Lolly Willowes

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

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RATING: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars!)

One of those books I don’t want to spoil with trying to summarize or pick its best parts through analysis. Suffice it to say, it’s an unnervingly beautiful, often comical (or comically tragic), bit of writing laced with some unexpected magical realism. Her metaphors alone make it worth a read.

Sylvia Warner Townsend seems to be building in popularity in recent decades. In many ways, her life was as intriguing and progressive as her work, which is heralded for its feminist perspectives and ‘sexually ambiguous’/queer protagonists.

Born in 1893 in Middlesex, she was homeschooled by her father, a housemaster at Harrow, the prestigious boys’ school. At the outbreak of WWI she moved from bucolic Devonshire to London to work in a munitions factory. After the war she worked as an editor at Tudor Church Music, published by the Oxford University Press, traveling all over to find 15th and 16th-century music source material, eventually transcribing it into modern notation. When working on Tudor Church Music she had a relationship with her fellow editor, Percy Buck, the director of music at Harrow. In the 1920s she mixed with the Bright Young Things & Bloomsbury Group social sets but was most influenced by T.F. Powys, a fellow writer (and equally interesting character) whom she met in 1923. Both Powys and David Garnett (yet another outlandish character, involved in more ways than one with the incestuous Bloomsbury Group) encouraged Warner in her writing. Lolly Willowes (1926) was her first novel, followed shortly by the satirical and anti-imperialist Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1927).

In 1930, she was visiting Powys when she met poet Valentine Ackland who was twelve years her junior. Ackland and Warner soon started a relationship which would last for the next thirty-nine years until Ackland’s death in 1969 from breast-cancer.  In 1934 they published a collection of poems together titled Whether a Dove or a Seagull.It was Ackland who helped Warner become involved in the Communist party; they traveled to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and spoke out in favor of the Republicans. They would both remain involved in politics their whole lives, both coming under suspicion of the British government for their leftist views; their file would remain open until the investigation was halted in 1957. She continued to produce work until her death on 1 May 1978 at age 84.

Lastly, did I mention I highly relate to her personal aesthetic?

(all facts sourced from Wikipedia)

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