Obituary: Cecil Woolf (20/02/27–10/06/19)

Obituary: Cecil Woolf (20/02/27–10/06/19)

Cecil Woolf, the nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, has died aged 92.

He was the last person alive to have known Virginia personally; he was 14 when she committed suicide. But he was equally proud of Leonard, who died when Cecil was 42 and whose London house he shared for nearly a decade. He said of Leonard, “How does one sum up a person as many-sided as that?”, a remark equally applicable to his multi-talented nephew, who was a man of many parts.

After demobilisation in 1947, Cecil joined stockbroking firm Woolf, Christie, founded by two of his childless uncles, who wanted him to carry on the family business. Though he mastered the various branches of the trade, he left after only a few years to start an antiquarian book business, happily forfeiting the guaranteed money and security of the Stock Exchange for the challenges and independence of freelance writing and bookselling.

He never traded on his relationship to Virginia Woolf, and remained modest and unassuming, almost to a fault. As a writer, his bibliographies of Norman Douglas and Baron Corvo, and his editions of Corvo’s novels, poems and letters, are models of their kind.

In 1960 Cecil founded his own publishing house, inspired by the example of Leonard Woolf, whom he had helped at the Hogarth Press from an early age. His encouragement of young writers became legendary. Drew Shannon was one of many grateful authors who treasured Cecil’s help.

After Cecil’s first marriage ended in the late 1960s, he began a relationship with Jean Moorcroft Wilson (pictured with him), who became his second wife and partner in the publishing business. Together they edited two highly topical books, Authors Takes Sides on the Falklands and Authors Take Sides on the Gulf and Iraq. Cecil’s meticulous attention to detail ensured books of the highest quality in both content and appearance. He was running Cecil Woolf Publishers with Jean’s help until shortly before his death.

Cecil chose his words carefully. A man of striking contradictions, he was one of the most serious, yet most humorous and witty people imaginable. He was also conspicuously kind, gentle and always polite and considerate. An essentially private, rather shy man in his younger years, he took to public speaking in later life with surprising enjoyment. It is not for his memories of a literary icon that Cecil will be remembered by his family and friends, however, or even for his wonderful books, but for his originality as a person, his creativeness, his brilliance, his generosity, his kindness and his essential humanity.