❮PDF / Epub❯ ☂ Lolly Willowes, or, The Loving Huntsman Author Sylvia Townsend Warner – Motyourdrive.co.uk


  • Paperback
  • 256 pages
  • Lolly Willowes, or, The Loving Huntsman
  • Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • 02 May 2018
  • 9781853815027

10 thoughts on “Lolly Willowes, or, The Loving Huntsman

  1. says:

    Sylvia Townsend Warner, London, 1920sWhen we meet Laura Willowes in the opening pages of Sylvia Townsend Warner s first novel, Lolly Willowes pub 1926 , her sister in law Caroline is distractedly offering for Laura to live in London with herself and Laura s brother Henry, following the death of Laura s father Caroline spoke affectionately, but her thoughts were elsewhere They had already journeyed back to London to buy an eiderdown for the bed in the small spare room If the washstand were moved towards the door, would it be possible to fit in a writing table between it and the fire place Perhaps a bureau would be better, because of the extra drawers Yes, that was it Lolly could bring the little walnut bureau with the false handles on one side and the top that jumped up when you touched the spring by the ink well It had belonged to Lolly s mother, and Lolly had always used it, so Sibyl could not raise any objections Sibyl had no claim to it whatever, really She had only been married to James for two years, and if the bureau had marked the morning room wall paper, she could easily put something else in its place A stand with ferns and potted plants would look very nice With this opening, Townsend Warner establishes some key concerns the disposition of single women as if they were furniture, the strong convention that single women needed to live under the care of a male guardian, and the conviction that this convention subsumed the wishes of any individual woman Townsend Warner s approach to exploring these themes is extraordinary, and therein lies the power of the novel She structures Laura s story to carry her readers along with Laura s awakening to her own desires and powers She does so with a deep understanding of the power of social conventions, a wry sense of humor, and the ability to express is beautiful, wild prose the powers of nature and Laura s relationship to the land on a deep, almost primeval level I emerged from this novel with a new favorite literary character, and a deep appreciation of Townsend Warner s considerable skills as a writer and a social critic Townsend Warner clearly establishes the Willowes as a conservative family Their beliefs and preferences were not the only ones present in England in 1902, but they were strongly held, and not only by the Willowes And Laura, brought up in these traditions, is at first passive in the face of them Even in 1902 there were some forward spirits who wondered why that Miss Willowes, who was quite well off, and not likely to marry, did not make a home for herself and take up something artistic or emancipated Such possibilities did not occur to any of Laura s relations Her father being dead, they took it for granted that she should be absorbed into the household of one brother or the other And Laura, feeling rather as if she were a piece of property forgotten in the will, was ready to be disposed of as they should think best The point of view was old fashioned, but the Willoweses were a conservative family and kept to old fashioned ways Preference, not prejudice, made them faithful to their past They slept in beds and sat upon chairs whose comfort insensibly persuaded them into respect for the good sense of their forbears Finding that well chosen wood and well chosen wine improved with keeping, they believed that the same law applied to well chosen ways Moderation, civil speaking, leisure of the mind and a handsome simplicity were canons of behavior imposed upon them by the example of their ancestors Laura s individuality is absorbed by her family Even her name is changed to Lolly when one of her nieces cannot pronounce Laura, after which no one in her family calls her Laura again Townsend Warner presents Laura as satisfied with her life with her father, where she takes on the role of housekeeper after her mother s death She carries out her life to the rhythm of family traditions and the customs of the village And she even follows her own version of her father s trade in brewing Botany and brewery she now combined into one pursuit, for at the spur of Nannie s rhyme she turned her attention into the forsaken green byways of the rural pharmacopeia From Everard her father she