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Lolly Willowes
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Buddy Reads > Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (April/May 2019)

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Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner Sylvia Townsend Warner was published in 1926 and was the author's debut novel.

Lolly Willowes is a twenty-eight-year-old spinster when her adored father dies, leaving her dependent upon her brothers and their wives. After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. That secret - and her vocation - is witchcraft, and with her cat and a pact with the Devil, Lolly Willowes is finally free.

An instant success on its publication in 1926, LOLLY WILLOWES is Sylvia Townsend Warner's first and most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility, a theme that would later be explored by Virginia Woolf in 'A Room of One's Own'.In 2014, Robert McCrum chose it as one of the 100 Best Novels in English, for his list for The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Nigeyb, forgive me deleting your comment - you mixed up the book titles. Very easy to do when we are opening three threads and it's early in the morning :)

I have just finished this, delightfully odd, novel. Has anyone else read, or are reading, it?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I'm about a quarter of the way through and loving it so far - "delightfully odd" is a perfect description! I recently read a collection of short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner which I enjoyed, so I have been looking forward to reading this.


message 4: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 9336 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Nigeyb, forgive me deleting your comment - you mixed up the book titles. Very easy to do when we are opening three threads and it's early in the morning :)."

I did? I had just woken up. Sorry about that.


Story (storyheart) I re-read it a few months back and look forward to joining in the discussion.

Judy--were the short stories the ones about fairies?


message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Looking forward to this one...sometime soon.
Susan, reading your opening comment above just had visions of Mary Poppins and Julie Anrews springing to mind.
Probably nothing like that character whatsoever...so apologies in advance. :)


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Storyheart wrote: "I re-read it a few months back and look forward to joining in the discussion.

Judy--were the short stories the ones about fairies?"


Great that you can join in on the discussion! No, the story collection I read was Winter in the Air: And Other Stories, not about fairies. That reminds me, I will quickly add a review before it fades in my mind too much!


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "Susan wrote: "Nigeyb, forgive me deleting your comment - you mixed up the book titles. Very easy to do when we are opening three threads and it's early in the morning :)."

I did? I had just woken ..."


I understand, you did well to even think of opening the threads :)


Jill (dogbotsmum) | 615 comments I have read it, and it has made me think about whether it is to be taken literally or just Lolly's ideas.


message 10: by Tania (last edited Apr 14, 2019 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tania | 981 comments I also read it a couple of years ago. I loved it. I think it was a bit like two slightly different stories. When she moves, the novel becomes something else. I don't want to give anything away yet. I will try to reread this too.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
The main theme I felt was the restrictions of female lives at that time - especially unmarried once. However, the idea of wanting to change your life makes it universal and, I thought, still relevant.


Tania | 981 comments Yes, I agree. I don't have a clear memory of it, but I do remember this coming through from the novel, and we are far more likely nowadays to make fairly drastic changes to our lives. Something which was less likely to be done (at least voluntarily), back then.


message 13: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I am about 40% of the way through now and loving this - such beautiful and witty writing.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Good to hear, Judy. It has made me want to read more by her.


message 15: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Sounding really good so will definitely be giving it a go...very soon!


message 16: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Apr 13, 2019 07:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) I have another 25 or so pages to read. I loved this until about page 160 when I think it turned just stupid. I have read her Summer Will Show. I remember liking it, 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. But apparently I'm not fond of her endings. ;-)

EDIT: Ah, yes, I think I remember that ending somewhat now. Maybe this is just how she does things and this will be the last I see of Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
I won't dip into spoilers yet, but the ending is one which I feel will give us lots of discussion. As has been commented on already - was this all Lolly's imagination, or did it happen? If so, was it, ultimately a good, or bad, thing? Liberation or folly?


Karen | 11 comments I just started today. My copy has an introduction by Alison Lurie which also makes a connection to this and Woolf's a room of one's own.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Karen wrote: "I just started today. My copy has an introduction by Alison Lurie which also makes a connection to this and Woolf's a room of one's own."

My copy had that too, but I skipped it after the first paragraph or so because it was getting spoilerish.


message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I'm getting towards the end now - still enjoying it, but I preferred the earlier chapters where Laura was tied up with her family.

