Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

Published April 12, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster’s struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while adding a dimension of the supernatural and strange. Warner is one of the outstanding and indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a writer to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the fantastic flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.

What did I think?:

This was the first time I have read anything by Sylvia Townsend Warner and it definitely won’t be the last. The novel centres around Laura, an unmarried older woman who is taken in by her brother and sister-in-law who feel it is their duty to look after her when her father dies. As the years pass, Laura remains unmarried despite some quite desperate matchmaking attempts by Caroline, and seems doomed to live in drudgery as just “Aunt Lolly.” Consider her response to a prospective suitor which made me chuckle:

“”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.”

However, she makes the bold move to up sticks and move to a small house in Great Mop where she can have a little excitement and live life her own way. This involves long walks enjoying the countryside – oh, and a small matter of sealing a pact with the Devil and becoming a witch.

Laura as a character was very endearing, I admired the way the author made her so bold, independently minded and feminist, even if it took a little while for her to realise this. The point of the book where she buddies up with Satan happens quite late on and although it was a bit of an odd and quirky turn to take, I enjoyed it. What I really loved though was the reminders by our author on how women were seen and treated in that period of time if they did not marry. The phrase “aging spinster” is horrific, why is it if a man remains unmarried he is a “bachelor,” which denotes much more happy consequences than the phrase a “spinster?”

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


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