got a little still, from the family recipe books much information and good advice and where these failed her, Nicholas Culpepper or old Goody Andrews, who might have been Nicholas s crony by the respect she had for the moon, were ready to help her out She roved the countryside for herbs and simples, and many were the washes and decoctions that she made from sweet gale, water purslane, cowslips, and the roots of succory, while her salads gathered in fields and hedges were eaten by Everard, at first in hope and trust, and afterwards with flattering appetite Encouraged by him, she even wrote a little book called Health by the Wayside commending the use of old fashioned simples and healing herbs It was published anonymously at the local press, and fell quite flat After her father s death, Laura s caretaker role is shifted from dutiful daughter to irreplaceable aunt Townsend Warner depicts her as much loved, but greatly constrained in her life in London Once it becomes clear to Caroline and Henry that Laura will never marry, Caroline resigns herself to sitting with Laura by her side for the rest of her life Caroline resigned herself to spending the rest of her evenings with Laura beside her The perpetual company of a sister in law was rather than she had bargained for Still, there she was, and Henry was right they had been the proper people to make a home for Laura when her father died, and she was too old now to begin living by herself It was not as if she had had any experience of life she had passed from one guardianship to another it was impossible to imagine Laura fending for herself A kind of pity for the unused virgin beside her spread through Caroline s thoughts She did not attach an inordinate value to her wifehood and maternity they were her duties, rather than her glories But for all that she felt emotionally plumper than Laura It was well to be loved, to be necessary to other people But Laura too was loved, and Laura was necessary Caroline did not know what the children would do without their Aunt Lolly Although Laura is filling an established social role, she grows and dissatisfied with her position Townsend Warner captures this growing sense of longing masterfully and by couching them in terms of landscape and nature, she provides a strong counterpoint to Laura s domesticated life in front of her brother s fireplace At these times she was subject to a peculiar kind of day dreaming, so vivid as to be almost a hallucination that she was in the country, at dusk, and alone, and strangely at peace She did not recall the places which she had visited in holiday time, these reproached her like opportunities neglected But while her body sat before the first fires and was cosy with Henry and Caroline, her mind walked by lonely seaboards, in marshes and fens, or came at nightfall to the edge of a wood She never imagined herself in these places by daylight She never thought of them as being in any way beautiful It was not beauty at all that she wanted, or, depressed though she was, she would have bought a ticket to somewhere or other upon the Metropolitan railway and gone out to see the recumbent autumnal graces of the countryside Her mind was groping after something that eluded her experience, a something that was shadowy and menacing, and yet in some way congenial a something that lurked in waste places, that was hinted at by the sound of water gurgling through deep channels and by the voices of birds of ill omen Loneliness, dreariness, aptness for arousing a sense of fear, a kind of ungodly hallowedness these were the things that called her thoughts away from the comfortable fireside The sole outlet for Laura s desires remains the flowers she buys, even in the winter, to fill up her room, a habit in which she persists although Caroline quietly views it as a terrible extravagance One day, when running an errand, Laura is drawn to a display of preserves from the county and chrysanthemums As she looks at them, she falls into a revery that seems both to point to her country past and to look ahead to a future in a solitary orchard Laura looked at the bottled fruits, the sliced pears in syrup, the glistening red plums, the greengages She thought of the woman who had filled those jars and fastened on the bladders Perhaps the greengrocer s mother lived in the country A solitary old woman picking fruit in a darkening orchard, rubbing her rough fingertips over the smooth skinned plums, a lean wiry old woman, standing with upstretched arms among her fruit trees as though she