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date: 30 March 2017

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Abstract and Keywords

This article reviews some important recent contributions to the belated recovery of the work of English novelist and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner. Described by Eleanor Perényi as “feminist, Marxist, historical novelist, social comedian, teller of fairy tales,” Warner has received scant critical attention, in stark contrast to her remarkable productivity. Warner published thirty-six books during her lifetime, in addition to four posthumous collections of poems and short stories; at least 154 short stories published in the New Yorker; her diary, published by Chatto and Windus in 1994; several volumes of correspondence; a revised and expanded edition of her poems; her translation of Marcel Proust’s critical writings in By Way of Sainte-Beuve; and a volume of previously uncollected writings, With the Hunted, which includes many short pieces previously published in the Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society. The present article looks at key critical responses to Warner’s work by such writers as Jan Montefiore, Jane Marcus, Gillian Beer, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, and Mary Jacobs.

Keywords: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Warner, feminism, Marxism, poem, novel, story, short stories

Most scholarship on Sylvia Townsend Warner begins with a kind of ritual lament about the critical neglect that has condemned her writing to obscurity. Unfortunately the present survey is obliged to echo this refrain, because no full-length critical study of Warner’s work has appeared to date. Warner suspected that her leftist politics caused her to be sidelined by the critical establishment,1 whereas others attribute this neglect to the sexism that has obscured much writing by women in the twentieth century.

The versatility that makes Warner’s works so various and unpredictable has also made them difficult to brand and package for the marketplace. “Each of her novels is an unprecedented world,” David Carroll Simon has observed, “and each of them looks, at first glance, as if it were written by a different author.”2 Warner’s diverse achievements as a poet, biographer, translator, and “story-storyist” make her even more difficult to categorize.3 “Feminist, Marxist, historical novelist, social comedian, teller of fairy tales—she was all these, and none of them to a degree that would ultimately define her,” Eleanor Perényi notes. “If a convenient pigeonhole could be found for her … no doubt we would be in the flood of a Warner revival.”4

Claire Harman’s indispensable biography offers much insight into Warner’s writings, but her volume focuses more on the life than on the work.5 Closer attention is paid to Warner’s literary achievement in Wendy Mulford’s groundbreaking This Narrow Place, an experiment in dual critical biography that traces Warner’s thirty-nine-year romantic and literary partnership with the would-be poet Valentine Ackland.6 Mulford’s study concentrates on the lovers’ political involvement in the 1930s and 1940s, the decades during which both women joined the Communist Party, travelled to Spain to support the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and, at home in rural Norfolk and Dorset, deplored the desperate conditions of agricultural labor. Apart from these biographical studies, only one book-length collection of critical essays, written by several hands and published in 2006 (CE), is devoted exclusively to Warner. Previously Harman edited a memorial issue of PN Review in 1982 (PNR), and a special issue of Literature Compass in 2014, edited by Vike Plock and Alex Murray, contains essays by Peter Swaab, Mary Joannou, Howard Booth, Ailsa Granne, Jan Montefiore, and Chris Hopkins.7

The feminist revival of the 1970s gave a welcome boost to Warner’s reputation, especially through reprints of her novels, a well-judged selection of her short stories, and Harman’s edition of her diaries, all published by Virago.8 Subsequently the rise of gay and lesbian studies in the academy also helped to revive interest in Warner, bringing forth important studies by Gay Wachman, Jane Garrity, and Robin Hackett, among others, in which Warner’s treatment of sexuality and gender is reconsidered in the context of empire and class struggle.9 Wachman gives Warner pride of place in her pioneering study Lesbian Empire, but critical books devoted exclusively to Warner have yet to be written. As the present survey aims to show, much inventive work is underway in Warner studies, but it is scattered among periodicals and collections of essays. A single-author monograph is still to come.

This paucity of critical attention stands in poignant contrast to Warner’s remarkable productivity. Harold Bloom’s somewhat outdated guide to British Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 lists thirty-six books that Warner published during her lifetime, in addition to four posthumous collections of poems and short stories.10 Omitted from this list are at least 154 short stories Warner published in the New Yorker; her diary, edited by Harman, published by Chatto and Windus in 199411; several volumes of correspondence12; a revised and expanded edition of her poems13; her translation of Proust’s critical writings in By Way of Sainte-Beuve14; and a volume of previously uncollected writings, With the Hunted,15 which includes many short pieces previously published in the Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society (henceforth JSTWS), a valuable resource that is not yet available in digital form.

Fortunately for Warner scholars, Jan Montefiore has compiled an extensive bibliography of Warner’s published work, together with its burgeoning critical literature. Since Montefiore’s bibliography will soon be available online, my own survey makes no claim to comprehensiveness; rather an attempt is made to spotlight some important recent contributions to the belated rediscovery of Warner’s work. These include Montefiore’s own luminous essays, which address Warner’s multifaceted achievements as a poet, fiction writer, and biographer of T. H. White and all of which benefit from Montefiore’s far-reaching knowledge of modern British literary and cultural history.16

To date most Warner criticism has focused on her novels rather than her poems and short stories. Of these novels, Lolly Willowes (1926) and Summer Will Show (1936) have received by far the most attention, especially in the American academy, although the recent republication of Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1927) as Mr. Fortune by NYRB Classics in 2011 bodes well for a revival of this minor masterpiece.17 Lolly Willowes, Warner’s first novel and her only commercial success, which was chosen as the first selection of the newly established Book of the Month Club, has elicited much perceptive commentary (see n. 66). Feminist critics, in particular, have been drawn to this lighthearted fantasy of a maiden aunt who throws off her bondage to her brother’s family in London to become a witch in the village of Great Mop. This invented place-name evokes the witch’s traditional accoutrement, the humble broomstick—an emblem of women’s domestic slavery repurposed as a vehicle of flight, not to mention a phallic symbol: a great mop indeed.

One of the first and finest critics to recover Lolly Willowes for feminism is Jane Marcus, the title of whose influential essay “A Wilderness of One’s Own”18 echoes both Woolf’s feminist manifesto A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Laura Willowes’s passionate defense of witches:

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….19

Marcus situates Lolly Willowes in the context of the “feminist fantasy novel of the twenties,” a subgenre that emerged in “response to realism’s failure to make permanent female space in the citadels of male power.” Such novels, Marcus argues, represent “a retreat into the garden and the forest to lick wounds from those earlier battles and to reenact the myth of Daphne: woman into tree” (141). Indeed, “To-day I wish that I were a tree” is the first line of Warner’s early poem “Wish in Spring” (1925), where “tree” is presumably a pun on the author’s sylvan name (NCP 26). A similar pun occurs in Lolly Willowes when Lolly, having changed into a witch, reclaims her real name Laura (laurel): an allusion to the myth of Daphne, who turned into a laurel tree in flight from Apollo’s sexual predation. There is “a female version of pastoral,” Marcus argues, “which posits chastity as freedom in a wilderness presided over by Artemis” (136). Some critics have understood Laura’s transformation as a coming-out story, interpreting “witch” as a code name for lesbian, but Marcus rightly emphasizes the celibacy of Warner’s wilderness. “One’s womb is one’s own,” Marcus puns, only in the green world, not in the “phallocentric city” (136).

