Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Townsend Warner’


Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week which I think began life on a Facebook group for readers of STW – was originally supposed to take part between the 24th and 31st May (or something) but joy oh joys it was extended to a month long celebration last weekend. This has allowed me to get started on my lovely green Virago edition of Summer will show – a review in a day or two all being well. I could have chosen to read the much slighter Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner’s first novel – and possibly one many people have heard of – but I flicked idly through Summer will Show – which I have had for ages, and was instantly intrigued. I can report that at the time of writing I am very much enjoying it. Perhaps I can get to Lolly Willowes soon too – it’s a book I know a lot of people really love.

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Last weekend I had managed to read a couple of short stories from Sylvia Townsend Warner in a collection of war time stories and non-fiction pieces. That really whetted my appetite for more, although it isn’t really all that long since I read Mr Fortune’s Maggot. That was the second Sylvia Townsend Warner novel that I had read, I first encountered her beautiful writing in the stunning The Corner that Held Them in 2012, a very unusual novel in many ways, but strangely beguiling, beautifully written and very memorable.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is a writer who really should probably be talked about as much and in equally hushed tones as the likes of Virginia Woolf – but she doesn’t seem to have quite that kind of profile. She was a novelist, short story writer and poet, some of her themes include, the rejection of Christianity, ambiguous sexuality and the position of women within society.

I am now very keen to get my hands on After the Death of Don Juan, The Flint Anchor and The True Heart – and more of the huge number of short stories that STW wrote, I do enjoy short stories particularly of this period – and the two I read last weekend were excellent.

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I really shouldn’t be buying more books but I couldn’t help myself. Following Jacqui’s review of Young Man with a Horn, reminding me how I had been meaning to read Dorothy Baker for years, I bought that book and Cassandra at the Wedding. Two gorgeous NYRB editions, which I hope won’t stay on the shelf for too long.
It seems I really can’t stop winning all the books on Twitter (ok small exaggeration) as last week I won a signed copy of Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín. I have heard such good things about this book, that I shall probably read it soon too.

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I began May a little way into a lovely Persephone book, The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler which I absolutely loved – originally a book for children at the end of the nineteenth century, it had me shedding a tear or two. That was followed up with The Story of a new name by Elena Ferrante, an absolutely brilliant follow up to My Brilliant Friend. I chose to read The Custom of the Country for #Whartonreview which has been hosted by Brona’s books this month, it was a wonderful read, and I loved every word. Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes was a complex academic mystery, the first novel in Michael Innes Inspector Appleby series. The White Monkey, book four of the nine books of The Forsyte Saga Chronicles, was fabulously readable and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Soames and Fleur in 1922 a time of social and political change. It was fitting I should have been reading it around the time of our General Election. A Sea-Grape Tree (accidently left out of the pictures) was Rosamond Lehmann’s final published novel, coming after quite a lengthy literary silence, it is also the sequel to her masterly 1944 novel The Ballad and The Source, it is a slightly odd little novel, but overall I liked it.

2015-05-30_20.57.06Next came a re-read – a book I really don’t know why I haven’t re-read before – the utterly perfect To Kill a Mockingbird, I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end. Next I caught up with two book group reads with a wonderful collection of poetry The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy and Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of the story of Odysseus; The Penelopiad. I finished the month with a wonderful early Mary Hocking novel A Time of War – preparing as I was for Mary Hocking week, and some lovely short stories (see below) and continued my reading of All Day Long by Joanna Biggs – which I haven’t managed to finish yet – I’m about half way through – it is brilliant actually but I keep being distracted by other things.
20150417_212144watershipdownSo on to June, next week is all about Mary Hocking reading week for me, and I hope some of you will be joining me. I will be reading the sequel to A Time of War, The Hopeful Traveller. As for the rest of the month, I don’t have many definite plans although I am supposed to be re-reading Watership Down toward the end of the month for a book group.

sylvia Townsend warnerSylvia Townsend Warner reading week:

