Lolly Willowes

9780940322165_p0_v1_s192x300A surprisingly modern treatise on women’s rights written in 1926, Lolly Willowes came to my attention through Helen Macdonald’s interview in the New York Time “By the Book.”  Macdonald is the author of H Is for Hawk – a book I have on my to read list.

Helen Macdonald summed up Lolly Willowes in her interview:

“What’s the last great book you read?

I’ve read a few this year, but the one I’ll be pressing into people’s hands forever is ‘Lolly Willowes,’ the 1926 novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It tells the story of a woman who rejects the life that society has fixed for her in favor of freedom and the most unexpected of alliances. It completely blindsided me: Starting as a straightforward, albeit beautifully written family saga, it tips suddenly into extraordinary, lucid wildness.”

As a spinster at 29, Laura (known as Aunt Lolly) has a prescribed life with very little to do.  When she breaks away in her mid forties to “take rooms” in a small town in the country, Lolly finds freedom until her nephew decides to come to live with her.  Finally, she finds the courage to drive him out – in an unconventional way – and reestablish herself as an independent woman.

Without proselytizing the rights of women, Warner quietly affirms her views on the condition of women in the early nineteen hundreds.  Edith Crawley, the second sister from Downton Abbey who asserts her right to manage a publication and raise an out of wedlock daughter, would be proud.  At times, the scenes reminded me of a Downton Abbey episode:

When she awoke , the day was already begun…the maid who brought her morning tea and laid the folded towel across the hot water…after lunch there was a spell of embroidery…dinner was half-past seven {with} a sensible rule that only sensible topics should be discussed.

Although I rarely read introduction to books, Alison Lurie’s introduction is worth noting.  Lurie’s comparison of Sylvia Townsend Warner to Virginia Woolf drew me in:

“If a woman is to be more than a convenient household appliance, if she is to have a life of her own, and especially if she wants to be a writer, she must have freedom and privacy and ‘a room of one’s own.’  {Woolf} spoke, we know now, for thousands of woman then and in years to come.  But Sylvia Townsend Warner had spoken for them first.”

This slim volume has three parts, and the language reminded me of a Jane Austen novel.  Phrases were like antiques, pleasing but dated. I found myself mesmerized by the diction and enthralled with the theme – a nice reminder of how hard a person needs to work to ignore society’s expectations and maintain a sense of self.

2 thoughts on “Lolly Willowes

  1. Thanks for this review. After I read that article in the NYTimes, I downloaded the book. Then, I saw It mentioned several places. I will read it soon. I am reading three Nancy Drew’s now before I go to The Nancy Drew Sleuths convention in New Orleans next month. Dee Radcliffe

    Sent from my iPad


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