Marcus’s essay offers a compelling interpretation of Lolly Willowes and its mythic antecedents, but sometimes at the risk of sentimentalizing Warner’s attitudes to women and the countryside. To claim that Lolly sells her soul to the devil in search of “deeper spirituality” is to foist New Age schmaltz on a narrative bristling with mischief and irony (152). The novelist who could write of Laura’s suitors that “their jaws were so many mousetraps, baited with commonplaces” would have recoiled from the soupy language of female spirituality (Lolly 55). Marcus’s approach also produces some howlers, such as her assertion that Lolly’s irksome nephew Titus is driven out of Great Mop by a swarm of bees, which are “sacred to the mother goddess” (Marcus 139). In point of fact a swarm of wasps, not bees, is unleashed on Titus, courtesy of Beelzebub, lord of the flies. Such quibbles aside, Marcus’s essay has stood the test of time, remaining a much-cited touchstone for subsequent studies of the novel.

The late Mary Jacobs also takes up the question of feminist pastoral,20 focusing on Warner’s writings between 1925 and 1934, a remarkably fertile period that saw the publication of three books of poems, The Espalier (1925), Time Importuned (1928), and Whether a Dove or Seagull (1933), which was jointly written with Valentine Ackland; three novels, Lolly Willowes (1926), Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1927), and The True Heart (1929); a single volume narrative poem, Opus 7 (1931); and various small-press collections of short stories, grouped together as The Salutation in 1932. Jacobs argues that these writings, whether set in the Chilterns, the Essex marshes, a Dorset valley, Polynesia, or South America, reveal the “oppositional ironies” characteristic of the pastoral tradition (CE 61, 65). One model of pastoral is Virgil’s Georgics, where the countryside is envisaged as an organic community, and rural labor as skilled craft rather than as moral discipline for the poor (CE 71–72). Yet as William Empson points out, an opposing model of pastoral recasts class struggle as “a beautiful relation between rich and poor,” thus encouraging submission to the status quo.21 These oppositions mean that pastoral has been claimed by both radical and conservative traditions (CE 66).

Living mostly in rural Dorset and Norfolk, Warner and Ackland found the reality of country life a far cry from the bucolic idyll of the pastoral tradition. Ackland’s Country Conditions, published in 1936, pulls no punches in its exposé of rural immiseration and the loneliness of agricultural drudgery.22 Similarly Warner attributed her political awakening to her relocation to the countryside, where she soon learned that “the English Pastoral was a grim and melancholy thing.”23 In the 1920s, when Warner began writing poetry and fiction, the countryside was devastated by poverty, depopulation, and exploitation, yet was simultaneously “being celebrated as the apotheosis of patriotism, spirituality and authenticity” (CE 66). In contrast to this conservative nationalist discourse, which idealized the countryside as a means of justifying postwar empire and dominion, Warner’s “fantastic ruralism” looks back to Crabbe, Clare, and Hardy, while inflecting this tradition with a wry consciousness of gender politics (CE 67).24

Warner’s treatment of the countryside therefore bears some resemblance to Stella Gibbons’s satirical pastoralism in Cold Comfort Farm (1932), as well as to T. F. Powys’s “dark cosmogony” peopled by malicious peasants (CE 67). But Warner differs from Powys in sympathizing with the poor, and from Gibbons in condemning the class system. Warner’s mock-heroic epic poem Opus 7 tells the story of the green-thumbed crone Rebecca Random of Love Green, who finances her thirst for gin by flogging the flowers in her mysteriously luxuriant garden.25 A witch like Laura Willowes, Rebecca is presented as the guardian and practitioner of an arcane rural wisdom persisting secretly within the present (CE 77). The difference is that Laura is a woman of independent means, although cheated by her brother of much of her inheritance, whereas Rebecca is “grindingly poor.” Furthermore, Love Green, despite its name, is “pinchpenny and suspicious,” unlike the welcoming witches’ coven of Great Mop (CE 72). In Opus 7, as in the pastoral locations of her fiction, Warner’s realism about rural poverty sets her work apart from conservative idealization of the countryside. In a similar way, the presence of Polynesia in Mr. Fortune’s Maggot and of classical paganism in The True Heart militates against the appropriation of pastoral by “little-Englandism or by preoccupations with blood and soil” (CE 79). Learned, deft, and theoretically astute, Jacobs’s essay represents a milestone in Warner studies.

Peter Swaab’s essay “The Queerness of Lolly Willowes” (JSTWS [2010]: 29–52) links Warner’s novel to Mrs. Dalloway and The Well of Loneliness as narratives of the 1920s concerned with homosexuality in the English affluent classes. Each of these novels “naturalises homosexual proclivities as a feature of their well-established worlds, but shows the regulation of these worlds by sexual taboos” (33). Great Mop, Swaab argues, could be seen as a “queer refuge,” populated largely by singletons and cats (39). What is queer about this community is not so much its midnight orgies, which are absurdly innocuous affairs, but its placid indifference to romantic love, the traditional prime mover of the novel. As Swaab observes, “Warner’s dry manner is comically sceptical about the importance of sexuality in human life” (36). Titus, who invades this world, is initially presented as a “Wildean exquisite,” made in the mould of Algy in The Importance of Being Earnest. But Titus’s engagment to the ominously named Pandora brings about his exile from Great Mop, as if the village could not absorb a heterosexual (39). If Great Mop is a queer refuge, however, it scarcely offers a utopia; for one thing, it is far from immune to the British class system, and although Laura tells the devil that women become witches to “show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business,” her own life in Great Mop is safe to the point of torpor (Lolly 238). Swaab perceives her inaction as ominously deathly, but I read it as a mode of being rather than doing that resists the Protestant work ethic and the capitalist drive to get ahead. If women could be “passive and unnoticed, it wouldn’t matter,” Lolly protests. “But they must be active, and still unnoticed. Doing, doing, doing…” (Lolly 236).

Gay Wachman’s Lesbian Empire identifies a tradition of “lesbian crosswriting” that “transposes the otherwise unrepresentable lives of invisible or silenced or simply closeted lesbians into narratives about gay men.”26 The clearest example of crosswriting in Warner’s work is Mr. Fortune’s Maggot, with its “fatally sodomitic” missionary hero.27 Not only does this novel subvert heterosexist norms, but it also “crosswrites the primitive” by overturning the myth of white supremacy (see Lesbian Empire, pp. 71–102). Wachman argues that the notion of the primitive, which served to justify imperialism, was extended to stigmatize all groups that posed a threat to white male power, including women, children, sexual “inverts,” proletarians, the “lower races,” and the mentally defective. As Wachman remarks with respect to Eric, the “idiot” or holy fool of The True Heart, “The rationale for the white man’s burden was the convenient assumption that almost everyone else was an idiot.”28 Set in 1873, but based on the story of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, The True Heart also addresses its author’s era by exposing the mutual implication of sexual, racial, and economic oppression in Britain between the world wars.

At times Wachman’s approach can be tendentious, emphasizing what Warner called her “moral tone” at the expense of her humor and irony.29 For example, when Warner likens Lolly Willowes’s delight in her newfound independence to “a derisive dance on the north side of the Ohio,” Wachman objects to this “problematic appropriation of racial Others” (Lesbian Empire, p. 80): a ticking-off that seems unwarranted. For the most part, however, Wachman shows a keen attentiveness to the subtleties of Warner’s work and resists the temptation to transpose the author’s sprightly prose into the cumbersome jargon of 1990s academic criticism. Wide-ranging and perceptive, Lesbian Empire provides the most challenging analysis to date of the political resonances of Warner’s work.

Gillian Beer’s essay “The Centrifugal Kick” offers an enticing survey of Warner’s writing, touching on the early novels but focusing on the ambitious historical fantasies of the 1930s, Summer Will Show and After the Death of Don Juan.30 Published after Warner’s conversion to the Communist Party, these novels are “experiments in affect,” which “baffle and possess the reader,” both raising and dashing utopian hopes (19–20). Comedy converges with calamity: After the Death of Don Juan, for example, begins as farce and ends as tragedy, when the notorious libertine, unscathed by his rumored abduction into hell, returns to his father’s estate to crush a peasant uprising.