The edition I'm reading has an introduction by Anita Miller, but I'm leaving it until I finish the book - I would like to read the Alison Lurie intro too, as I love her novels.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Feminism has often been linked to witchcraft, hasn't it? I don't think that's much of a spoiler, as it appears in just about everything I have read about this novel. The idea of a single woman, living alone - throw in a cat and you are there!


message 22: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I have read that Townsend Warner loved cats, and I think you can see that from the lovely descriptions of the stray kitten in this - I liked the mention of its "tiny weight". There is a great piece about a cat in one of her short stories.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
I haven't read Alison Lurie, Judy. What would you recommend?


message 24: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Feminism has often been linked to witchcraft, hasn't it? I don't think that's much of a spoiler, as it appears in just about everything I have read about this novel. The idea of a single woman, liv..."

My edition has a witch on her broomstick on the cover!


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Mine too :)


message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I haven't read Alison Lurie, Judy. What would you recommend?"

Foreign Affairs is her most famous one, and I know I really liked it - but I remember enjoying them all, although it's a long time ago now that I read them.


message 27: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments How bad is that if this book is a serious attempt to write about feminist issues back in the last century rather than trying to a humorous book about witchcraft? - very sad if this is what has happened.
Makes you wonder about what angle the publishers were coming from when they put it into print.
What do you think the intention of the book was actually supposed to be?

Anyway, just ordered my copy and will be able to give it proper thought/analysis after seeing the evidence for myself.


message 28: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Apr 15, 2019 06:19AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Susan wrote: "Feminism has often been linked to witchcraft, hasn't it? I don't think that's much of a spoiler, as it appears in just about everything I have read about this novel. The idea of a single woman, liv..."

To me, this is a huge spoiler. If I had read this first, I would never have read the book.

EDIT: I can see that you read a lot about a book before proceeding. Many of us want to know little to nothing. The GR book description is usually enough for me. The Alison Lurie introduction said something about this being a witchcraft fantasy, and I rolled my eyes, hoping she was exaggerating. It was then that I stopped reading her intro because I'd already committed to reading this with the group. She was right and had I read that first, I would have opted to read something else.


message 29: by Susan (last edited Apr 15, 2019 12:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susan | 9817 comments Mod
This is the blurb on the cover that both me, and I think, Judy, have:

In this delightful and witty novel, Laura Willowes rebels against pressure to be the perfect "maiden aunt." Not interested in men or the rushed life of London, Laura is forced to move there from her beloved countryside after the death of her father. Finally, she strikes out for the countryside on her own, selling her soul to an affable but rather simpleminded devil. First written in the 1920s, this book is timely and entertaining. It was the first selection of the Book of the Month Club in 1926.

Lolly Willowes: or, The Loving Huntsman Lolly Willowes or, The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner

That is just the product description on Goodreads, so I guess lots of us knew the basics before we begun. I do agree that many books tend to have quite long introductions, especially to classic novels, which tend to give away every fact. However, I thought the broomstick was a bit of a giveaway :)

That said, of course, it depends how you interpret the story. Is it literal or imagined?

I will be interested to hear your thoughts on the book, Ian. I think a novel can be both feminist and amusing, but let us know whether you agree?


message 30: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Yes, that's the same edition that I have too, Susan. I haven't quite finished yet, but for me the main thing really about Sylvia Townsend Warner isn't the story anyway but the wonderful way she writes - I find she is a writer to linger over. I also agree with you that it is making serious feminist points and yet very amusing at the same time.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
Having read this, and the Nicola Upson, this month, I am beginning to feel the British countryside is somewhere to avoid :)


Elizabeth (Alaska) I'm glad you all knew about this witchcraft theme. It *is* the ending however, and is entirely spoilerish. I admit that sometimes publisher's are too unthinking as to not to put spoilers on the cover. I have seen it in other books.

Here is the default description on Goodreads.

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.

Here is the default cover:




Elizabeth (Alaska) To answer the question: Is it literal or imagined?

