Hot Best Seller

Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman (Virago Modern Classics)

Availability: Ready to download

Lolly Willowes, always so gentle and accommodating, suddenly announces that she is moving, alone, to the countryside. To her overbearing family in London, it is a disturbing and inexplicable act of defiance. But Lolly will not be swayed, and in the depths of the English countryside she gradually discovers not only freedom and independence, but also, unexpectedly, her true Lolly Willowes, always so gentle and accommodating, suddenly announces that she is moving, alone, to the countryside. To her overbearing family in London, it is a disturbing and inexplicable act of defiance. But Lolly will not be swayed, and in the depths of the English countryside she gradually discovers not only freedom and independence, but also, unexpectedly, her true vocation.


Compare

Lolly Willowes, always so gentle and accommodating, suddenly announces that she is moving, alone, to the countryside. To her overbearing family in London, it is a disturbing and inexplicable act of defiance. But Lolly will not be swayed, and in the depths of the English countryside she gradually discovers not only freedom and independence, but also, unexpectedly, her true Lolly Willowes, always so gentle and accommodating, suddenly announces that she is moving, alone, to the countryside. To her overbearing family in London, it is a disturbing and inexplicable act of defiance. But Lolly will not be swayed, and in the depths of the English countryside she gradually discovers not only freedom and independence, but also, unexpectedly, her true vocation.

30 review for Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman (Virago Modern Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    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 Ga 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 more, but being aware that anything “more” or “different” will only ensure that you find yourself completely shut out. And moreover, 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 more 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 more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Sylvia Townsend Warner, London, 1920s When 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 m Sylvia Townsend Warner, London, 1920s When 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 more 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 more and more 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 Chilterns Throughout 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 more and more 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, more 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 Chilterns Townsend 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

  3. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A strange little book, Lolly Willowes is not what I thought it was going to be at all. I was more intrigued by the first and second parts which dealt with the life Laura Willowes leads, first as a housekeeper and companion for her father, after the death of her mother and then by her forced move to her oldest brother's house where she becomes a companion and helper to her sister-in-law. She is not allowed any freedom of her own, even when they go on vacation, Aunt Lolly, as the children call her A strange little book, Lolly Willowes is not what I thought it was going to be at all. I was more intrigued by the first and second parts which dealt with the life Laura Willowes leads, first as a housekeeper and companion for her father, after the death of her mother and then by her forced move to her oldest brother's house where she becomes a companion and helper to her sister-in-law. She is not allowed any freedom of her own, even when they go on vacation, Aunt Lolly, as the children call her, can not even take a walk by herself, she must be on hand to watch the children. At around 40, this burdensome existence is strangling Lolly as she decides to move away from her brother's family and be on her own. Henry, her brother, vehemently disagrees with her plans, for some selfish reasons of his own, not wanting to admit, he's not such a great business man. Lolly finally gets her way, only to be smothered with her grown nephew, Titus, who decides to move to the same small village. She must scream into the wilderness at this invasion of her seclusion and serenity. This primal holler evokes a response from the nether world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    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 more than ever 2017 is the time for stories about waking u 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 more 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 more 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.]

