My first reaction to Growing was “gee… i’m glad he doesn’t write like his wife.” I think in many ways, Leonard Woolf led a fascinating life and the autobiographical mode in which he tells his story makes it more personal for us. But as Russell and Kaiquan have suggested, one has to question his motives in claiming this text as an autobiography. can we indeed take his word for it when he says,”I had entered Ceylon as an imperialist … The curious thing is that I was not really aware of this.” I think in some ways we can.
His experiences in Ceylon made him increasingly anti-imperialist, so he quit the service in 1911, married Virginia and he became a left-wing realist and one of the key players in the Labor Party. There is no doubting that his role in the British administration made him jaded and dispassionate towards the natives and we shouldn’t condone his exploitation of the native women through prostitution. But that being said, i do sense that he felt uneasy being a part of the system of imperialism:”strange and disconcerting. The backcloth … was imperialism” and how he felt a “twinge of doubt in [his] imperialist soul.” And i think that Woolf does suggest that a radical change is necessary and that the colonial government no matter how ‘good’ it is, is no replacement for self-government of the native people. And he took this 7 years of experience back with him and tried to use his writing to advocate world peace (International Government) and use his position as secretary of the Labor Party to better the conditions of the poor. I think that Woolf recognized his inability to fight the colonial system (like Orwell in Shooting an Elephant) and so he leaves and tries to influence social change in other ways (way better than to perpetuate the system and kill an innocent animal in my opinion). And i think that that is his own way of negotiating imperialism and dealing with the guilt that it brings. It might not be the perfect solution, but at least he tried and i think that that in itself is commendable.