were a tree herself, growing out of the long grass, with arms stretched up like branches It grew darker and darker still she worked on, methodically stripping the quivering taut boughs one after the other As Laura stood waiting she felt a great longing It weighed upon her like the load of ripened fruit upon a tree She forgot the shop, the other customers, her own errand She forgot the winter air outside, the people going by on the wet pavements She forgot that she was in London, she forgot the whole of her London life She seemed to be standing alone in a darkening orchard, her feet in the grass, her arms stretched up to the pattern of leaves and fruit, her fingers seeking the rounded ovals of the fruit among the pointed ovals of the leaves The air about her was cool and moist There was no sound, for the birds had left off singing and the owls had not yet begun to hoot No sound, except sometimes the soft thud of a ripe plum falling into the grass, to lie there a compact shadow among shadows The back of her neck ached a little with the strain of holding up her arms Her fingers searched among the leaves Laura learns from the shopkeeper that the mums and preserves came from Buckinghamshire This leads her to purchase a guidebook for The Chilterns, where she first learns of the existence of the village of Great Mop Its walking paths, Norman church, and nearby windmill capture Laura s imagination, so she decides to move there, to her family s shock and strong disapproval Throughout this section, there remains a sense of something unseen and mystical driving Laura on to a future she had not articulated earlier, even to herself Autumn, The ChilternsThroughout the rest of the novel, Townsend Warner evokes the wild majesty of the land surrounding Great Mop As Laura goes on long solitary walks through the lanes, fields, and forests, she opens up and to the wilderness around her, and in doing so, taps into a piece of herself that had remained buried until then Laura also becomes aware of a darker power surrounding her Autumn, The Ridgeway, The Chilterns All one day the wind had risen, and late in the evening it called her out She went up to the top of Cubbey Ridge, past the ruined windmill that clattered with its torn sails When she had come to the top of the Ridge she stopped, with difficulty holding herself upright She felt the wind swoop down close to the earth The moon was out hunting overhead, her pack of black and white hounds ranged over the sky Moon and wind and clouds hunted an invisible quarry The wind routed through the woods Laura from the hill top heard the different voices The spent gusts left the beech hangers throbbing like sea caverns through which the wave had passed the fir plantation seemed to chant some never ending rune Listening to these voices, another voice came to her ear the far off pulsation of a goods train laboring up a steep cutting It was scarcely audible, perceptible as feeling than as sound, but by its regularity it dominated all the other voices It seemed to come nearer and nearer, to inform her like the drumming of blood in her ears She began to feel defenseless, exposed to the possibility of an overwhelming terror She listened intently, trying not to think Though the noise came from an ordinary goods train, no amount of reasoning could stave off this terror She must yield herself, yield up all her attention, if she would escape It was a wicked sound It expressed something eternally outcast and reprobated by man, stealthily trafficking by night, unseen in the dark clefts of the hills Loud, separate, and abrupt, each pant of the engine trampled down her wits The wind and the moon and the ranging cloud pack were not the only hunters abroad that night something else was hunting among the hills, hunting slowly, deliberately, sure of its quarry Autumn, The ChilternsTownsend Warner s depiction of Laura s slow transformation is masterful Her prose is beautiful and dangerous and wild The reader pieces together hints and whispers of the secrets of the power held in the trees and fields of The Chilterns I will leave it up to you to discover these secrets along with Laura In the end, if you follow where Townsend Warner is leading you, you will explore themes related to power and autonomy, the deep connections possible between a place and a person who is open to undomesticated beauty, and the life possible for a woman who refuses to be constrained by convention and tradition, but who looks inside herself to determine how to live Sylvia Townsend Warner


