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Lolly Willowes

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,613 Ratings  ·  243 Reviews
In Lolly Willowes, an ageing spinster rebels against her role as the universal aunt, at everybody's beck and call. How she escapes all that "—to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by others", is the theme of this story.
Paperback, 222 pages
Published 1999 by New York Review Books Classics (first published 1926)
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Pamela It's totally clean and non-violent but as Jess says, the writing is sophisticated and much of it a youngster might miss. I don't really see what a…moreIt's totally clean and non-violent but as Jess says, the writing is sophisticated and much of it a youngster might miss. I don't really see what a child would want to read it. (less)
Susan Zinner Hi Pamela. I just finished this book and loved, loved, loved it. That said, I am not sure a younger person would appreciate it as its main theme is…moreHi Pamela. I just finished this book and loved, loved, loved it. That said, I am not sure a younger person would appreciate it as its main theme is struggling to throw off societally-imposed gender roles. You can take a look at my review if you like. I really found it to be a feminist masterpiece, but the writing may be a bit too much for a younger child.(less)
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New York Review Books - Classics
16th out of 423 books — 523 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 1920's
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Dec 31, 2012 Kris rated it it was amazing

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
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
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 ...more
“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
Jul 21, 2015 Tony rated it liked it
This made David Mitchell's All-Time Top-Ten List, sorta:

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
Feb 08, 2010 Terence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Terence by: Nation book review of Summer Will Show
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
Nov 24, 2008 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in a wonderful "lost classic" and women's independence
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 ...more
Mar 03, 2014 Abby rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
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
May 14, 2015 GoldGato rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 23, 2012 Rosana rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb, 2012
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 ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Kay rated it it was amazing
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 sensati
Nov 13, 2009 Christy rated it really liked it
A brittle, earthy and magical tale about a woman who, as a spinster, is passed as a dependent from family member to family member. She, as the maiden aunt, is endlessly useful. Finally, Laura (or Lolly Willowes), being increasingly drawn to solitude, her talent for herbs, and the rhythms of nature, leaves her family for a small village. It is there that she sells her soul to Satan, the charming, mischievous shepherd of damned souls. The premise sounds dark, but the language is limber and careful ...more
Christy B
That’s why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business, to satisfy our passion for adventure. It’s not malice, or wickedness - well, perhaps it is wickedness, for most women love that - but certainly not malice, not wanting to plague cattle and make horrid children spout up pins and - what is it? - “blight the genial bed.”


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 esca
Dec 12, 2015 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
May 07, 2015 chelsea rated it really liked it
I've been wishing for a fairy tale with a middle-aged woman as the central character for years now. I'm sick of teenagers and random dudes hogging all the fantastical hero journeys of modern literature. So many books about women over 35 seem to revolve around divorces and/or the recovery therefrom, and as someone who will be a woman over 35 someday, that's demoralizing as hell.

Finally: Lolly is rad, and on a quest that starts out prosaic and elevates by the end into giddily awesome surrealism (a
This was not what I expected at all. I thought it would a bit of a twee Barbara Pym type book about spinsterhood with a bit of whimsy thrown in with some witchcraft. I should have known really when I noticed on the book's blurb it says Woolf's 'A Room of One's Own' carries on this book's subject matter. I probably wouldn't go that far, but it does detail how maiden Aunts can slowly be made into slaves by their families under the guise of being 'useful' to society. This is the story of Aunt Lolly ...more
Cynthia Dunn
"...they do not mind if you are a little odd in your ways, frown if you are late for meals, fret if you are out all night, pry and commiserate when at length you return. Lovely to be with people who prefer their thoughts to yours, lovely to live at your own sweet will, lovely to sleep out at night!"

