis of imperialism is grounded in the process of its repudiation.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Judith Scherer Herz, Concordia University

“It is a pleasure to read Leonard Woolf’s novel The Village in the Jungle in this new edition compiled by Yasmine Gooneratne. First of all, it makes good reading because the author, who was at the beginning of his writing career when he published it for the first time with Edward Arnold in London in 1913, displayed a strong and experienced voice with a convincing and persuasive literary style. The story takes the reader behind the orderly façade of colonial Ceylon to the rural milieu in which clashes of emotions and cultures occur. Secondly, it reveals the conflicts which the imperial power of Britain inflicted on an indigenous people, and which determined the lives and fortunes of many an individual torn between tradition and innovation. Succeeding the works of Rudyard Kipling and preceding those of Joseph Conrad and E.M. Forster, The Village in the Jungle occupies an important place in the history of English colonial literature ... Dr. Yasmine Gooneratne presents a convincing scholarly edition of this classic of colonial literature. Being of Sri Lankan origin herself, she knows the setting of the plot from her own childhood experience; and as an experienced author of two postcolonial novels, A Change of Skies (1991) and The Pleasures of Conquest (1996), she possesses the necessary insights into the narratological and academic demands of such an enterprise. In her persuasive introduction she deploys all these skills, beginning by explaining to the reader the biographical background of Leonard Woolf, whose life was darkened by his wife's ill health while his life's work was overshadowed by her literary fame. She draws our attention to the novel's implied criticism of British imperial policy, and points out analogies with T.S. Eliot's famous poetical sequence The Waste Land (1922), which owes so much to Leonard Woolf’s prophetic inspiration anticipating the destructive powers of the Great War. Her fresh evaluation of the symbolic strengths which underscore on a fictional level the gap of two narrative discourses, those of the colonial and postcolonial phases in recent British history, rightly locates Woolf’s novel as an important text amidst Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book , Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. In doing so she picks up the research lines of Basil Mendis, Peter Elkin and Mervyn de Silva, who had previously analysed the novel along critical assumptions now dated, her scholarly acumen and credo prompting her to return to the novel's source, i.e., to the 264-page manuscript which reposes in the steel safe of the Librarian of the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. She conducted this archival research to mark the passages which vary substantially and significantly from the printed editions of the book, thus enabling the reader to observe and participate in the creative process which the author underwent in writing his novel ... It would have been difficult for a Western reader to follow the plot of this intriguing novel without the understanding of certain Sinhala words and a knowledge of some indigenous myths. Dr. Gooneratne, with her academic expertise in oriental and Western culture, guarantees the necessary insights into the intricate and conflicting traditions which meet in this novel. A comprehensive bibliography invites further research on this seminal book. This careful edition of The Village in the Jungle will, one hopes, restore the novel's literary reputation and help to establish its proper profile in the field of literary studies.” – Professor Rudiger Ahrens, University of Wurzburg, Germany

“Professor Yasmine Gooneratne has edited Leonard Woolf’s novel with the meticulous care it deserves, taking into consideration the entire range of critical interpretations the text has generated in the ninety years of its existence. The extensive notes at the end provide useful textual as well as cultural information, and a fascinating Appendix brings to the notice of the reader a film version of The Village in the Jungle made in Sri Lanka and a somewhat curious reading of the novel by a recent biographer of Virginia Woolf who holds Leonard Woolf responsible for his wife's suicide. Complete with a detailed Introduction and an exhaustive bibliography, this is likely to become the definitive edition of this twentieth century classic. The novel may be a minor classic as far as mainstream English literature is concerned, but in the context of Sri Lanka it occupies a prominent position, somewhat similar to the position of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India in India. The two novels, written within a few years of each other, are both attempts by unusually perceptive British writers to understand the countries ruled by Britain. Both have been widely read and discussed in the respective countries, and often prescribed in courses of study. Leonard Woolf’s novel has an elemental quality about it. The paradigmatic story of a simple village community disintegrating under the multiple assaults of 'civilization', inclement nature and hostile fate has been told in diverse ways in several non-Western cultures later in the century (e.g., Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart or Gopinath Mohanty's Paraja but this book is unique in having been written by an 'outsider' who had empathy with the village people as well as an ironic realization of the limitations of a colonial legal system (of which he himself was a part) in providing justice to them.” – Professor Meenakshi Mukherjee, University of Hyderabad, India

“ … presents true scholarship value, enhanced by perceptive comparisons (made for the first time) of the novel’s various editions with Woolf’s original manuscript. With her substantial amendments made prior to publication, Dr. Gooneratne showed in detailed notes how they reflected Woolf’s passion for accuracy, his wish to maintain objectivity while writing of another culture; and his humane sympathy for the people of Ceylond among whom he worked for seven years as a civil servant ...” The Daily Observer, Sri Lanka (April 28, 2006)

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