  2. says:

    This is a book about witches But when I finally put this book down last night, I mostly just thought about my father.I don t think it is controversial to say that duty is a bit of an old fashioned word these days Like honor It s one of those words you hear someone say and squirm uncomfortably, like you would if they said, I m hip to that, without irony or asked where all the hep cats are partying while wearing a fedora It s not a word that works with a land of ironic t shirts and Lady Gaga But it is still around, and fashionable, in some places The military is the first place that comes to mind The Catholic church is another The third is the lock step, precedence obsessed Republican party that nominated John McCain I grew up in a household defined by all three of these things, in a state that was defined by their opposites It s fair to say that duty was therefore the defining characteristic that seperated out my childhood from most of my friends I don t think I called it by that name then Mostly I called it by the name Catholic guilt, with a knowing smile that was the way to quickly explain it to friends who were mostly atheist and had, accordingly, sort of a romanticized horrid image of what that meant.All of this came from my father His defining characteristic is duty I can t think of a better way to describe it, and before I read Lolly Willowes, I didn t have that word either My dad is one of the best people I know He always, unerringly, puts other people first To a fault He tries to be sensitive about other peoples opinions and feelings, always remembers occasions, and when you argue with him he makes you feel bad for disagreeing with him because his reasoning is always so moral and he s clearly put time into formulating whatever opinion he s going to give you, and he takes it seriously As you can imagine, our political discussions did not and still don t end well for me I always end up sounding like a petulant child somehow and he s still father, patient, kind, waiting for me to figure it out Like Aunt Lolly, my dad strongly believes in his role as father If he was in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden my brother or I did something or said something that was wrong in any way, he would stop, put on the mask and say, Now, Kelly, remember to be kind and like if he didn t correct me for making fun of someone s shoes I was going to turn out to be a bad person who kills kittens and it was going to be his fault somehow If this makes him sound cold or distant he wasn t at all, he just had such a deeply ingrained sense of this duty that meant that what he should be doing always took priority It was like a compulsion He couldn t help it.As Lolly says, it might all sound very petty to complain about, but I tell you that sort of thing settles down on one like a fine dust Because of the fine dust of the system of obligations he inherited from a generation wrapped up in values like Lolly s, I really don t think I officially met my dad as a person until I turned 21 Somehow, that age was like Aurora s sixteenth birthday and triggered a magic spell that meant that duty could be relaxed a little only a little, and only gradually, but it happened The person I only saw in glimmers before that finally appeared And you know what He was kind of a cool dude He was funny He had some petty resentments He knew about wine He had favorite books, and used to love the Doors His friends gave his car the nickname Squirrel in college and made fun of him for being unable to fix it.I blame everything that Lolly Willowes rebels against in this book for the fact that I didn t really meet my dad until four years ago This book is about witches, but mostly my first wish was that my dad decided to be a warlock a long time ago Wow There s a sentence you don t write every day Lolly Willowes is about these duties , these obligations, the little things that are not bad in themselves, but accumulating year after year just crush the life out of the most vibrant of personalities It is about people who become their roles and responsibilities, to the extent that they forget that they were ever anything else Caroline, the wife of Lolly s brother Henry is the embodiment of this trend Described as the married nun, she is reminiscent of Jane Eyre s cousin whose highest value is order for no other reason but order s sake But what I loved about Warner s depiction of this is that she doesn t do this in an abstract way She gets into the material aspect of the story just like Clarissa Dalloway with her flowers and her dresses that need mending and the men who are perfectly upholstered Warner captures a reality in the way that women and men living the lives they do would process emotions and ideas, through objects and customary expressions, and even further how these people don t really understand what it is that they re reacting to or why they say the things they do, except for custom, convention, and the lack of alternative to say anything else that would be acceptable Lolly describes being at a ball where the biggest problem is not dancing with someone, but dancing with someone twice one uses up all the commonplace conversation appropriate for acquaintances in the first dance, and then one has the obligation to say something different but in fact rather like the things one said in the first dance Warner exquisitely captures the torture of wanting something different, something , but being aware that anything or different will only ensure that you find yourself completely shut out And over, that you will feel bad about it yourself because you have failed in some way Being a person, in this world, is a failure It is a failure to be always and ever living up to what one should be doing, which, after all, as Lolly achingly feels over and over again isn t such a problem when someone just wants you to wind the yarn, or just help mend this one sheet But eventually the dust settles and Laura who tries and tries again to emerge from behind Lolly grows so tired of it that taking to her bed ill for two weeks is a blessed relief all the understanding of her desire to do nothing which is the only coded way she can express her real desire for independence that would not have been there otherwise is hers It offers even understanding of the fashionable invalid of the era There are few alternatives for a woman who desires to be independent but living on her own in a town of 200 people called Great Mop But even then, she is not safe until she makes a deal with the devil.Why must a woman imagine herself an agent of the embodiment of all evil only so she can take long walks and refuse to fetch and carry for others and not feel bad about any of it The greatest gift that the devil gives Laura is the gift of watching her nephew in distress and not caring Why should the devil be the only one to understand why this would be a gift Warner explains this, a bit, to the reader at the end, but I do not think she needed to It was in the way Laura shuddered when Caroline s deepest feeling was revealed to have to do with Christ s folded grave garments, it was in the way she saw a small, helpless kitten as the sign of her witchhood, in how she felt she had to give up the pretty flowers she bought for herself to Caroline s living room and how she didn t scream when her brothers left her tied to the tree as a child, but carried on singing and dreaming until her father found her that evening.Warner has the ability to make the domestic magical, and the magical mundane and present She s better at this than most fantasy writers I ve encountered, in fact She s able to be witty and understanding, warm and cutting, wise and wonderfully silly, in a way that few writers I ve encountered outside of Austen and Woolf can This is a book I want to read on a bench in a quiet park, in front of a fire in the winter, in bed with a mug of tea, in a bay window looking out on a rocky Maine coast It made me smile and laugh, and when I put it down, it made me think until I went to sleep This was just a book about a middle aged woman who moves to the country and becomes a cat lady with delusions about the devil And I expect to be back to share those delusions with her many times in the future.I didn t give this book five stars But that was mostly because I think it would be too showy for Lolly Willowes I think she would prefer to get four stars and find her visitors surprised into finding that she s worth every bit of five and .