Some of the most sophisticated critical work on Warner, including Beer’s essay, has been inspired by the novel Summer Will Show, in which the English landowner Sophia Willoughby is catapulted into the vortex of the French Revolution of 1848, where she falls in love with a mesmerizing Jewish story-teller called Minna Lemuel. A particularly thought-provoking study of this novel is Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s “De Jane Austen au Manifeste Communiste: Sylvia Townsend Warner et la révolution de 1848,” which I shall discuss in detail since it is not yet available in English.31 Lecercle sets out by examining the proposition that “literature thinks.” Similar statements have been made of architecture and painting, but there is something paradoxical about the claim that these arts think, whereas no one would be startled by the statement that “philosophy thinks,” which seems to go without saying. Indeed, what philosophy thinks is thought itself. When we say that architecture thinks, however, the verb demands an object; what precisely does architecture think? A plausible response is that architecture thinks space, or the body in space.

At first glance, the claim that literature thinks is less puzzling, since literature exists in language, the same medium of thinking as philosophy. Unlike philosophy, however, literature does not proceed by argumentation, by the positing of theses and the construction of concepts, nor is thought the object of its thinking. What then does literature think? Lecercle suggests three possibilities: literature thinks language; literature thinks consciousness, inasmuch as this is an effect of language; and literature thinks the world, inasmuch as this is constructed by human beings, whose sociality depends on language.

Lecercle admits that these formulations beg a lot of questions, not least because of their “extreme generality.” Nonetheless he puts them to the test in Warner’s Summer Will Show, whose heroine starts out in the confined world of Jane Austen and ends up by converting to communism in revolutionary Paris. According to Lecercle, Warner is attempting the impossible: how can she bring off the transition from the sheltered village life of Jane Austen to a sweeping historical canvas, where, at the political center of the world in Paris, the heroine’s transformation takes place against the backdrop of international revolution? Lecercle, who is fond of triads, proposes that (1) Warner wants to write a historical novel (wherein literature thinks history); (2) she wants to write a novel of education that is not sentimental in the manner of Austen but political (wherein literature thinks consciousness in the form of a prise de conscience, a political awakening); (3) she wants to write a communist novel, in which literature thinks history as class struggle.

As Lecercle points out, Summer Will Show belongs to a rich tradition of committed or socialist fiction in English, exemplified by Margaret Harkness’s A City Girl of 1887 and Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists of 1914, and continuing in the novels of Ralph Bates, Patrick Hamilton, and Lewis Grassic Gibbon. More surprising, Lecercle proposes that Summer Will Show reveals affinities to socialist realism, a movement usually associated with “muscular tractor-drivers against a background of ripe wheat and Stalinist ideology.” Warner spares us the tractor-drivers but retains the political romanticism characteristic of socialist realism, together with the positive hero, the gallant derring-do, the representative supporting actors, and the optimistic ending. If this were the whole story, Lecercle admits, Summer Will Show would not be a good novel; a bare summary of its heroic action could make it sound like Indiana Jones. But the thought, or pensée, that this novel embodies extends beyond the melodrama of its plot.

For one thing, it is questionable whether Sophia can be seen as an unambiguously positive hero, according to the prudish conventions of socialist realism, since she becomes a lesbian as well as a communist. Furthermore the milieu she inhabits with her lover is more bohemian than proletarian. According to Lecercle, Sophia’s progress corresponds to Hegel’s three stages of ethical life; first, the recognition of affective ties; second, the cognitive recognition through which the individual becomes a universal subject of law; and third, the “intellectual intuition” that incorporates both preceding moments, whereby the subject of law becomes a full-fledged individual, recognized not only in her universality but also in her particularity. Accordingly, Summer Will Show begins with a heroine whose individuality is determined by her affective bonds, in that she lives for her children. But as a woman, this individuality is purely illusory, which is made evident when her husband Frederick, infuriated by her liaison with his own ex-mistress, abruptly dispossesses Sophia of all her property. Liberated from her illusion of independence by her husband’s skulduggery, which is sanctioned by her own family, Sophia accedes to her social and moral autonomy by grasping her sexual autonomy. France is the symbolic domain of this liberation; in revolutionary Paris social, financial, and familial bonds dissolve. The novel ends with Sophia anachronistically reading the first words of The Communist Manifesto during the June Days Uprising of 1848, although this work was not translated into English until two years later. Critics have tended to denigrate this scene as both implausible and doctrinaire, but Lecercle perceives it as the moment when Sophia achieves Hegelian individuality by freely throwing in her lot with the class that is going to change the world.

Despite the novel’s revolutionary plotline, Lecercle acknowledges that its style is superficially conservative. Narrated with deliberate neutrality, the phrases are short, the lexicon familiar, and the metaphors rare, at least in the opening chapters, where the language is primarily descriptive. According to Lecercle, this is because the novel is deliberately inscribed into the literary tradition of the early nineteenth century. If the point of departure is Jane Austen, it makes sense that the novelist doesn’t write like Virginia Woolf or Henry James. Furthermore the prise de conscience, which gives the narrative its impetus, also brings about a stylistic transformation whereby the language of Jane Austen gradually gives way to a less transparent idiom. Beginning with a distant, discretely ironic narrator who views the heroine with a lucidity that Sophia has not yet attained, and deploying the free indirect style typical of Austen, the novel then shifts into a dialogic mode, appropriate to the materialist premise that the prise de conscience proceeds by way of other people; in this case, by way of Minna and her revolutionary comrades. The novel concludes in an introspective mode, as befits the notion that Sophia has acceded to a more authentic form of individuality in which the particular is united with the universal. As Minna says, “though you may think you have chosen me, Sophia, or chosen happiness, it is the Revolution you have chosen….”32

According to Lecercle, Summer Will Show is more of a drama than a realist novel, which accounts for its coincidences and excesses. Specifically the novel resembles an opera; indeed, it is set in much the same milieu as Puccini’s La Bohème. Like an opera, it is composed of dramatic scenes that serve as “objective correlatives” for the heroine’s prise de conscience. The introspective interludes correspond to arias, the tête-à-têtes to lovers’ duets. Although Minna is not a singer, she is the next best thing, a story-teller, or raconteuse d’histoire, reminiscent of the gypsy singer who provides the backstory in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Lecercle therefore concludes that Summer Will Show thinks history, inasmuch as this is the history of class struggle, but it thinks history “lyrically.”

While Lecercle focuses on the Marxist dimension of Summer Will Show, Terry Castle unravels its sexual politics.33 She opens her influential study by questioning the definition of “lesbian fiction.” Is it fiction by lesbians or about lesbians, or both? Having pointed out the weaknesses of both alternatives, Castle proposes that lesbian fiction is that which inverts or evades the structure of male homosocial desire, as delineated by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.34 According to Sedgwick, English literature, at least since the seventeenth century, has been organized around erotic triangles in which two men ostensibly compete for the favors of a woman. What this scenario conceals is that the woman functions as an object of exchange between the rivals, strengthening their homosocial bonds. It is these highly charged attachments between men that form the basis of the patriarchal order.

When these attachments grow too strong, however, the homosocial tips into the homosexual, dispensing with the female middle term. Since patriarchy depends on the traffic in women, which in turn depends on the conceptual difference between male subjects and female objects of desire, homoerotic attachments between men threaten to destabilize this whole economy.35 Western literature, according to Sedgwick, has reacted to this threat by insisting on the structure of triangulation, creating plots in which the male-female-male paradigm serves to reinforce “the mediated eros of male homosocial desire.” The overt eroticization of male bonds, on the other hand, is “shown to lead, as if by Gothic compulsion, to morbidity, persecution, mania, and murder” (Castle 69). Not only does the literary canon reinforce this triangular paradigm; the paradigm itself provides the grounds for canonization (Sedgwick 17; Castle 69–70).