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    I can see that in 1926 this was a strong proto-feminist whimsical thoroughly English magical realist subversively satanic cri de coeur but for me it was more of a shoulda coulda woulda. This posh family gives up trying to marry off daughter Laura so she stays at home looking after dear widower Daddy until she is 28 when he pops his clogs. After that she is effortlessly absorbed into her brother’s family as a Useful Aunt to perform child minding and doily re-arranging tasks and pretend to enjoy gh I can see that in 1926 this was a strong proto-feminist whimsical thoroughly English magical realist subversively satanic cri de coeur but for me it was more of a shoulda coulda woulda. This posh family gives up trying to marry off daughter Laura so she stays at home looking after dear widower Daddy until she is 28 when he pops his clogs. After that she is effortlessly absorbed into her brother’s family as a Useful Aunt to perform child minding and doily re-arranging tasks and pretend to enjoy ghastly conversations at miserable dinner parties for twenty years. Inside she is in a state of carpet chewing agony, she is suffocating, drowning, dying, and one day she can’t take it any more and she ups and announces she wants to go and live all alone in a teeny village nobody has heard of. So this novel can be set alongside The Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair and Skylark by Deszo Kosztolayni, for instance, but the difference is that the casual oppression is mixed with a big basketful of complete silliness. We have a witches sabbath (this turns out to consist of folk dancing) and we have friendly chats with Satan, the Evil One, re-configured as the Cosy One. . If you sell this Satan your soul he will attack your enemies with curdled milk and wasps, he will ensure they put on their jumpers the wrong way round and inside out and that they stub their toe on the way to bed and the wrong newspapers get delivered to their house occasionally. You can imagine Miss Willowes knitting this particular Satan a cardigan for the winter months And plus, it didn’t seem to make sense that to complete her rejection of the cloying overbearing insufferable men of her family Miss Willowes would find it necessary to place herself in the power of another big strong male figure. Robert McCrum included Lolly Willowes in his book The 100 Best Novels in English. Now, for sure, Lolly Willowes is a shoo-in for The 100 Most Charming Oddities in English but one of the all time best? I think Satan must have been messing with Mr McCrumb’s brain.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    January 2022: Re-read 2020: Just my kind of snarky lit.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    I am deathly allergic to witty foreplay of the never ending sort. In more 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 wor I am deathly allergic to witty foreplay of the never ending sort. In more 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 more 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 more 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    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. 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

    “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 more. The moon seemed to have torn the leaves from the trees that it might stare at her more 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 “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 more. The moon seemed to have torn the leaves from the trees that it might stare at her more 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 more 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    3.5 stars, rounded up. Lolly Willowes is an odd little book. I found it a bit delightful in the beginning, but midway through it changes direction and becomes almost another kind of tale. Of the second half, I admit to not being smitten, but in fairness to Sylvia Townsend Warner, she does foreshadow that darker things are coming: So when she was younger, she had stained her pale cheeks (with a crushed red geranium) and had bent over the greenhouse tank to see what she looked like. But the greenhou 3.5 stars, rounded up. Lolly Willowes is an odd little book. I found it a bit delightful in the beginning, but midway through it changes direction and becomes almost another kind of tale. Of the second half, I admit to not being smitten, but in fairness to Sylvia Townsend Warner, she does foreshadow that darker things are coming: So when she was younger, she had stained her pale cheeks (with a crushed red geranium) and had bent over the greenhouse tank to see what she looked like. But the greenhouse tank showed only a dark, shadowy Laura, very dark and smooth like the lady in the old holy painting that hung in the dining room and was called the Leonardo. There is a darkness in Lolly Willowes that is almost a mirror image of a holy lady, with everything backward and reversed. Even in her darker passages, Townsend Warner maintains a light, almost frivolous tone, and it is this tone perhaps that temporarily masks the fact that Warner is, in fact, dealing with a very serious issue. Laura “Lolly” Willowes is a twenty-eight year old spinster. She has been raised indulgently by her father, and cares for him in his last days, so her insignificance and lack of freedom does not impress itself upon her until his passing, when she is relegated to the role of the spinster aunt in her brother’s household. 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. Lolly accepts her fate for years, but there is a desire in her to be free, and she rebels against the behavior she sees in her sister-in-law, Caroline, who yielded to Henry’s judgment in every dispute, she bowed her good sense to his will and blinkered her wider views in obedience to his prejudices. That desire for more independence eventually comes into its own, and from that moment this novel becomes an early anthem to feminism. The manner in which Lolly becomes a free being is unique and unorthodox. I tried to imagine how it would have been received by her original audience in 1926, to no avail. She seems to be saying that the caging of women by men makes any alternative preferable and no price too costly. Lolly tells us that she does what she does, to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others, charitable refuse of their thoughts.. And, we applaud her while wondering why such an extreme must be necessary in order to obtain the smallest, simplest freedom--the freedom to live ordinary days in your own chosen way, the freedom to enjoy the life you are given. When I closed the last page of this seemingly light, carefree fantasy, I realized I had read one of the most scathing condemnations of a male dominated society I had ever come across. Perhaps Townsend Warner, like her character, was deceptively gentle, while truly being, as Lolly contends of all women, “how dangerous, how incalculable, how extraordinary they are.” Most currently pertinent quote (I’m positive I know this man): He seemed to consider himself briefed by his Creator to turn into ridicule the opinions of those who disagreed with him, and to attribute dishonesty, idiocy, or a base motive to everyone who supported a better case than he. For sheer lovely, descriptive writing: The two women sat by the fire, tilting their glasses and drinking in small peaceful sips. The lamplight shone upon the tidy room and the polished table, lighting topaz in the dandelion wine, spilling pools of crimson through the flanks of the bottle of plum gin. It shone on the contented drinkers, and threw their large, close-at-hand shadows upon the wall. For humor mixed with pathos: During the last few years of her life Mrs. Willowes grew continually more skilled in evading responsibilities, and her death seemed but the final perfected expression of this skill. It was as if she had said, yawning a delicate cat’s yawn, “I think I’ll go to my grave now,” and had left the room, her white shawl trailing behind her.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    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 slow 2)feisty pseudo feminist 3)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, bu 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 slow 2)feisty pseudo feminist 3)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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    julieta