  3. says:

    Warner s prose sparkles and snaps like a gin and tonic in an elegant cut glass tumbler, her humor the slice of lime contributing the essential dash of sharp acidity Warner proves to be a most devious hostess, however seemingly invited to a pleasantly amusing afternoon garden party, it is only as the sun begins to set that it slowly begins to dawn this is actually a Witch s Sabbath What a marvelously devious sleight of hand.And perhaps than ever 2017 is the time for stories about waking up from the drowsiness of lives cocooned by social expectations and respectability politics and be pointed toward modes of being that are idiosyncratically imagined and intentionally pursued Part 1 is all charming, quintessentially English eccentricities a broad assortment of kooky extended family members, whimsical family heirlooms hoarded in drawing rooms, teatime and other daily rituals, and the like this is the life of one Laura Willowes, quietly sloughed into a life of genteel spinsterhood, and cloistered in the tiny spare room in a brother s family home in London She slowly transforms into docile Aunt Lolly after being christened as such by a baby niece her identity is so nondescript that even she doesn t quite register her very name is no longer her own.This all changes when an otherwise inauspicious guide book makes its way into Laura s possession Suddenly Part 2 sets off in an unforeseen direction as Laura announces she will be moving to the isolated rural village that is the subject of her new book Her family attempts all means at their disposal including emotional blackmail and financial threats to undermine her resolve she nevertheless persists and promptly lets a room of her own, ready to begin a new life distinctly, if somewhat tentatively, her own.If this was the story of Lolly Willowes, it would still be of note as a showcase for Warner s remarkable facility with language and sinuous approach to syntax it s additionally exceptional as an early feminist fable making a persuasive and poignant case for female agency Warner s novel predates Woolf s landmark A Room of One s Own by several years But the author envisions much, much for her text and hurtles headlong into the utterly startling Part 3 While I suspect most readers will know, as I did, the general trajectory of the narrative, I think the less known the better so will leave it at that What a lovely defense of demanding and then enacting a life lived fully and deliciously and take the term in whatever sense you prefer queerly too Laura had brought her sensitive conscience into the country with her, just as she had brought her umbrella, though so far she had not remembered to use either Cross posted review from my blog Queer Modernisms.


  4. says:

    I am deathly allergic to witty foreplay of the never ending sort In detailed terms, this is a category comprised of works written in the very worst vein of Austen, all fluffy gilt and jocular surface with none of said author s craft or deep meditation on human pathos Now, Lolly Willowes did have some variation to its name, but when one begins with family lineage and ends with bantering dialogue and leaves little to gnaw upon between the two, it all comes off as very English Much like works by white males, there s a lot of English type stuff glutting the literature realms, so if one wants to be good, one must be very, very, very good You see, it s a matter of dilution, and not much can be done if a work runs headlong into losing itself in the crowd.There s a tool of online fanfiction known so by Mary Sue and less so by Gary Stu that, in short, makes deus ex machina a character type Much like everything most associated with young women, it is popular target of public detraction, reasons spanning from poor writing style to the absurdity that a girl could ever accomplish anything worthwhile that was not inherently tied up with romance Now, while I believe it is a valuable way for a much belittled demographic to hone both their penning skills and self confidence in as free a way as the Internet affords it s how I acquired the claws I stretch so nicely today , I do not conscientiously seek it out Sometimes I am in the wrong for not doing so, but here is an instance wherein I was right, for an overt focus on the supreme ability of the titular Lolly Willowes led to number of peeves such as lack of cohesiveness, Great and Powerful Themes attempted through small and trivial circumstances, flawed appeal to the universal, and telling, telling, telling Magical omniscience in a human character is all very well, but the utmost certainty that is never countered or translated into self reflexivity does not feed my desire for development In literature, I will always pass over the path of stagnant entitlement for that of pain it s far interesting that way.In short, I came here looking for a kinswoman to Baba Yaga Laid an Egg and found something very nice, very cute, and ultimately not what I needed Satan and hints of lesbians there were, but not enough of either to call forth the confounding depths of mental re calibration I crave when such topics are touched upon I m sure this will appeal to others despite my lackluster words, for not all have my difficult standards when it comes to paroxysms of insatiable glee.