As many critics have pointed out, Sedgwick’s model, compelling though it is, affords only minimal consideration to erotic attachments between women. Indeed Castle argues that Sedgwick lapses into uncharacteristic sentimentality, as well as stylistic tortuosity, when she touches on the question of lesbianism. While arguing that sexual desire between men is paranoically suppressed, Sedgwick proposes that erotic attachments between women form part of a continuum with other forms of love, care, friendship, and political support (Sedgwick 2–3; Castle 71). Castle objects that “[t]o obscure the fact that lesbians are women who have sex with each other—and that this is not exactly the same, in the eyes of society, as voting for women or giving them jobs—is, in essence, not to acknowledge the separate peril and pleasure of lesbian existence” (72). Sedgwick, according to Castle, has unwittingly succumbed to the “Queen Victoria Principle”; reputedly the queen believed that lesbianism did not exist and therefore required no legal prohibition (66–67).

Castle goes on to argue that Summer Will Show inverts the canonical erotic triangle by portraying two women bonding as lovers through the mediation of a man. In this novel it is Frederick Willoughby who plays the mediating third term in the love affair between his mistress and his wife: “poor Frederick!” (Summer, 133). This role reversal parodies the canonical texts of nineteenth-century realism, including those of Austen, George Eliot, Brontë, and Dickens, and insinuates Warner’s own “lesbian counterplot” among them as “a kind of subversive, inflammatory, pseudo-canonical substitute” (90). The result, at times, is melodramatic and implausible. But this is because lesbian desire—as Queen Victoria’s incredulity implies—exceeds the conventions of believability enshrined in the realist novel. Indeed, there is “nothing remotely believable about Sophia Willoughby’s transformation from ‘heiress of Blandamer’ into lover of her husband’s mistress and communist revolutionary, if by ‘believability’ we mean conformity with the established mimetic conventions of canonical English and American fiction” (88). Instead Warner infuses her narrative with intimations of artifice, theatricality, romance, and “high fakery,” which “work against the superficial historicism of the narrative, pushing it inexorably towards the fantastic” (89). Like Lecercle, Castle perceives the operatic dimension of Summer Will Show not as a defect but as a deliberate subversion of genre norms, arguing that the utopian impulses of the novel exceed the limits of realist representation.

To date no single essays are exclusively devoted to After the Death of Don Juan, which was inspired by the Spanish Civil War, although this novel has attracted substantial critical discussion.36 Wendy Mulford offers an insightful account in This Narrow Place (123–134) and in her introduction to the Virago reprint of After the Death of Don Juan (v–xvii). Writing to Nancy Cunard on 28 August 1945, Warner described this novel as “a parable … of the political chemistry of the Spanish [Civil] War, with the Don Juan—more of Molière than of Mozart—developing as the Fascist of the piece” (Letters, p.51n1). Elsewhere Warner calls the novel a “fable,” and it is this fabular form, according to Mulford, which endows the narrative voice with its distance and impersonality.37 While Summer Will Show relies on the “interweaving of individual and political development,” Don Juan dispenses with the convention of the hero (Mulford, Narrow, 124). All the characters are types, and most are treated with acerbic satire. Although the novel clearly sides with the peasants against the grandees, Warner resists the temptation to romanticize the rural poor.

Mulford makes a compelling case that the true hero of After the Death of Don Juan is Spain itself, the arid beauty of its countryside and the collective life of those who labor on its unforgiving soil (Narrow, 127). It is this “ungainly country,” rather than the human heart, that engages the novelist’s deepest sympathy; indeed, Warner later remarked that she was “tired of the human heart” (PNR 35; STW 312). This Spanish novel exemplifies the Marxist principle that consciousness is determined by life, not life by consciousness, for life in Spain is bound up with its bleached, indifferent landscape: “Pale is that country as a country of bone.”38 According to Mulford, After the Death of Don Juan marks Warner’s shift away from the emotive world of realism toward the inhuman fables of her later fiction, populated by standoffish cats and frosty elves.

Robert L. Caserio’s The Novel in England, 1900–1950: History and Theory (1999) argues for reconfiguring the twentieth-century canon to rescue neglected novelists, including Warner, whose works have been overshadowed by Joycean modernism.39 Although Warner’s novels do not wear their experimentation on their sleeve, “as we expect modernist work to do,” they are revolutionary in a less flamboyant way (223). The Corner That Held Them, for example, which recounts over thirty years of the collective life of a convent during the period of the Black Death, is praised by Caserio as a “one of the great modernist attempts to write historical fiction”; a “historical materialist, Leninist study of women and labour” (223). It is the role played by chance, Caserio contends, that marks this novel out as modernist. Borrowing the philosopher C. S. Pierce’s awkward neologism tychism (after tyche, the Greek word for chance), Caserio argues that modernism’s “tychism” lies in its receptivity to chance, which produces a counterimpulse to control chance with totalizing structures (6).

In The Corner That Held Them, the chance incursion of the Black Death deprives the convent of its priest, and enables an impostor to usurp this vacant post. Likewise chance causes the steeple, after ten years in construction, to fall down on an unlucky (or suicidal) nun, although the villagers interpret this mishap as a curse, thus transforming chance into fate. What gives the novel its Marxist slant is Warner’s attention to the convent’s economic base, as well as her resistance to the bourgeois individualism enshrined in the convention of the hero. Instead, characters come and go, cut off by the accident of death, not by the fulfilment of their destiny. There is no “hierarchy of significance,” in Lukàcs’s terms, to rank the characters or events in terms of their importance to the chronicle.40

In a late interview Warner explained that “if you were going to give an accurate picture of the monastic life, you’d have to put in all their finances… “(PNR 36). It could be argued that Warner’s economic determinism militates against the alleged “tychism” of The Corner That Held Them. Yet if Warner embraces Marxist economism, she rejects Marxist historicism by subverting the teleology of plot. Indeed, Warner claimed that The Corner That Held Them was “not in any way a historical novel” because “it hasn’t any thesis” (Letters 79). In Warner’s fiction, Caserio argues, death is the ultimate tyche—at once random and inevitable—that sabotages the novel’s traditional goal of transforming the aleatory events of history into a consequential narrative. Hence heroism consists not in defying death but in facing up to mortal limits. It is therefore revealing that Don Juan, who defies mortality by coming back after his supposed death, embarks on his second life by conspiring in a massacre. The implication is that immortality is destructive, not least because it is attributed to God; a lifelong atheist, Warner regarded religion as an engine of tyranny.

Jan Montefiore has also tackled The Corner That Held Them, a novel often ignored in favor of Warner’s earlier fiction.41 Pointing out that this novel, along with the third volume of T. H. White’s Arthurian romance, The Once and Future King, were both written during the Second World War, Montefiore raises the question: “What is the significance of these two writers independently undertaking a magnum opus set in the English Middle Ages” during this period? (“Englands,” 39). An obvious answer is escapism; this is also the era in which Tolkein’s “Middle-Earth” was constructed in wartime Oxford. Yet as Warner’s epigraph implies, her retreat into a forgotten corner of the past offers little protection from the present: “But neither might the corner that held them keep them from fear.”42 Meanwhile T. H. White, languishing in neutral Ireland on account of his pacifism, occupied himself with rewriting Malory “as a modern fable about finding an antidote to war” (43). By understanding their protagonists in terms of Marxism (Warner) or post-Freudian psychology (White), Montefiore argues that these writers portray the past not as a closed book but as a work-in-progress, reconstructed with every generation.