    Charming and beautifully written. The story itself is frustrating, as all womans lives were in the 20s, and the result of that is a great theory where they give their souls to satan. That seems kind of silly, but considering when this was written it is logical that this should happen. Maybe if this story were written now, she would not have to pass from her father to her brother, to satan, but just to own herself, but that just shows how times change. I will definetly be reading more of Silvia T Charming and beautifully written. The story itself is frustrating, as all womans lives were in the 20s, and the result of that is a great theory where they give their souls to satan. That seems kind of silly, but considering when this was written it is logical that this should happen. Maybe if this story were written now, she would not have to pass from her father to her brother, to satan, but just to own herself, but that just shows how times change. I will definetly be reading more of Silvia Townsend Warner. This book was a joy to read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    This made David Mitchell's All-Time Top-Ten List, sorta: http://www.toptenbooks.net/authors/da... That 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 This made David Mitchell's All-Time Top-Ten List, sorta: http://www.toptenbooks.net/authors/da... That 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?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This intriguing and seemingly light novel was first published in 1926. Laura Willowes is first a companion to her father and then after his death goes to her brothers household, Aunt Lolly is how she is known from then on. Once the children have grown up she decides to make a break and live on her own in the country. What a shock to the upright family types! A woman wanting to live her own life! So yes a feminist novel and while the final third is quite strange and didn’t quite work for me (I di This intriguing and seemingly light novel was first published in 1926. Laura Willowes is first a companion to her father and then after his death goes to her brothers household, Aunt Lolly is how she is known from then on. Once the children have grown up she decides to make a break and live on her own in the country. What a shock to the upright family types! A woman wanting to live her own life! So yes a feminist novel and while the final third is quite strange and didn’t quite work for me (I didn’t see why being a witch meant Satanism), it was a satisfying read. I felt so glad that Laura got rid of her annoying nephew! The writing is quite lovely and so cleverly scathing of some of the men in the book. I must find more of this authors books, why have I not heard of her?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    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 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 more and more 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, more 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 more arresting to the eye. Jemima and Rosalind were more obtrusive. Here was a new generation to call her Aunt Lolly and find her as indispensable as did the last.” p. 74 and, “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. 82 In 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 more. 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. 163-4 One 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. 239-43 The 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 more 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    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 w 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

    Laura finds her life suffocated by controlling and overbearing relatives. She takes drastic measures to gain independence. I found the ending strange, this book must have been quite shocking at the time it was published !

