Archive for the ‘Leslie Stephen’ Category

Some of the monographs in the Bloomsbury Heritage Series from Cecil Woolf Publishers. The monograph by Catherine Hollis, “Leslie Stephen as Mountaineer: Where does Mont Blanc end, and where do I begin?”, was published in 2010.

The call for papers has gone out for the first-ever conference on Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, which will be held at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris on Oct. 24-25, 2024. The conference title is “Leslie Stephen: Thinking With and Against His Time International Conference.”

Abstracts of about 300 words, for 25-minute papers in English, together with a short (100-word) author biography, should be sent to the organizers by Jan. 31, 2024, at: leslie.stephen.conference@gmail.com.

A selection of peer-reviewed articles based on papers given at the conference will be collected for publication. In case of difficulties tracing Stephen’s works, please contact the organizers, who will be happy to share links and resources.

Organizers are Claire Davison (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris); Isabelle Gadoin (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris); and Marie Laniel (Université de Picardie, Amiens).

More details


Langues, Textes, Arts et Cultures du Monde Anglophone


Conflits, Représentations et Dialogues dans l’Univers Anglo-Saxon

SEW – Société d’Études Woolfiennes

Confirmed keynote speakers

  • Dr. Jane Potter (Oxford Brookes University)
  • Dr. Trudy Tate (Clare Hall, University of Cambridge)

Call for papers

Early advocate of evolutionism, one of the first openly declared agnostics, editor of the Cornhill Magazine, pioneering mountaineer, moral philosopher, founder and general editor of the DNB: there are so many more facets to Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) than those recorded by his daughter Virginia Woolf, who memorably paid tribute to his “strong,” “healthy out of door, moor striding mind”. By unfolding all the contradictions and paradoxes of the character, this first international conference on Leslie Stephen means to reclaim the full complexity of his thought and legacy.

Thinking with and against his time, Stephen held a key position at the heart of the Victorian literary scene and was an impressively prolific writer, profoundly engaged with the religious, philosophical and social debates of his age. A highly respected journalist and critic, he edited the Cornhill Magazine from 1871 to 1882, publishing works by George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, John Addington Symonds, Henry James and R.L. Stevenson, and was the author of hundreds of essays, published over the course of forty years in periodicals, such as the Fortnightly ReviewFraser’s MagazineMacmillan’s MagazineMind, the National Review, the Nineteenth Century, the Saturday Review or the Pall Mall Gazette, a vast oeuvre now finally accessible thanks to online databases.  

His devotion to knowledge and integrity were such that he preferred to break with the academic world of Cambridge rather than compromise with the Church. Heir to the Clapham Sect, Stephen engaged with the theological debates of his time to the point of gradually and publicly embracing agnosticism, a form of radicalism that coexisted from then on with forms of traditionalism.

 His own prolific output bears witness to his encyclopaedic mind and his boundless curiosity for all the key issues of the day, however polemical: the anti-slavery movement, agnosticism, educational and social reform… Both a man of his time and a pioneer, Stephen explored new epistemological modes in keeping with the expanding frontiers of his age, while remaining profoundly anchored in some of the values and hierarchies of the day.

The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), his life’s work, and one of his most ambitious projects, is the finest example of his desire to define new modes of classification and new forms of expression for the expanding knowledge of his time. Breaking with the established narratives of the past, he devised a new approach to writing the biography of the nation, doing away with the grandiose tradition of commemoration. In its place, he developed a more archaeological approach, delving into the past and collating the life stories of all those who helped shape the evolution of the country.

The same pioneering spirit stoked his passion for the Alps and mountaineering, in which he proved as much a trailblazer as he did in intellectual life. It is this conquering spirit that his close friend Thomas Hardy immortalized in his poem “The Schreckhorn, With Thoughts of Leslie Stephen” (1897), which extolled his will to “venture life and limb” as well as the “quaint glooms” of his personality, when paying tribute to Stephen as the first man ever to ascend this mountain.

However daring and rigorous in his endeavours, Stephen was no less a direct heir to the Romantic tradition. An ardent poetry lover, he could quote vast swathes of the poetic canon, from Milton to Wordsworth, Tennyson and Arnold, and would rhythm both domestic life and mountaineering exploits with his recitations. Likewise, despite his allegiance to Victorian models of “Muscular Christianity”, and the manly world of clubs and fellowships, he would at times indulge in various forms of sentimentalism and melodramatic displays of emotion.

These are some of the contradictions that the participants to this conference are invited to explore. Similarly, his vast output deserves to be reconsidered through diverse critical paradigms, such as new materialist History, print culture studies, new sensory studies, phenomenology, affect studies and ethics, gender studies, health and disability studies.