  5. says:

    Her disquiet had no relevance to her life It arose out of the ground with the smell of the dead leaves it followed her through the darkening streets it confronted her in the look of the risen moon Now Now it said to her and no The moon seemed to have torn the leaves from the trees that it might stare at her imperiously The book started off well enough It tells the story of Laura Willowes Lolly , a very independent aging spinster I dislike that word but that s the word they use in the book who lives in England with her brother and his family Because she s single, her family try to control her but it s obvious that Lolly is very headstrong.I thought the book was going to focus on her trials as a spinster in the 1920s England It did to some extent but it took such an odd, unexpected turn towards the end when Lolly moves away to a little hamlet and then realizes that she s a witch I didn t really feel as though the story had developed sufficiently in that direction to make me believe that incident was credible.I read somewhere that there are clues all along that she s a witch she likes flowers so much, makes herbal infusions and likes wandering in fields In that case, I must be a witch too then I found those assumptions to be a bit stereotypical, but maybe I m being a bit too harsh I guess the following quote also alludes to the fact that Lolly was missing something in her life Her mind was groping after something that eluded her experience, a something that was shadowy and menacing, and yet in some way congenial a something that lurked in waste places, that was hinted at by the sound of water gurgling through deep channels and by the voices of birds and ill omen Loneliness, dreariness, aptness for arousing a sense of fear, a kind of ungodly hallowedness these were the things that called her thoughts away from the comfortable fireside Despite that, I did enjoy Sylvia Townsend Warner s writing style it was very poetic and also witty at times I liked the descriptions of the English countryside, she described it beautifully I also liked how Laura came into her own, realized she didn t have to live with her family but could survive very well on her own And the fact that a female writer in the 1920s wrote a book that featured some magical realism is quite amazing However, I can only give this one 3 stars.


  6. says:

    This made David Mitchell s All Time Top Ten List, sorta maybe explains The Bone Clocks.I m of two minds about this, though I loved the imagery, and whole passages that made me want to applaud Lolly goes to nurse, late in the First World War The recruiting posters have bleached The ruddy young man and his Spartan mother grew pale, as if with fear, and Britannia s scarlet cloak trailing on the waters bleached to a cocoa ish pink Laura watched them discolor with a muffled heart She would not allow herself the cheap symbolism they provoked Time will bleach the scarlet from a young man s cheeks, and from Britannia s mantle But blood was scarlet as ever, and she believed that, however despairing her disapproval, that blood was being shed for her.And I like when Lolly had had enough of her lawyer brother, Henry Have done with your trumpery red herring she cried.It is then that the unmarried Lolly goes off on her own As she tells Henry Nothing is impractical for a single, middle aged woman with an income of her own.She soon wonders Did God, after casting out the rebel angels and before settling down to the peace of a heaven unpeopled of contradiction, use Adam as an intermediate step This is the point in the book where Mitchell would bring out the zap guns But Warner chooses allegory instead Lolly finds a baby kitten or the kitten finds her Every kitten needs a name What shall you call it Laura remembers a picture she saw long ago, a woodcut of Matthew Hopkins, the witch finder Here, I found it for you I shall call it Vinegar, she answered.Because every witch needs a familiar It s like this It s like this When I think of witches, I seem to see all over England, all over Europe, women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded I see them, wives and sisters of respectable men, chapel members, and blacksmiths, and small farmers, and Puritans You know Well, there they were, there they are, child rearing, house keeping, hanging washed dishcloths on currant bushes and for diversion each other s silly conversation, and listening to men talking together in the way that men talk and women listen Quite different to the way women talk, and men listen, if they listen at all She is talking to Satan when she says that He listens._______________ ________________ ______________Two final things One, read Kelly s review of this Just read it Second, I like absolute truisms nestled in the books I read Like this One has to offer marriage to a young woman who has picked dead wasps out of one s armpit. I mean, who could argue with that


