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Village in the Jungle, Leonard Woolf’s forgotten colonial masterpiece


The BBC writes about Leonard Woolf’s forgotten Sri Lankan novel, The Village in the Jungle, saying it has been unjustly ignored. Virginia’s husband published the book in  1913 and it is notable because it is the first novel in English literature to be written from the indigenous point of view rather than that of the British Empire.

The village in the jungle described in the book is called Beddagama. It consists of 10 crude mud huts in a hot dry clearing hacked from the inexorable jungle in the south of Sri Lanka, the island then known as Ceylon. The novel tells the story of one family, the wild hunter Silindu and his two daughters, Punchi Menika and Hinnihami, and the bad things that happen to them when their lives start to go wrong. There is no safety net here. The jungle is harsh, the village malicious.

Leonard Woolf knew Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, very well. He joined the Colonial Civil Service in 1904 and was sent to Ceylon, where he worked for seven years. By 1908, he was administrating a district in south-east Ceylon, which housed 100,000 people. Woolf taught himself Sinhalese and Tamil, and travelled widely across the island. He wrote The Village in the Jungle on his return to Britain in 1911.

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