We welcome contributions focusing on Leslie Stephen, but also on the following topics, connected with his life and times and shedding light on the larger context of his work:

  • Victorian encyclopaedism
  • Victorian periodicals, print culture, the publishing industry
  • Biography, the DNB, “hero-worship”
  • Stephen’s relations to Victorian sages and prophets
  • Letters, epistolarity, literary networks
  • Cambridge, academia, education and university reform
  • Gentlemen’s clubs, sociability
  • 18th century philosophy and literature, the Enlightenment
  • Utilitarianism, Science, Evolutionism
  • The Clapham Sect, Agnosticism, Scepticism
  • War, the anti-slavery movement
  • Morality, the “science of ethics”
  • Mountaineering, athletics, walking, nature and travel writing
  • Memory, elegy, mourning, the Mausoleum Book, Virginia Woolf & Leslie Stephen

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Leslie Stephen and his daughter Virginia Woolf...

Leslie Stephen and his daughter Virginia Woolf 1902 (Photo credit: ADiamondFellFromTheSky)

It’s no wonder that Catherine Hollis noticed when the Nov. 26 edition of the Paris Review included an article on Leslie Stephen as montaineer. After all, she wrote a monograph for Cecil Woolf Publishers published in 2010 titled Leslie Stephen as Mountaineer: Where does Mont Blanc end, and where do I begin?’.

The Paris Review piece, “Peaks and Valleys: Leslie Stephen, Mountaineer,” was written by Alex Siskin, a Hollywood film producer with a passion for Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf and the writing of modernist women, according to Hollis. Thus, one can read a variety of posts on the topic of Virginia Woolf and her father on his blog, zhiv.

Just because Hollis wrote a monograph about Leslie Stephen as mountaineer doesn’t mean she is done with the topic. As part of the writing process, she “stumbled up his routes on Mont Blanc, the Rimpfischorn, the Schreckhorn (partially), the Jungfrau, and others between 2007 and 2011.”

And she has posted some of the stories of her climb on her blog, Downhill All the Way. There, you can experience much of the climb with none of the exertion.

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On Father’s Day, it seems fitting to recall that Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s father, played a key role in his younger daughter’s life.

Virginia and Leslie Stephen

As the author of the Dictionary of National Biography, he served as a role model for Virginia’s scholarly habits. As an avid reader and writer, he encouraged Virginia’s intellectual curiosity by allowing her to read books at will from his extensive library. As an outdoors-man and a mountaineer, he led her outdoors on long walks, a habit that was to stay with her throughout her life.

But as Woolf admits in her personal writing as well as through her depiction of Mr. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse, her father had a negative side as well. He was a difficult man to deal with, particularly for the women in his family.

In her biography of Woolf, Hermione Lee describes Stephen’s impact on his women this way:  “The women in [Leslie Stephen’s] life . . . took the brunt of his sense of failure, his appeals for reassurance and his anxieties about money. The letters to Julia are sodden with the kinds of demands for reassurance which Mr. Ramsay is always making. Leslie, unlike Mr. Ramsay, knew he was doing it, but couldn’t stop himself. It provided (as To the Lighthouse brilliantly demonstrates) a form of sexual gratification: ‘I have a hideous trick of making myself out miserable in order to coax a little sympathy out of you, because I enjoy being petted by you so much’” (73).

As a result, Mr. Ramsey comes off as a brusque, arrogant, demanding and didactic figure in To the Lighthouse, But as the father figure viewed through the eyes of his wife and children, Woolf also portrays him with sympathy and affection. She shows him as a man shaped by his culture and stuck in the patriarchal mold it has made for him. As such, he is unable to dip or bend to accommodate the needs of his wife and children.

The same kind of ambivalence can be seen in Woolf’s writing about her father. In her essay “Leslie Stephen,” published by the Hogarth Press in The Collected Essays of Virginia Woolf, she describes him as a scholar, a writer and a mountaineer. She also describes him as a father who delighted in amusing his children by cutting paper into the shapes of animals and recounting his adventures on the trail, while worrying about their safety if they were a minute late for dinner. Yet she does not shirk from detailing his anger or impatience with guests who stay too long or family members who spend too freely.

This essay and another by Woolf titled “Edmund Gosse” are included in an anthology well-suited for today. Titled Fathers: A Literary Anthology,” it is edited by André Gérard and includes essays and poems from literary legends about their fathers. It was published by Patremoir Press last year. The work of Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Alison Bechdel and Sylvia Plath are included, to name just a few.

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