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emily M

    4.5 stars 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 rounde 4.5 stars 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. This striking story, published in 1926, perfectly blends a deceptive lightness with a serious argument: that a woman sidelined by life has so little opportunity for escape and respect that she might as well become a witch. The blurbs on most versions of the novel give away too much of the slim “story” as it is, so I will only say that this is a book with tea parties, and a book in which a spinster converses at length with the devil, and it is well worth reading.

  19. 5 out of 5

    GoldGato

    By the time the Great War had ended, the world was a bit tipsy. Perhaps the strongest survivors were the women who had worked in the factories and found themselves with extra money, more freedom, and a yearning for more rights. The 1920s brought somewhat liberated young women to the forefront, as they were the remaining half of the wiped-out generation. This book is really a reflection of that new fast-moving world, as young Lolly Willowes decides to start doing her life the way she wants it don By the time the Great War had ended, the world was a bit tipsy. Perhaps the strongest survivors were the women who had worked in the factories and found themselves with extra money, more freedom, and a yearning for more rights. The 1920s brought somewhat liberated young women to the forefront, as they were the remaining half of the wiped-out generation. This book is really a reflection of that new fast-moving world, as young Lolly Willowes decides to start doing her life the way she wants it done and not pre-war style. But the satisfaction was there, a demure Willowes-like satisfaction in the family tree that had endured the gale with an unflinching green heart. Lovely sentence to describe the protagonist's family and why she needs to define herself as herself and not someone's sister or aunt or daughter. Is this how one becomes a witch? And what is a witch in the scheme of it all? Lolly strikes out on her own and meets the Sly One and it's all involved page-turning from there. He left his pipe and tobacco pouch on the mantelpiece. They lay there like the orb and scepter of an usurping monarch. I enjoyed the economical writing and the fluid storyline. The NYRB catalogue seems to be making its way into my collection because of such wonderful selections and such wonderful printed books. This trade paper was set in Trump Mediaeval, with an elegant frontpiece. Hard to ignore, easy to read. Book Season = Autumn (brooding woods)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    The story itself is tender and a little magical, and I simply adored the character of Lolly Willowes herself. Laura Willowes (to allow her, her given name) is a dutiful unmarried daughter of twenty eight when her beloved father dies. Laura had always enjoyed her quiet life in the country, sometimes gathering herbs and making distillations with them. Laura is at one with the countryside, and its yearly round of traditions. Born some years after her two elder brothers; Henry and James, Laura grew The story itself is tender and a little magical, and I simply adored the character of Lolly Willowes herself. Laura Willowes (to allow her, her given name) is a dutiful unmarried daughter of twenty eight when her beloved father dies. Laura had always enjoyed her quiet life in the country, sometimes gathering herbs and making distillations with them. Laura is at one with the countryside, and its yearly round of traditions. Born some years after her two elder brothers; Henry and James, Laura grew up almost as an only child, the apple of her father’s eye. Laura has run her father’s home with ease, helped by the servants, people of good old country stock, who make beeswax furniture polish and pigeon pie. Upon her father’s death Laura is devastated; everything she knows and feels secure in is lost. Her elder brothers and their wives take control, it is quickly decided – that despite Laura having a good income of her own left to her by her father – she should go away from the country to London and live with Henry and Caroline and their two young daughters. Between them; Henry, James and their wives make all the decisions, what furniture Laura will take with her, and how useful she will be. London life will be very different, but Laura submits to the decisions made for her. Full review: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2015/...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    The title was playful, but I didn't understand the purpose of the book. Nothing interesting happened. Rather, nothing happened. A spinster moves to a place because she liked a flower that was grown there, her nephew moves there and she all of a sudden hates him for no reason, she sees a man who is the devil, she wakes up a witch and nothing happens because of it. What? On a positive note, it was short. The title was playful, but I didn't understand the purpose of the book. Nothing interesting happened. Rather, nothing happened. A spinster moves to a place because she liked a flower that was grown there, her nephew moves there and she all of a sudden hates him for no reason, she sees a man who is the devil, she wakes up a witch and nothing happens because of it. What? On a positive note, it was short.