  7. says:

    I wish I could write in such a way as to convey the rhythms and flavor of Lolly Willowes, which is only one of the things I fell in love with while reading this book There was always a tendency to get so caught up in the prose that I forgot to follow along in the action and had to go back and reread passages a good thing in this case.I ve tried to find a representative passage short enough to reproduce here so readers don t imagine that I m making things up but I can t so I ll just throw in two entirely random quotes from pp 58 9 and hope you can see what I mean, however faintly Mr Arbuthnot certainly was not prepared for her response to his statement that February was a dangerous month It is, answered Laura with almost violent agreement If you are a were wolf, and very likely you may be, for lots of people are without knowing, February, of all months, is the month when you are most likely to go out on a dark windy night and worry sheep and, Laura s hair was black as ever, but it was not so thick She had grown paler from living in London Her forehead had not a wrinkle, but two downward lines prolonged the drooping corners of her mouth Her face was beginning to stiffen It had lost its power of expressiveness and was and dominated by the hook nose and the sharp chin When Laura was ten years older she would be nut crackerish The story is about Laura Lolly Willowes, the youngest daughter b 1874 of Everard Willowes, who spends the first half of her life living in the shadow of others before breaking free from her family to undergo an extraordinary transformation and finding herself when she moves to Great Mop and makes a pact with Satan or does she.The book is divided into three parts Part I sets up the situation against which Lolly rebels by narrating the events in her life that bring her to live with her eldest brother, Henry his wife, Caroline and their two daughters, Fancy and Marion, in London The Willowes are an upper middle class family that has made their money in breweries and like most of the non noble gentry of that era aspired to live like the nobility landed estates, proper marriages, the stifling conformity of late Victorian England, and all that Like Ivy Compton Burnett whose virtues I ve praised elsewhere , Warner evinces little liking for this society but her chidings are less acerbic, gentle, and her heroine at least in this, her first novel that I ve read successfully leaves it behind, unlike Compton Burnett s, who usually wind up as trapped in the end as at the beginning But on the following summer the sandbags had rotted and burst and the barbed wire had been absorbed into the farmer s fences So, Laura thought, such warlike phenomena as Mr Wolf Saunders, Fancy s second husband, and Jemima and Rosalind, Fancy s two daughters, might well disappear off the family landscape Mr Wolf Saunders recumbent on the beach was indeed much like a sandbag, and no arresting to the eye Jemima and Rosalind were obtrusive Here was a new generation to call her Aunt Lolly and find her as indispensable as did the last p 74and, They condoned this extravagance, yet they mistrusted it Time justified them in their mistrust Like many stupid people, they possessed acute instincts He that is unfaithful in little things Caroline would say when the children forgot to wind up their watches Their instinct told them that the same truth applies to extravagance in little things They were wiser than they knew When Laura s extravagance in great things came it staggered them so completely that they forgot how judiciously they had suspected it beforehand p 82In Part II, Lolly breaks with her family to move to the village of Great Mop, in the Chilterns I m not familiar enough with on the ground English geography to have a good grasp of where this is I had to go to Wikipedia and look it up but Warner manages to bring it alive with her descriptions of Lolly s wanderings around the district as she explores her new home As in Part I, Warner carefully lays the groundwork for Lolly s encounter with the Prince of Darkness with hints that things aren t quite what they seem in Great Mop For example, why does everyone seem to stay up so late at night Part II ends when Lolly s enjoyment of her new freedom is threatened by her nephew Titus announced plans to move to Great Mop because he s entranced by its bucolic ways Titus is the son of Lolly s deceased second brother John She likes him well enough, and would welcome visits, but his intention to follow her into the wilderness leaves her feeling as confined, stifled and miserable as she was in London with Henry and clan Laura hated him for daring to love it so She hated him for daring to love it at all Most of all she hated him for imposing his kind of love on her Since he had come to Great Mop she had not been allowed to love in her own way Commenting, pointing out, appreciating, Titus tweaked her senses one after another as if they were so many bell ropes Day by day the spirit of the place withdrew itself further from her Presently she would not know it any For her too Great Mop would be a place like any other place, a pastoral landscape where an aunt walked out with her nephew pp 163 4One day, walking in the woods around Great Mop, Lolly enters an unfamiliar area Her mind is in turmoil and she imagines she senses a presence in the wood, to which she offers herself body and soul if only she can get rid of Titus She immediately realizes that she s made a pact with the Devil and hurries home There she finds a kitten has snuck into her cottage, and when he bites her, understands that it s her familiar sent by Satan to aid her.Or is that what happened One of Warner s better tricks is that you can t really be sure if she s introduced a supernatural element or not Everything that happens subsequently can be explained without resorting to infernal pacts Everything can be explained as a rationalization of Lolly s rebellion.In the final scene of the novel, Lolly encounters the Devil in person or not he could be just a man she encounters or even a figment of her imagination and explains herself It s like this When I think of witches, I seem to see all over England, all over Europe, women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded I see them, wives and sisters of respectable men, chapel members, and blacksmiths, and small farmers, and Puritans Well, there they were, there they are, child rearing, house keeping, hanging washed dishcloths on currant bushes and for diversion each other s silly conversation, and listening to men talking together in the way that men talk and women listen Quite different to the way women talk, and men listen, if they listen at all Nothing for them except subjection and plaiting their hair Anyhow, even if it isn t true of dynamite, it s true of women Some may get religion, then they re all right, I expect But for the others, for so many, what can there be but witchcraft That strikes them real Even if other people still find them quite safe and usual, and go on poking with them, they know in their hearts how dangerous, how incalculable, how extraordinary they are Her soul when no one else would give a look at her body even But you say Come here, my bird I will give you the dangerous black night to stretch your wings in, and poisonous berries to feed on, and a nest of bones and thorns, perched high up in danger where no one can climb to it That s why we become witches to show our scorn of pretending life s a safe business to satisfy our passion for adventure One doesn t become a witch to run around being helpful either It s to escape all that to have a life of one s own, not an existence doled out to you by others, charitable refuse of their thoughts, so many ounces of stale bread of life a day. pp 239 43The first thing I read of Warner was her collection of fairy stories, Kingdoms of Elfin, and that s because I kept coming across references to her work in compendia of fantastic places I enjoyed her stories and writing style, and always meant to get around to reading of her stuff It took a glowing review of a reprint of Summer Will Show in The Nation magazine to make me take the plunge and I m glad I did Highly recommended to anyone following these reviews.


