Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Review published on July 13, 2018.

“Women have such vivid imaginations, but lead such dull lives,” says Lolly Willowes in this extraordinary book that the Guardian has put on their list of 100 most influential books.

Yet, the plot is at times completely daft!

After the death of her adored father, Laura ‘Aunt Lolly’ Willowes is taken in by her brother and sister-in-law as the ‘indispensable’ maiden aunt who adores her nieces and nephew but finds herself financially dependent as an unpaid nanny and housekeeper in London.

When she can escape Laura heads off into unexplored areas seeking out strange experiences and spiritual discoveries, regretting the loss of her beloved parents and wanting as we might say today to ‘find herself’.

After two decades, when her young charges have grown up, Laura suddenly decides to move to the village of Great Mop, where she lodges with the eccentric Mrs Leak and can do as she pleases all day and all night long.

First published in 1926, Warner is now seen as a leading feminist/lesbian writer (although the author herself lived for most of her life with male partner Valentine Ackland). The novel was seen to break down women’s ambitions and needs in life as WWI had allowed them to have more freedom. Warner was a prolific writer of novels, short stories and poetry alongside non-fiction ,including a leading biography of T.H. White.

As the novel progresses, Laura begins to find the village where she has settled has deeper meaning and the people and places evoke the sense of witchcraft that she has found herself drawn to.

A fascinating discovery as a personal read and I would be keen to explore other works by her. May appeal only to some book groups that want to tap into possibly unknown authors from the past.

Philipa Coughlan 4/3

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Virago 9781844088058 pbk Mar 2012

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