  22. 5 out of 5

    S̶e̶a̶n̶

    What an extraordinary book. Close to a 5-star read for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I’m not sure what I expected to happen in this novel, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. I don’t want to say what I did get, because even though the clues are there, it’s best to come upon it, as the title character does, with an anticipation of autumn, by an old warehouse, or in a clearing, or in the woods, or near a Folly. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. This is my first Sylvia Townsend Warner, but if you know her other writing, perhaps you can guess what I mean. If I’m not sure what I expected to happen in this novel, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. I don’t want to say what I did get, because even though the clues are there, it’s best to come upon it, as the title character does, with an anticipation of autumn, by an old warehouse, or in a clearing, or in the woods, or near a Folly. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. This is my first Sylvia Townsend Warner, but if you know her other writing, perhaps you can guess what I mean. If you don’t want to read the book and want to know what I mean, it’s there in the first line of at least one Goodreads review. I rarely give reading advice, but I don’t recommend looking at that review if you plan on reading this. Whatever you do, as per usual, read the introduction after the novel. Like the way Laura (Lolly) feels about autumn, the payoff is worth the anticipation.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Book of the Month

    In April of 1926, a fledgling Book of the Month Club announced its first ever selection, Lolly Willowes. Written by debut author Sylvia Townsend Warner, the novel tells the story of an unmarried woman who refuses to live the life that her family and society expects her to live. A bold and beguiling story about personal freedom, uneasy friendships, and witchcraft, Lolly Willowes was selected despite the fact that its author was completely unknown at the time. Warner went on to have a long and resp In April of 1926, a fledgling Book of the Month Club announced its first ever selection, Lolly Willowes. Written by debut author Sylvia Townsend Warner, the novel tells the story of an unmarried woman who refuses to live the life that her family and society expects her to live. A bold and beguiling story about personal freedom, uneasy friendships, and witchcraft, Lolly Willowes was selected despite the fact that its author was completely unknown at the time. Warner went on to have a long and respected career. She published novels, short stories, and poetry collections until her death in 1978. When later asked about how it felt to have written Book of the Month’s very first selection, she said, “I was astonished, delighted and confident that any organization daring enough to pick an unknown author would be a valuable asset to contemporary literature.” Over 90 years later, Lolly Willowes is considered a classic. For more: https://www.bookofthemonth.com/lolly-...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Originally read in Nov. 2000; rereading Sept. 2017. Original review below. When I read Lolly Willowes, I was enchanted by the delicacy and humor of Sylvia Townsend Warner's prose, and I felt a kinship with the Lolly, a woman who refuses to recede into the background and lead a conventional life. To cut to the chase - she becomes a witch - that is, she gives herself over to the spirit of adventure. The pact she makes with the devil (who appears in the guise of a middle aged man) is of the sort th Originally read in Nov. 2000; rereading Sept. 2017. Original review below. When I read Lolly Willowes, I was enchanted by the delicacy and humor of Sylvia Townsend Warner's prose, and I felt a kinship with the Lolly, a woman who refuses to recede into the background and lead a conventional life. To cut to the chase - she becomes a witch - that is, she gives herself over to the spirit of adventure. The pact she makes with the devil (who appears in the guise of a middle aged man) is of the sort that feminists can easily understand. This is a gentle book -- not as sensational as that short plot synopsis would imply. It's a story of a woman who slowly and joyfully realizes her potential. Lolly's witchcraft is perhaps no more than a fanciful allegory, but it works beautifully. Reread this for a September 2017 Reading Genres book club meeting devoted to "Debut" books. This was Townsend's first novel.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner is best known for the short stories that appeared over decades in The New Yorker. Even brief biographical blurbs usually reference her leftist political affiliations and sometimes her 40-year relationship with Valentine Ackland, a poet. “Lolly Willowes,” the first of her seven novels, was published in 1926 and was a bestseller both in the U.K. and in the U.S., where it was the first selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. “Even in 1902, there were some forwa British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner is best known for the short stories that appeared over decades in The New Yorker. Even brief biographical blurbs usually reference her leftist political affiliations and sometimes her 40-year relationship with Valentine Ackland, a poet. “Lolly Willowes,” the first of her seven novels, was published in 1926 and was a bestseller both in the U.K. and in the U.S., where it was the first selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. “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.” Laura's relations dispose of her by depositing her in her brother's comfortable London household, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, indispensable caretaker for her nieces and domestic companion to her sister-in-law. But after twenty dutiful years, Laura succumbs to the lure of nature and, to the horror and puzzlement of her family, moves to the village of Great Mop in the Chiltern Hills, chosen from a guidebook. On long, solitary walks in the woods and fields around Great Mop, Laura responds to the magical power around her and enters a fantasy world in which she makes a deal that offers her a life of her own. “One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others...” Sylvia Townsend Warner's witty and lyrical prose is a vehicle for her subversive, satirical commentary on a world in which only by selling her soul to the devil can a woman become independent of the expectations of society and her family. Delightful.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Plateresca