Warner’s last novel, The Flint Anchor, is one of her best reads, but it has received minimal attention apart from the reviews that greeted its publication in 1954. In the warmest of these reviews, Anthony West describes The Flint Anchor as an “almost imperceptibly” historical novel about the “decline and fall of a domestic tyrant in an east coast fishing-port” in the first half of the nineteenth century.43 The tyrant, John Barnard, destroys his family through prudery and self-deception, and especially through his besotted passion for his shallow, manipulative daughter Mary. As Paul Pickrel points out in another 1954 review, much of the charm of The Flint Anchor lies in the minor characters, especially Barnard’s alcoholic wife, whose secret tippling goes unnoticed by her husband for twenty years.44 Both West and Pickrel note a discrepancy between the matter and the method of the novel; but whereas Pickrel objects that Warner’s “wit and irony do not exhaust the possibilities of a character like John Barnard,” whose emotional illiteracy could have been treated with more sympathy, West praises Warner’s skill in beguiling the reader with the “small change of anecdote” while tackling the moral paradox “that much more suffering and pain come from blind good will than from wickedness, and that sin is not the murky and malignant business fashionable writers about evil have recently done their best to make it but a matter of a failure in understanding.”

These reviewers also differ with regard to the treatment of history in the novel, with West approving of the absence of period detail but Pickrel missing “the deep-toned striking of the clock.” More recently David Malcolm, in the only full-length critical essay on The Flint Anchor published to date, claims that Warner deliberately deviates from the conventions of the historical novel by focusing on “virtually a-historical psychological states.”45 Although amply supported by textual evidence, this argument neglects the subtlety of Warner’s handling of the historical novel, in which she eschews the “arthritis of antiquarianism” while also avoiding the absurdities of modern-dress renditions of the past.46

If Warner’s novels have suffered from critical neglect, her poems would have been completely forgotten if not for Harriet Harman’s efforts to retrieve these scattered works. Harman’s edition of Warner’s Collected Poems, published in 1982, has now been superseded by the New Collected Poems of 2008, Harman’s fuller but still incomplete edition. The year before her death in 1978, Warner, delighted by Carcanet’s interest in republishing her poetry, wrote to Michael Schmidt, “I propose to be a posthumous poet!”47 During her lifetime, Warner had given up publishing her poetry in book form after the prickly reception of Whether a Dove or Seagull (1934), jointly written with Ackland, probably to protect her lover’s fragile amour propre. For this reason, most criticism of Warner’s poetry has appeared after the author’s death in the form of book reviews of Harmon’s various editions.

Donald Davie, for example, marvels at the “astonishing harvest” (233) of uncollected or unpublished poems that emerged in the 1982 Collected Poems. In two brief essays in Under Briggflatts,48 Davie considers the rationale and the effects of Warner’s preference for traditional verse forms, raising the question: “When is a style which is out of fashion also out of date?” (58). In Opus 7, a 1,400-line narrative poem written in pentameter couplets, Davie notes that Warner situates her dipsomaniac heroine in what is “firmly a post-1919 village” (60). Love Green has a Woolworth’s as well as the wireless, and its economy relies on the developing tourist trade (Swaab, “Authenticity,” 376). Echoing the poem’s alcoholic motif, Davie objects to “the impression of new wine in an old bottle” produced by the disjunction between matter and manner (60). The old prosodic bottle hails from Crabbe, who also uses pastoral conventions to challenge the idealization of the countryside, but Davie suggests that some poetic forms can “outlive their usefulness—either when the social-cultural context changes around them, or else when the masters of the genre have exhausted it simply by realizing every one of its potencies” (60). Despite his reservations about Opus 7, however, Davie agrees with Claire Harman’s observation that there is “an air of learned mischief … which is far from Hardyesque” in Warner’s verse, and which aligns her with such poets as Robert Bridges, Robert Graves, and John Crowe Ransom (Davie 231).

Peter Swaab, in a perceptive review of the New Collected Poems, concurs with Davie and Jacobs that Opus 7 represents “a sceptical meditation” on the pastoral tradition, as well as a “grungy twist [on] British poetry’s paeans to drink” (“Authenticity,” 376). Swaab also notes that the title Opus 7 harks back to Warner’s erstwhile vocation as a composer (371). Although she missed her chance to study with Schoenberg, due to the outbreak of the First World War, she collaborated in her youth with her married lover Percy Buck in editing the ten-volume Tudor Church Music, which also provided a decorous excuse for assignations in cathedral towns. Swaab’s attentive readings of Warner’s poems bring out “her intensely musical perception of the quantities of words and the connections between linguistic and musical measure.” He also shows how her subtle deviations of rhyme and rhythm produce a “vinegary” note of discord in her poetry, to borrow one of Warner’s adjectives of praise (Vinegar is also the name of Lolly Willowes’s feline familiar) (375).

In another review of the New Collected Poems, John Wilkinson points out that the critical recovery of women poets who are contemporary with high modernism “has had the unanticipated effect of bringing back into currency a range of stylistically un-modern poetry.”49 Such poems should not be dismissed as retrograde because they can “act as a reminder that poetic change does not imply supersession” (459). Like Warner’s witches, who embody an archaic wisdom living on within the present, Warner’s use of premodern verse forms shows that the present, in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s words, is “irreducibly not-one.”50 In style and subject matter, Warner’s writing brings out residual potentialities within the present that challenge the equation of modernity with progress and enlightenment. Besides, modernist innovations in literary form are all too often yoked to a conservative political agenda, and even to fascist yearnings for a bygone purity of race and soil.

Like many critics of Warner’s poems, Wilkinson finds their quality uneven; indeed “impossibly erratic.”

Repeatedly her lyrics offer terrific first and second stanzas, high-wire sentences zig-zagging through formal metrics and rhyme, until a third stanza starts a collapse into embarrassingly arch diction, the whole rounded off with a final stanza so incompetent that it suggests a need to vandalize what could not stay true to a first necessity. (458)

More embarrassing still, Warner sometimes allows her political passions to overpower her aesthetic judgment, as in the jingoistic poem “Red Front!51 If more of her poems had been published in book form during her lifetime, they would have found a wider audience, and intelligent reviews might have curbed some of these self-defeating tendencies. Even so, Warner is an agile, prolific, and often virtuoso poet whose verse has only begun to receive the serious consideration it deserves.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it must be said that Warner’s short stories have also suffered from critical neglect. Her last book, Kingdoms of Elfin (1977), described by Terry Castle as “exceedingly grown-up fairy stories about the political, sexual and aesthetic lives of a group of articulate elves,” has received more attention than Warner’s other collections of short stories.52 Warner’s fairies have no souls; although fond of dancing and parties, they are also cool, rational, and detached; their underground kingdoms are really queendoms, ruled exclusively by women. “Bother the human heart, I’m tired of the human heart. I want to write something entirely different,” Warner declared (STW 312).

In fact she had already begun to move away from the human heart in The Cat’s Cradle-Book (1940), which purports to be a collection of old stories told by cats to their kittens. Like Warner’s elves, her cats are “cool … dispassionate … objective,” their stories as flinty and impersonal as folktales.53 Indeed, according to Warner’s narrator, most of our folktales are told by nursing cats to their suckling kittens: “The milk flows, and the narrative flows with it” (24). This underground matrilineal tradition transcends both cultural differences and individual artistry, but stems from peasant or plebeian origins. Thus the best storyteller known to the narrator is a cat of “lower social standing,” the “down-at-heels” Irish tabby Mrs. O’Toady (10).