It's obviously a figment of Warner's imagination. There is no such thing as witches, witchcraft, the devil, etc. She took a perfectly good feminist story, based in reality, and made a mockery of a single woman's plight.


message 34: by Judy (last edited Apr 15, 2019 02:42PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I've finished the book now - I really enjoyed it overall but I didn't think the ending was quite as good as the rest. It was a bit like a separate short story, although maybe I partly think that because I've recently read short stories by Warner.

The witches on the cover of Susan's and my edition are reproduced from the first US edition in 1926. I'll see if I can find a picture to post.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Judy wrote: "I'll see if I can find a picture to post.
"


It doesn't matter, Judy. Susan posted the cover.

I truly had forgotten how twisted and unappealing her ending of Summer Will Show. I probably thought it was a one-off, but apparently it is just the way she does things.


message 36: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Just edited my previous post because the witches were on the cover of the first US edition - I don't think they were also on the first British edition. Here is a link to a nice reproduction - the cover is also on Goodreads but I think it looks better here.

https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedi...


Karen | 11 comments I just finished. I really liked this book. I look forward to discussing the imagery and language. I'm sure I missed a lot.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
I think it is one of those novels, Karen. It seems quite straightforward, but you feel, at the end, that you have missed a lot.

I came across this interesting post about the novel, but do only read it if you have finished:

https://thecalloo.com/blog/lollywillowes


message 39: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Good to hear you liked it so much, Karen - I also thought the imagery and language were wonderful. And I also have that feeling at the end of having missed a lot - one to reread, I think.

This is only the second book I've read by Sylvia Townsend Warner, but I've been hearing a lot about her as my daughter is a big fan, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.


message 40: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I came across this interesting post about the novel, but do only read it if you have finished:

https://thecalloo.com/blog/lollywillowes
.."


Thanks for posting, Susan - I've just read this and it is very interesting and answers some of my questions, for instance about magic realism.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
I would love to read the one set in a nunnery. The Corner That Held Them The Corner That Held Them  by Sylvia Townsend Warner


Tania | 981 comments I tried to read The Corner That Held Them last month and couldn't get anywhere with it. I didn't get passed the first chapter. It might have been a case of wrong time, however as I did enjoy Lolly Willows when I read that. I may try again at a later date.


message 43: by Ian (last edited Apr 21, 2019 12:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Just finished with Lolly - 4 stars for me.

A thoroughly enjoyable story which kept my interest from start to finish.
Choice?
A sad, dependent- family lackey, Aunt Lolly - or a happ(ier) independent - free spirit Laura, living her life as she wished.
Glad to see that she decided to stay in the Village - good on you!


message 44: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4525 comments Mod
I've just come across the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society website - just posting a link in case others are interested:

http://www.townsendwarner.com/society...

This includes some nice photos of STW with her cats:
http://www.townsendwarner.com/gallery...


message 45: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Thanks Judy - will definitely be having a look.


message 46: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Btw - who do you think was the person behind the "Satan mask"?
(A writer of stories - I think it said) - herself then, or Titus, maybe?

Also, what role did Mr Saunter, the hen farmer, play in Laura's life - was he of any significant importance to the development of the story?

Hope it is ok to ask here and not spoiling it for anyone - apologies if that is the case.


Susan | 9817 comments Mod
https://www.terriwindling.com/blog/20...

Henwives are often linked to witchcraft - women who keen hens (handy for a sacrifice perhaps?) and dispense herbs. Her working for Mr Saunter may have been a way of her joining with those traditions, even if he was not involved with the village ways, as it were.


message 48: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments Thanks Susan - probably why eggs linked to the Easter festival then....


Elizabeth (Alaska) Ian wrote: "Thanks Susan - probably why eggs linked to the Easter festival then...."

I'm sorry, I don't follow the logic. Are you saying Easter and witchcraft are linked?


message 50: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian | 404 comments No, definitely not... but I thought that the Easter time of year ( not Easter itself) may also be a special time of year for people with pagan beliefs...nothing to do with Cristianity itself. Ie. Not sure what the link between Easter (the religious festival) and eating chocolate eggs might be - where did this originate from?


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