    'Life becomes simple if one does nothing about it.' This is my favourite quote from 'Lolly'! It's about life in the country in particular, and it's amazing how lazy this kind of life might be and how strenuous it tends to become. But a more important quote would be this one: 'One doesn't become a witch to run round being harmful, or to run round being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It's to escape all that — to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by other 'Life becomes simple if one does nothing about it.' This is my favourite quote from 'Lolly'! It's about life in the country in particular, and it's amazing how lazy this kind of life might be and how strenuous it tends to become. But a more important quote would be this one: 'One doesn't become a witch to run round being harmful, or to run round being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. 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, the workhouse dietary is scientifically calculated to support life. As for the witches who can only express themselves by pins and bed-blighting, they have been warped into that shape by the dismal lives they've lead.' The whole witchcraft theme only appears in the second half of the book. I read the first half waiting for this to happen: 'A young woman escapes convention by becoming a witch in this original satire about England after the first world war', as was promised by the Guardian's Robert McCrum in his 100 best novels in English list (but the list is not the reason I've read this book!), and was kind of baffled. (I am happy Robert considers the age of 47 years as 'young' — this makes me practically a baby :)) The first half is actually quite enjoyable as a story of a family, with one detail: there are mentions (though not descriptions) of hunting and killed animals. One of these mentions was such as to make me want to stop reading the book altogether. I'm sorry it's there. 'Preference, not prejudice, made them faithful to their past.' - That's the tonality of the first half. 'If a boiler burst, if a policeman climbed in at the window waving a sword, Henry and Caroline would bring the situation to heel by their massive experience of normal boilers and normal policemen.' I loved the scene where Laura walks into a kind of a farm shop and has an epiphany: '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...' (And more in this vein). I'm sure this speaks to all of my pagan friends :) How pertinent is Laura's protest today? Oh, I think anybody who tries to decide for themselves faces a lot of difficulties, so though women probably have more opportunities to 'express themselves' now than to 'make horrid children spout up pins' (some women, in some parts of the world), I guess societal expectations are still there. In some aspects, I think it's even more difficult to be free now than it was for Laura in the sense that a desire to just go pick a place on a map and go live there would now face the boring, solid and stolid obstacles of tax forms, gas bills and the like. A lot of observations here are very precise, both about human psychology: 'Like many stupid people, they possessed acute instincts' and about nature, how there are various kinds of love for it, and about how passionate and romantic one can feel about it, especially if this particular one is not at all passionate and romantic about their family members :) So, it would have been 5 stars for me if not for those mentions of hunting. The story of a thinking and original woman, the atmosphere, the theme of witchcraft, the descriptions of nature, — all of this has had an enormous appeal for me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rosana