Taking up this clue, Mary Jacobs’s characteristically brilliant essay “The Politics of Disclosure and the Fable” interprets The Cat’s Cradle-Book in terms of Warner’s Marxist and lesbian allegiances.54 Along with other leftist intellectuals of the 1930s and 1940s, Warner was caught up in debates about proletarian literature and the perilous distinction between literature and propaganda. The fable, with its roots in peasant culture and its multilayered meanings, held out the possibility of raising political awareness without sacrificing art to spin. “The relation between cat and human culture,” Jacobs comments, “can be read as that between a vital folk culture, the model valued by the English Marxists, and an attenuated bourgeoisie … characterised as ‘heated and sentimental’ in contrast to the ‘catholic, explicit, unvarying’ qualities of Cat” (Jacobs, “Politics,” 29; Cat’s Cradle-Book, 28).

These political fables pose a sharp contrast to the stories that Warner was publishing at this time in the New Yorker, her “gentleman friend,” which provided a large part of her income. It was thanks to this gentleman friend that Warner came to be known in the United States as “a miniaturist of upper-class English life,” a far cry from “Comrade Townsend-Warner” of the CPGB or the lesbian icon of the 1990s (Jacobs, “Politics,” 19–24). Indeed her New Yorker persona irritated some reviewers: Mary Ellmann, for instance, finds that “each story cries out, in its well-bred accent, ‘Surprise! Surprise!’” Ellmann also complains that “the clipped witticisms, like hedgerows, exclude concern”—a mischievous echo of Warner’s trademark catachretic similes.55

The New Yorker stories included some comic autobiographical sketches that were later collected in the posthumous Scenes of Childhood,56 although Warner feared these works might prove “too English for the English” (STW 248). Kristianne Kalata, in a pioneering study of these stories, argues that they represent an “experimental serialized autobiography that, in exploring and mimicking the fragmentation of time and space in memory and narrative, engages with the modernist literary tradition.”57 Evidently Kalata, like many other critics, finds it necessary to justify Warner’s work by way of its affinities to modernism, instead of challenging this outworn category. It is as if Warner can be worth reading only if her experiments resemble those of Gertrude Stein. To be fair, however, Kalata spotlights some intriguing connections between Warner and Stein, especially with regard to their mutual attention to “the world of things” (Warner, Scenes, 43). Of the twenty-eight vignettes collected in Scenes of Childhood, most are “constructed round an object”—ranging from a chair to buttons, a fire alarm, cheese, eggs, and a soldier’s cap (Kalata, 319). This technique, as Kalata points out, is reminiscent of Stein’s self-professed quest in Tender Buttons, the subtitle of which is Objects, Food, Rooms, “to constantly realize the thing anything so that I could recreate that thing.”58 Warner’s awareness of the memory embedded in familiar objects also harks back to Proust, whose critical writings she translated in By Way of Sainte-Beuve.59 “An old teapot, used daily,” Warner writes, “can tell me more of my past than anything I recorded of it” (Letters, 140). Given that this interest in things persists throughout her work, particularly in short stories such as “The Museum of Cheats,” Warner’s writing seems to cry out for a dose of “thing theory.”60

In contrast to the jaunty Scenes of Childhood, Warner felt her diaries were “too sad” to be published.61 Yet in the last years of her life she carefully prepared what Melanie Micir calls an “intimate archive” of her troubled love affair with Ackland, putting their correspondence in chronological order and filling in the gaps with moving passages of memoir.62 About a third of this 400,000-word archive was published under the editorship of Susannah Pinney as I’ll Stand by You, a title more appropriate to country western song than to this quintessentially English love affair.63 Sylvia Townsend Warner may have been a communist and a lesbian, but she never ceased to be an English “lady,” nor did she shed the trappings of her upper-middle-class upbringing. Given that Ackland hailed from even higher up the social ladder, it seems anachronistic to describe these English eccentrics as “sexual dissidents.”

Nonetheless this is the term that Melanie Micir adopts in her intriguing study of Warner’s late life-writing, which includes her biography of T. H. White, published to acclaim in 1967.64 As Micir shows, both Warner and Ackland spent their final years consumed by end-of-life preparations, remaking wills, appointing literary executors, and putting their correspondence in order; activities that Micir understands as modes of autobiography (122). Although these “intimate archives” remained unpublished during Warner’s lifetime to spare the feelings of the living, the documents were carefully prepared for future readers. In this sense, Warner was living in at least “two tenses,” in both the recollected past and the imagined future.65

Similarly, Warner’s biography of the closeted T.H. White put her in the uncomfortable position of reconstructing the past for a world with “better manners” of the future. In the present, she was well aware that readers were likely to revile White for his homosexuality, sadism, and pedophilia, as well as to revile his biographer for exposing these secrets. As she wrote to William Maxwell, “I shall be in the infuriating quandary of knowing essential elements of the story which it will be impossible to state.”66 Inhibited from quoting the high-spirited Augustan couplets in which White indulged his flagellator fantasies, Warner remarked to David Garnett: “Oh dear, one writes hoping for a sensible public; and gets on the one hand sympathetic sobbers and on the other hand superior persons with nostrums in their bonnets” (Micir 125).

A public that would tolerate White’s sexuality, however, has still to come—if such a public is actually desirable. While the target of the nostrums changes, superior persons have always found scapegoats for their righteous indignation. Today’s moral hysteria about intergenerational sex would have condemned White, as it would have condemned Wilde, to the kind of opprobrium that was unleashed on Michael Jackson. On the other hand, a risky assumption in Micir’s essay, as in much criticism of this persuasion, is that “sexual dissidence” is necessarily heroic, a valiant protest against punitive heterosexist norms. Given the age difference between White and “Zed,” the juvenile object of his sexual desire, a danger lies in condoning sexual exploitation in the name of sexual diversity.

It is impossible in this brief survey to do justice to all the most accomplished work on Warner. Inevitably I have left out many strong contributions to the field, especially those addressed to Lolly Willowes and Summer Will Show.67 It is to be hoped that the ongoing expansion of modern fiction studies beyond “the sacred modernist trinity, Lawrence-Joyce-Woolf” (Lecercle 293) will kindle new interest in Warner’s writing. The term “modernism” has long since outlived its usefulness, having condemned many talents to obscurity. It is high time to reconsider Sylvia Townsend Warner with fresh eyes.

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Warner, Sylvia Townsend. The Cat’s Cradle-Book. New York: Viking Press, 1940.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. The Museum of Cheats. New York: Viking Press, 1947.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. The Corner That Held Them. 1948. London: Virago Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Selected Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner. London: Virago Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. The Flint Anchor. 1954. London: Virago Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. T.H. White: A Biography. 1967. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Scenes of Childhood. New York: Viking Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend, and William Maxwell. Letters. London: Chatto & Windus, 1982.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. “Edmund Fellowes as Editor.” Musical Times 93, no. 1308 (February 1982): 59–60.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner. Edited by Claire Harman. London: Chatto & Windus, 1994.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend, and David Garnett. Sylvia & David: The Townsend Warner/Garnett Letters. Edited by Richard Garnett. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend, and Valentine Ackland. I’ll Stand By You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland. Edited by Susan Pinney. London: Pimlico Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend, and William Maxwell. The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978. Edited by Michael Steinman. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. New Collected Poems. Edited by Claire Harman. Manchester: Fyfield Books, 2008.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Cousin and Friend: Sylvia Townsend Warner Letters to Rachel, 1950-1952. Edited by Rachel Monckton-How and Moira Rutherford. Durham: White & Co., 2011.Find this resource:

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. With the Hunted: Selected Writings. Edited by Peter Tolhurst. Norwich, UK: Black Dog Books, 2012.Find this resource:

West, Anthony. “The World We Live In and the World of Dreams.” New Yorker, October 9, 1954, 160–64.Find this resource:

Wilkinson, John. Review of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s New Collected Poems. Modernism/Modernity 16, no. 2 (2009): 457–59.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1) See Michael Schmidt and Val Werner, “Sylvia Townsend Warner in Conversation,” PN Review 23 8(3) (January–February 1982): 30–62. Henceforth cited as PNR.

