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Lolly Willowes

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  4,167 ratings  ·  622 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 chi…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 st…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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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
Dec 14, 2012 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
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
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 19, 2015 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
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
Jun 11, 2015 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.
Jan 28, 2010 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
Oct 08, 2008 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
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
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 !
Nov 12, 2015 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 ...more
May 14, 2015 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
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: lethe
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
Feb 25, 2013 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.
Jul 11, 2013 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
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
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
J.M. Hushour
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another sublime achievement by Warner who seems like a sadly under-sung, under-read genius, a real polymath of the human soul (for those that have them)!
Laura Willowes never gets married, gets shuttled off to her brother's stuffy, middle-class London home when her father dies, ending her country idyll, and basically lives as an aging spinster while everyone tries to marry her off. Not content with her life being led and virtually lived by others, she takes off for the sleepy village of Great Mop
Apr 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1926, this was the debut novel for Sylvia Townsend Warner, and is the first book I have read by her.

Our main character is Laura Willowes, the much beloved daughter of Everard Willowes, a wealthy brewer. Laura has two brothers, Henry and James, and an idyllic childhood. Although she is still very young, at twenty eight, when her father dies, in her family’s eyes, she is a spinster and needs to come under the wing of one of her brothers. Thus is is that ‘Aunt Lolly,’ leaves the
Jun 06, 2011 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
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Beth Bonini
That was one of the advantages of dealing with witches; 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 own thoughts to yours, lovely to live at your own sweet will, lovely to sleep out all night!

As an unmarried woman, a ‘spinster’, Laura ‘Aunt Lolly’ Willowes has been considered something of a family burden for 20 years - a ‘duty’ to
Nov 13, 2009 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
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I want to tattoo every sentence in my brain
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I was so looking forward to this. I have read her Summer Will Show. I remember liking that, but I note in my review Because I did not like the direction taken toward the end, I'm having a hard time rating this. Funny, I don't remember the ending of that one at all. (Working hard at remembering, some of it seeps through, however.)

The premise of Lolly Willowes is that a spinster in Victorian/Edwardian times has no job. Such a woman is very nearly without purpose. In this case, she can be her fathe
Dec 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Laura Willowes was a much loved daughter, she grew up happily in the country, and she became the kind of countrywoman whose life moved with the rhythms of nature in the way that lives had for generations. But when her beloved father died she became a ‘spare woman’ and her life was taken over by her brothers and their wives.

Such was the way of the world in the 1920s, when Sylvia Townsend Warner told her story.

“Caroline spoke affectionately, but her thoughts were elsewhere. They had already journe
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.

This is a radical feminist English magical realist novel, and pre-story to Silent Spring, written in brilliant sardonic understatement. i can’t believe it isn’t more well known. I’ve thought a lot about this and don’t think i can do much but quote bits without giving too much of the (absolu
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Laura (Lolly) Willowes rejects men and societal conventions in order to move to the country and become a witch. This narrative feels central to my understanding of myself, and Townsend Warner writes it in vivid, frank prose. Laura is an irrepressible character, who gives herself to Satan and happily tells him off when his actions displease her. Though she's an inspiration to me, she's also completely believable: she's shy, moody, and afraid of small talk. I think of her as my guardian witch, wit ...more
Mar 17, 2016 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
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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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