    My paternal grand-mother went back to school in her sixties. She had always wanted to be a lawyer, but a girl born in 1917 in a traditional family in Brazil was not to fulfill such ideas. She married at age 20 and had 4 children. Her youngest child died at age 2, and my grandfather died soon after. She was 47 when she became a widow – a year younger than I am now -and she came undone! Widowhood suited her better than married life. Her older children were married or already gone. She found a job My paternal grand-mother went back to school in her sixties. She had always wanted to be a lawyer, but a girl born in 1917 in a traditional family in Brazil was not to fulfill such ideas. She married at age 20 and had 4 children. Her youngest child died at age 2, and my grandfather died soon after. She was 47 when she became a widow – a year younger than I am now -and she came undone! Widowhood suited her better than married life. Her older children were married or already gone. She found a job by chance: governess of the town’s hospital. She travelled. She read books. She learned how to drive and bought a car. She decided that it was not too late to be a lawyer and took night classes for 2 years… until a second bout of breast cancer stopped her. She died at age 65. Lolly Willowes made me think of her; of feminism rising from deep in the soul, often not overly verbalized, but sensed by those around her. My grand-mother, like Lolly, was a witch and made a pact with the devil, for the god of her days would had kept her chained to a kitchen stove, to the church bazaar, to babysitting grand-children. But as a witch she got to fly above it all. I can only imagine how this book must have seemed revolutionary in 1926 when it was published. It precludes Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. But if the details of the story appear dated – a spinster at the mercy of her family in Britain at the beginning of the 20th century – the pressures of social expectation still binding women to roles that don’t suit us all is still real. My inner witch is happy I finally got around to reading it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sylvester

    I'd call this one - "The Story That Got Away". I liked it a lot, liked the character, the premise, the writing - everything, and then it just faded away. I loved the whole older-woman-takes-control-of-her-life-and-defies-all-conventions theme, and Warner had just placed Aunt Lolly in a sweet spot where she could've gotten into all kinds of trouble, when she backed off and let it slip away. It's too bad, the writing was very good, and Laura was an intriguing character. I'd call this one - "The Story That Got Away". I liked it a lot, liked the character, the premise, the writing - everything, and then it just faded away. I loved the whole older-woman-takes-control-of-her-life-and-defies-all-conventions theme, and Warner had just placed Aunt Lolly in a sweet spot where she could've gotten into all kinds of trouble, when she backed off and let it slip away. It's too bad, the writing was very good, and Laura was an intriguing character.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John_Dishwasher John_Dishwasher

    In order for a liberated woman to be authentically herself, and to be free to explore her soul, and at peace, she has to turn her back totally on tradition and custom, and refuse to participate in how it exploits her. The mores of the culture that manages her must be inverted so completely that she basically becomes the witch women were once superstitiously burned for being. Warner spends much of the book showing why this is true, giving us a portrait of a tradition built on simultaneously squel In order for a liberated woman to be authentically herself, and to be free to explore her soul, and at peace, she has to turn her back totally on tradition and custom, and refuse to participate in how it exploits her. The mores of the culture that manages her must be inverted so completely that she basically becomes the witch women were once superstitiously burned for being. Warner spends much of the book showing why this is true, giving us a portrait of a tradition built on simultaneously squelching some gifts of women so that it can harness others. For the rest of the book she makes her prescription come true. This is a highly defiant work, but in a slow-burn, low-key kind of way. It starts as a kind of portrait of decadence, eases into the above philosophical observation, and ends almost as a statement of rebellion. Also Warner has her readers identify with a character who is doing something which has always been portrayed as foolhardy, if not evil, in literature. This exercises her own message, defying, even taunting tradition. Notably she uses her landscape unusually, making it almost animistic. Here and there the book reminded me of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. ------ I read this primarily as a Feminist statement but I think her message could also be interpreted more universally. Like: the aspects of society considered good, say tradition and custom, become so burdensome in their comfort and complaisance and assurance that they are a sort of evil for the human soul in general. This leaves those aspects of society considered evil as the only direction in which the soul can seek and find authenticity and peace and freedom.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...