(2) David Carroll Simon, “History Unforeseen: On Sylvia Townsend Warner,” The Nation (25 January 2010) http://www.thenation.com/article/history-unforeseen-sylvia-townsend-warner#axzz2dlhiwaNP

(3) “Short storyist” is Elizabeth Bowen’s coinage; see Bowen, “The Short Story in England”, in Britain Today 109 (May 1945): 11–16; rpt. in Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen: A Study of the Short Fiction (New York: Twayne 1991), 128–143.

(4) Eleanor Perényi, “The Good Witch of the West,” New York Review of Books 32 (July 18, 1985): 27–30. Quoted in David Malcolm, “The Flint Anchor and the Conventions of Historical Fiction,” in Critical Essays on Sylvia Townsend Warner, English Novelist, 1893–1978, edited by Gill Davies, David Malcolm, and John Simons, 145–162 (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006). This volume is cited henceforth as CE.

(5) Claire Harman, Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 1989).

(6) Wendy Mulford, This Narrow Place: Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland: Life, Letters and Politics, 1930–1951 (London: Pandora, 1988).

(7) Vike Plock and Alex Murray, eds., Revisiting Sylvia Townsend Warner, Special Issue of Literature Compass 11: 12 (2014).

(8) The first Virago editions of the novels were Lolly Willowes (1993), Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1978), The True Heart (1978), Summer Will Show (1987), After the Death of Don Juan (1989), The Corner That Held Them (1988), and The Flint Anchor (1997). Other Virago editions include Susanna Pinney and William Maxwell, eds., Selected Stories (1990), and Claire Harman, ed., The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995).

(9) Gay Wachman, Lesbian Empire: Radical Crosswriting in the Twenties (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001); Jane Garrity, Step-Daughters of England: British Women Modernists and the National Imaginary (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2003), 140–187; Robin Hackett, Sapphic Primitivism: Productions of Race, Class, and Sexuality in Key Works of Modern Fiction (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 84–120.

(10) Harold Bloom, British Women Fiction Writers, 1900–1960 (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997), 177–178.

(11) Claire Harman, ed., The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (London: Chatto & Windus, 1994).

(12) William Maxwell, ed., Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982); Richard Garnett, ed., Sylvia & David: The Townsend Warner/Garnett Letters (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994); Susanna Pinney, ed., I’ll Stand By You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland (London: Pimlico, 1998); Michael Steinman, ed., The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell, 1939–1978 (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001); Rachel Monckton-How and Moira Rutherford, eds., Cousin and Friend: Sylvia Townsend Warner: Letters to Rachel, 1950–1952 (Durham, N.C.: White, 2011).

(13) Sylvia Townsend Warner, New Collected Poems, edited by Claire Harman (Manchester, U.K.: Fyfield Books, 2008). Henceforth cited as NCP.

(14) Marcel Proust, By Way of Sainte-Beuve (Contre Sainte-Beuve), translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958). This translation was published in the United States as Marcel Proust, On Art and Literature, 1896–1919 (New York: Meridian, 1958).

(15) Sylvia Townsend Warner, With the Hunted: Selected Writings, edited by Peter Tolhurst (Norfolk, U.K.: Black Dog Books, 2012).

(16) See Jan Montefiore, “Listening to Minna: Realism, Feminism and the Politics of Reading,” Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory 14(3) (November 1991): 197–216. Reprinted in Suzanne Raitt, ed., Volcanoes and Pearl-Divers: Essays in Lesbian Feminist Studies (London: OnlyWomen Press, 1994), 123–146, and in Montefiore, Arguments of Heart and Mind: Selected Essays, 1978–2000 (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2002), 124–142. Arguments also includes “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Biographer’s ‘Moral Sense’” (pp. 143–164), which discusses Warner’s biography of T. H. White, and “Mirror-Writing: A Dialogue,” an imaginative meditation on Warner’s love poem “Drawing You, Heavy with Sleep” (New Collected Poems, p. 247); the essay is abridged in Montefiore’s Feminism and Poetry (London: Pandora, 2004), 156–163. See also Montefiore, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s: The Dangerous Flood of History (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), for discussions of Warner’s poetry (esp. pp. 113–119), After the Death of Don Juan (esp. pp. 157–163), and Summer Will Show (esp. pp. 167–178); and Montefiore’s essays “Enter If You Will: Echoes from a Haunted House,” JSTWS (2002): 11–18; “Something Understood: Formality and the Language of the Heart in the Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner,” JSTWS (2009): 1–18; and “Englands Ancient and Modern: Sylvia Townsend Warner, T. H. White and the Fictions of Medieval Englishness,” in Kristin Bluemel, ed., Intermodernism: Literary Culture in Mid-Twentieth Century Britain (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 38–55, discussed below.

(17) Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mr. Fortune (New York: New York Review Books, 2011).

(18) Jane Marcus, “A Wilderness of One’s Own: Feminist Fantasy Novels of the Twenties: Rebecca West and Sylvia Townsend Warner,” in Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Susan Merrill Squier, pp. 134–160 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984). Marcus has written several other pieces on Warner, including “Alibis and Legends: The Ethics of Elsewhereness, Gender, and Estrangement,” in Women’s Writing in Exile, edited by Mary Lynn Broe and Angela Ingram, pp. 269–294 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), where Marcus discusses Warner’s 1977 short story “A Widow’s Quilt” as well as The Cat’s Cradle-Book (1940) and Kingdoms of Elfin (1977); “Bluebeard’s Daughters: Pretexts for Pre-texts” (also on The Cat’s Cradle-Book), in Feminist Critical Negotiations, edited by Alice Parker and Elizabeth A. Meese, pp. 19–32 (Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1992); and “Sylvia Townsend Warner,” in The Gender of Modernism: A Critical Anthology, edited by Bonnie Kime Scott, pp. 531–538 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

(19) Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes; or, The Loving Huntsman (1926; London: Virago, 1993), 238–239. Henceforth cited as LW.

(20) Mary Jacobs, “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Politics of the English Pastoral, 1925–1934,” CE, 61–82.

(21) William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (1935; London: Hogarth, 1986), 11; quoted by Jacobs, CE, 65.

(22) Valentine Ackland, Country Conditions (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1936).

(23) Sylvia Townsend Warner, “The Way by Which I Have Come” (1939), in With the Hunted, 16.

(24) CE, 67; See also Mary Jacobs, “Trees and Dreams: Sylvia Townsend Warner, the Pastoral, and Fantastic Ruralism,” JSTWS (2011): 1–16.

(25) Claire Buck reads “Opus 7” as a Firs World War poem in “Reframing Women’s War Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century British and Irish Women’s Poetry, edited by Jane Dowson, pp. 24–41 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

(26) Lesbian Empire, p. 1. A similar line of argument may be found in Julia Abraham, Are Girls Necessary? Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories (London: Routledge, 1996).

(27) Sylvia Townsend Warner, Letters, edited by William Maxwell (London: Chatto & Windus, 1982), 9.