  8. says:

    I whole heartedly support the underlying philosophy or driving force of this book proving a woman should have space of her own, a vote, a life, even if she deigns to stay single, etc But the way the story is told deflates the message, from a three part structure that follows 1 agonizingly slow2 feisty pseudo feminist3 batshit crazy witchcraft well this was a surprise This was the first book every offered by Book of the Month back in the day, so I enjoyed it from that curiosity standpoint, but there are stronger books of the same era that have similar themes.Gold star for me, reading a book from my shelves.And after I bought it but before I read it, I heard this book mentioned in passing on the Backlisted Podcast about We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as an example of when witchcraft is used as a foil to show something about society, or something like that Shirley Jackson is a much better writer, read her instead.


  9. says:

    Wow A great book Impossible to say much without giving away the treasures to be discovered in these pages As the jacket says, an upper class spinster rebels against her role as the universal aunt and how does she do this With the help of the Devil But not the devil we are often told of this is a loving huntsman, who catches women s souls to save them from dying by the confines of society This is not a sort of compelling, page turner read but every time I decided to sit down with it, I was completely absorbed and bewitched Beautifully and insightfully written A shame it s so neglected now and I encourage anyone interested in forgotten classics, feminist authors, or just a very well written tale set in England, to seek out this delightful and thought provoking read.


  10. says:

    It s like Barbara Pym started this story, left it unfinished, and then it was discovered by a manic Satanist who scribbled the rest of it all in one night I totally enjoyed it, but what a hot mess.


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About the Author: Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner was born at Harrow on the Hill, the only child of George Townsend Warner and his wife Eleanora Nora Hudleston Her father was a house master at Harrow School and was, for many years, associated with the prestigious Harrow History Prize which was renamed the Townsend Warner History Prize in his honor, after his death in 1916 As a child, Sylvia seemingly enjoyed an idyllic