Some of you may have been aware of a Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week that has been happening in some corners of the internet this last week– mainly on Facebook I think, which I had wanted very much to join in. I realised last weekend though that I wouldn’t be able to fit an STW novel in to a week which saw me catching up with book group reads and preparing for Mary Hocking reading week. However yesterday afternoon I did manage to read two lovely Sylvia Townsend Warner short stories from a wonderful collection called Wave me Goodbye, which is published in an omnibus edition with Hearts Undefeated – this is a book absolutely crammed with the voices of the women writers I love. I will be dipping into this collection more and more I think now that I have whetted my appetite. 2015-05-30_20.43.42

Sweathearts and Wives – tells the story of the inhabitants of Badger Cottage. Married young in 1940, Justina and Midge, decided to throw their lot in together while their husbands are away fighting. Midge has a baby Lettice which absolves her from conscription, while Justina has taken over the work of an auctioneer’s clerk. Into this house come the Sheridans, bombed out of Mitcham, Mr Sheridan away at the war (except when on leave) three children, an Alsation dog and a horse called Shirley.

“Sometimes Justina and Midge discussed what would happen if all their husbands came on leave together.”

Poor Mary – is a more sombre story. Mary is the wife of Nicholas, a conscientious Objector who has spent the years since his exemption working on a farm. Mary had joined the ATS – their views on war differed rather. Their differences had led to their separation. Now, having not seen one another for four years, Mary has come to spend her leave visiting him at the tiny farm cottage where he lives. Both of them feel awkward, they have both changed; the war is nearly over, they each to re-adjust their view of the other.

“In the other room the clock was ticking, the kettle was boiling. Three hours earlier the bed had not seemed his own, now his living-room was not his either, but some sort of institutional waiting-room where two people had made an inordinate mess of a meal.”

In the second section of this omnibus made up of non-fiction pieces, extracts from essays diary entries etc. were three extracts from Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters here entitled; Bombs in the Country, The New Austerity and The Censor . These I read in just fifteen minutes, and they are wonderfully engaging and humorous. Some pieces in this collection are tiny just a paragraph or two – while others run to a few pages, part of me wants to gobble up the whole volume – which is quite chunky – now that I have dipped into it, don’t be surprised if this volume is referred to again and again as time goes on.

All in all it’s been a pretty excellent month, so what have you been reading?

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In memory of the wife who had once dishonoured and always despised him, Brian de Retteville founded Oby – a twelfth-century convent in a hidden corner of Norfolk. Two centuries later the Benedictine community is well established there and, as befits a convent whose origin had such chequered motives, the inhabitants are prey to the ambitions, squabbles, jealousies and pleasures of less spiritual environments. An outbreak of the Black Death, the collapse of the convent spire, the Bishop’s visitation and a nun’s disappearance are interwoven with the everyday life of the nuns, novices, successive Prioresses and the nun’s priest, in this affectionate and ironic observation of the more wordly history of a religious order.

I bought this book in a charity shop last week. I had heard of this book and on flipping through it I was instantly intrigued by it. I decided to read it straight away while my interest was piqued.
‘The Corner That Held Them’ is an historical novel, set in a Benedictine convent in the 14th century. There is no plot as such; although there are many stories, the novel follows the fortunes of the convent over many years. Under each of the five different prioresses, the concerns of the nuns are mainly worldly and particularly economical, rather than spiritual. Many of the women find themselves leading a religious life due to family connections or business like transactions. Although for many women it was life that was to be preferred than the alternative, for some, it was, socially speaking a step up.
What this novel demonstrates beautifully is the passage of time, and how each of us is but a bat of an eye within it. Seasons come and go – people die and are born and time goes on, the life of the community carries on as it always did. The characters in this novel are subject to jealousies, deceits and ambitions, these emotions drive the stories of the convent. A priest who is not really a priest, the building and then collapse of a spire, a murder, a disappearing nun, elections of prioresses and visits by a bishop and his custos are among the stories that are told in this beautifully written novel.
The historical details are well done – yet are subtly drawn rather than rammed down the readers throat like in some more modern popular historical novels. I think the stories of these characters will stay with me for a while. I found this a delightful read, and rather different to many other virago books I have read.

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