(28) Gay Wachman, “The True Story of England’s Greatness: Degeneracy, Primitivism, Eugenics,” JSTWS (2000): 34–42.

(29) See Warner, letter to William Maxwell (1962): “I have never read any provincial reviews before. I am pleased to see that they lay stress on my moral tone. I sometimes think that I am alone in recognizing what a moral writer I am. I don’t myself, while I am writing; but when I read myself afterward I see my moral purpose shining out like a bad fish in a dark larder” (Letters, 203; quoted by Wachman, Lesbian Empire, p.196n2).

(30) Gillian Beer, “The Centrifugal Kick” (1999), JSTWS (2004): 18–31.

(31) Jean-Jacques Lecercle, “De Jane Austen au Manifeste Communiste: Sylvia Townsend Warner et la révolution de 1848,” Études Anglaises 59(3) (September 7, 2006): 292–303. My account of this relatively short article amounts to an abridged translation, so I have dispensed with further page references in the text.

(32) Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), 227.

(33) Terry Castle, “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Counterplot of Lesbian Fiction (1990), in The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture, Gender and Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 66–91.

(34) See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

(35) See Gayle Rubin’s classic essay, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, edited by Rayna R. Reiter, pp. 157–210 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975).

(36) For critical discussions of After the Death of Don Juan, see Wendy Mulford in This Narrow Place (1988), 123–134; Barbara Brothers, “Writing against the Grain: Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Spanish Civil War,” in Women’s Writing in Exile, edited by Mary Lynn Broe and Angela J. C. Ingram, pp. 349–368; Bruce McKenna, “The British Communist Novel of the 1930s and 1940s: A ‘Party of Equals’ (and Does That Matter?)” Review of English Studies 47(187) (August 1996): 369–385; Jan Montefiore, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s, 157–163; by Chris Hopkins in “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Marxist Historical Novel,” Literature and History 4(1) (1995): 50–63, and “Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Historical Novel, 1936–1948,” CE, 117–143; by Maroula Jouanna in “Sylvia Townsend Warner in the 1930s,” in A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party in Britain, edited by Andy Croft, pp. 89–105 (London: Pluto Press, 1998); by Gillian Beer in “The Centrifugal Kick”; and by Maud Ellmann in “The Art of Bi-location: Sylvia Townsend Warner,” in The History of British Women’s Writing, 1920–1945, edited by Maroula Jouannou, pp. 78–93 (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

(38) See “Journey to Barcelona,” NCP, 258.

(39) Robert L. Caserio, The Novel in England, 1900–1950: History and Theory (New York: Twayne, 1999).

(40) Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, translated by John and Necke Mander (London: Merlin, 1963), 34.

(42) Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Corner That Held Them (London: Virago, 2000), iii.

(43) Anthony West, “The World We Live In and the World of Dreams,” New Yorker (October 9, 1954), 175.

(44) Paul Pickrel, “Review of The Flint Anchor,” Yale Review 43(1) (Autumn 1954): vi–xxvi.

(45) David Malcolm, “The Flint Anchor and the Conventions of Historical Fiction,” CE, 145–162.

(46) Sylvia Townsend Warner, “Edmund Fellowes as Editor,” Musical Times 93(1308) (February 1952): 59–60.

(47) Quoted in Peter Swaab, “Authenticity, Not Originality,” Essays in Criticism 59(4) (October 2009): 370–381.

(48) Donald Davie, “Sylvia Townsend Warner” and “Sylvia Townsend Warner Posthumous,” in Under Briggflatts: A History of Poetry in Great Britain, 1960–1988, by Donald Davie, pp. 58–60, 229–233 (Manchester, U.K.: Carcanet, 1989).

(49) John Wilkinson, “Review of Sylvia Townsend Warner,” New Collected Poems, Modernism/Modernity 16(2) (2009): 457–459.

(50) Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), 249.

(51) Sylvia Townsend Warner, “Red Front!” Left Review 1(7) (April 1935): 255–257; omitted by Claire Harman from NCP. See Montefiore, Men and Women Writers, 234n12.

(52) Terry Castle, “The Will to Whimsy,” TLS (June 3, 1994): 8–9: 8. See also Alison Lurie, “Sylvia Townsend Warner,” in The Oxford Companion to Fairy-Tales, edited by Jack Zipes, p. 545 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(53) Warner, The Cat’s Cradle-Book (New York: Viking, 1940), 28.

(54) Mary Jacobs, “The Politics of Disclosure and the Fable, “JSTWS (2006): 17–35.

(55) Mary Ellmann, “Tidying Up the Emotions,” The Nation (April 11, 1966), 431–432.

(56) Sylvia Townsend Warner, Scenes of Childhood (New York: Viking, 1982).

(57) Kristianne Kalata, “‘There Was a World of Things … and a World of Words’: Narration of Self through Object in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Scenes of Childhood,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 24(2) (October 1, 2005): 319–339.

(58) Gertrude Stein, “Poetry and Grammar,” in Writings, 1932–1946 (New York: Library of America, 1998), 31; quoted in Kalata, p. 322.

(59) Published in the United States as Marcel Proust, On Art and Literature, 1896–1919, translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner (New York: Meridian, 1958).

(60) Sylvia Townsend Warner, “The Museum of Cheats,” in The Museum of Cheats (New York: Viking, 1947), 103–140. See also Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28(1) (October 1, 2001): 1–22.

(61) Claire Harman, “Introduction,” in The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, edited by Claire Harman, p. xi (London: Virago, 1995).

(62) Melanie Micir, “‘Living in Two Tenses’: The Intimate Archives of Sylvia Townsend Warner,” Journal of Modern Literature 36(1) (2012): 119–131.

(63) Susanna Pinney, ed., I’ll Stand by You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland with Narrative by Sylvia Townsend Warner (London: Pimlico, 1998).

(64) Sylvia Townsend Warner, T. H. White: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

(65) Steinman, Element, 165, quoted in Micir, 123.

(66) Steinman, Element, 141; quoted in Micir, 124.

(67) For Lolly Willowes, see, inter alia (in addition to previously cited articles), Barbara Brothers, “Flying the Nets at Forty: Lolly Willowes as Female Bildungsroman,” in Old Maids to Radical Spinsters: Unmarried Women in the Twentieth-Century Novel, edited by Laura Doan, pp. 195–212 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991); John Lucas, “From Realism to Radicalism: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Patrick Hamilton and Henry Green in the 1920s,” in Outside Modernism: In Pursuit of the English Novel, 1900–30, edited by Lynne Hapgood and Nancy L. Paxton, pp. 203–223 (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000); Bruce Knoll, “An Existence Doled Out: Passive Resistance as a Dead End in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes,” Twentieth Century Literature 39(3) (1993): 344–363; Rosemary Sykes, “The Willowes Pattern,” JSTWS (2001): 1–17.

For Summer Will Show, see, inter alia, Robert L. Caserio, “Celibate Sisters in Revolution: Towards Reading Sylvia Townsend Warner,” in Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism, edited by Joseph Allen Boone and Michael Cadden, pp. 254–274 (New York: Routledge, 1990); Sandy Petrey, “Ideology, Écriture, 1848: Sylvia Townsend Warner Unwrites Flaubert,” RSSI: Recherches Semiotiques: Semiotic Inquiry 11 (1991): 158–180; Thomas Foster, “‘Dream Made Flesh’: Narratives of Revolution in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show,” Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 532–558; Heather K. Love, “Impossible Objects: Waiting for the Revolution in Summer Will Show,” in Sapphic Modernities: Sexuality, Women and National Culture, edited by Laura Doan and Jane Garrity, pp. 133–148 (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).