I found it hard to believe that this book had been written in 1926, it seemed so modern. Hurrah for women's rights! Oh, and I also want to move to a tiny cottage in the woods in England.
Dec 17, 2015 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show was one of my favourite books of 2015, so I searched the library catalogue for her other work and found ‘Lolly Willowes’. Although it didn’t grab me quite as powerfully as Summer Will Show, I found it a beautifully written, charming, and subversive tale. The titular Lolly is a spinster, living with her pleasant but frustrating family. At the age of 47, she tires of this limited life and decides to move to the countryside and become a witch. Townsend Warn ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Jana rated it it was amazing
I want to tattoo every sentence in my brain
Mar 31, 2016 Trisha rated it really liked it
This fascinating novel is a good example of magical realism even though it was published in 1926 in England decades before Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende made the genre so popular. Magical realism makes the world of fantasy – in this case the occult –a perfectly natural and believable part of the real world. It’s what Townsend Warner has done with this novel about a single woman, who like many English women in the 20’s is doomed to live under the protection ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Jae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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"

The story of a woman who declines to conform to the expectations of her gender and class, knowing that custom, public opinion, the law, the church and the state all conspire to keep her in bondage to a dull and dependent life. She instead chooses a very different and ind
Mar 09, 2013 Denise rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, kindle-owned
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.
Sep 04, 2011 Lori rated it really liked it
What an enchanting little book! It beckoned me back after I almost gave up on it - first appearances are VERY deceiving. I feel absolutely and thrillingly bewitched. The only reason I'm not giving it 5 stars now is because that would seem too hasty, and out of joint with Lolly Laura. And the prose sparkles too.

Now I'm left in thoughtful ponder.
Jun 28, 2015 Arthur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Se eu já estava indicando esse livro quando estava na metade, imagina agora? Claramente um livro para se ter em mente durante a leitura de "Um teto todo seu". Dona Sylvia claramente tinha um teto todo seu e buscou fazer história com o que escrevia. Que livro. Que livro!
Jan 19, 2016 Catherine rated it it was ok
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.
Laurie Notaro
Mar 12, 2016 Laurie Notaro rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book so badly, but it just didn't happen. I have an original 1926 copy with the original DJ, and I held off on reading it for years because I wanted to wait until a special time. I love mid-war British lit, but I literally kept falling asleep after reading six or so pages. It was not engaging to me. It moved so slowly, sometimes, most of the times, not moving at all, and I had a very hard time with the motivation of the plot. Everything plods along for 200 pages, and then, ...more
Sep 20, 2012 Rafaela rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2012
I didn't like it. It's slow, naive, and it thinks I'm both, too.

I mean. Laura moves to Great Mop during part two, though she only becomes a witch in the beginning of part three, and then she doesn't do anything special with her magic. Her nephew is attacked by wasps and his food is constantly ruined, and then eventually, the devil drives him away to get married. That's it.

There's no foreshadowing.

There's no serious hint that this woman is going to make a deal with the devil and become a witch, o
R. Shurmer
Jul 11, 2009 R. Shurmer rated it it was ok
While most people approach this novel as some sort of feminist story of liberation from an oppressive male-dominated society, I rather find that the main character, Laura Willowes, borders on the psychotic. Warner conflates Satan with some sort of savior Green Man and the witches' coven with the rural chapter of the Nature Conservancy for recluses. The socially awkward and misanthropic Laura, after somewhat nonchalantly making a pact with the Devil, inexplicably finds acceptance at the Sabbath D ...more
The Wee Hen
Jan 17, 2014 The Wee Hen rated it really liked it
This was a sweet little book and I very much liked it. I liked the slice of late Edwardian spinster life and I liked that Laura did as her heart bid her do. She was brave and strong and looked after herself. I had great sympathy with Laura.
I do think it's too bad that the lovely gentleman who granted Laura her freedom was called Satan because it's doing a bad service to witches; witchcraft and satan worship are too entirely discrete subjects. Warner did choose to include the bit about the horrib
Hilary Woolf
Feb 22, 2016 Hilary Woolf rated it liked it
Laura is a widow that 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 !
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Sylvia Townsend Warner was born at Harrow on the Hill, the only child of George Townsend Warner and his wife Eleanora (Nora) Hudleston. Her father was a house-master at Harrow School and was, for many years, associated with the prestigious Harrow History Prize which was renamed the Townsend Warner History Prize in his honor, after his death in 1916. As a child, Sylvia seemingly enjoyed an idyllic ...more
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“It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.” 1091 likes
“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 by others.” 12 likes
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