Study Guide

Leonard Woolf in The Hours

By Michael Cunningham

Leonard Woolf

The novel's best and most revealing description of Leonard Woolf is also its first. As Virginia Woolf comes downstairs in the morning, she finds her husband looking over page proofs in the Hogarth House printing room.

Here's what the novel's narrator tells us: "Leonard looks up at her, still wearing, for a moment, the scowl he has brought to the proofs. It is an expression she trusts and fears, his eyes blazing and impenetrably dark under his heavy brows, the corners of his mouth turned down in an expression of judgment that is severe but not in any way petulant or trivial—the frown of a deity, all-seeing and weary, hoping for the best from humankind, knowing just how much to expect. It is the expression he brings to all written work, including, and especially, her own" (2.8).

The narrator continues: "As he looks at her, though, the expression fades almost immediately and is replaced by the milder, kinder face of the husband who has nursed her through her worst periods, who does not demand what she can't provide and who urges on her, sometimes successfully, a glass of milk every morning at eleven" (2.8).

Throughout The Hours, Michael Cunningham sticks to this basic portrait of Virginia Woolf's husband, who was a celebrated writer and publisher in his own right. Leonard scowls often and can be impatient and grumpy, and there are times when his efforts to take care of Virginia come across as being overprotective and overbearing. Still, his genuine love and respect for his wife are clear. Just take a look at what the novel's narrator tells us when we get a chance to see Virginia through Leonard's eyes:

She stands tall, haggard, marvelous in her housecoat, the coffee steaming in her hand. He is still, at times, astonished by her. She may be the most intelligent woman in England, he thinks. Her books may be read for centuries. He believes this more ardently than does anyone else. And she is his wife. She is Virginia Stephen, pale and tall, startling as a Rembrandt or a Velázquez, appearing twenty years ago at her brother's rooms in Cambridge in a white dress, and she is Virginia Woolf, standing before him right now. (2.26)

There's no doubt about it: Scowls and grumpiness aside, Leonard Woolf is Team Virginia, all the way.