Lolly Willowes (Virago Modern Classics)
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They condoned this extravagance, yet they mistrusted it. Time justified them in their mistrust. Like many stupid people, they possessed acute instincts. `He that is unfaithful in little things…’ Caroline would say when the children forgot to wind up their watches. Their instinct told them that the same truth applies to extravagance in little things. They were wiser than they knew. When Laura’s extravagance in great things came it staggered them so completely that they forgot how judiciously they had suspected it beforehand.” p. 82
Even in 1902 there were some forward spirits who wondered why that Miss Willowes, who was quite well off, and not likely to marry, did not make a home for herself and take up something artistic or emancipated. Such possibilities did not occur to any of Laura’s relations. Her father being dead, they took it for granted that she should be absorbed into the household of one brother or the other. And Laura, feeling rather as if she were a piece of property forgotten in the will, was ready to be disposed of as they should think best. A strange little book, Lolly Willowes is not what I thought it was going to be at all. I was more intrigued by the first and second parts which dealt with the life Laura Willowes leads, first as a housekeeper and companion for her father, after the death of her mother and then by her forced move to her oldest brother's house where she becomes a companion and helper to her sister-in-law. She is not allowed any freedom of her own, even when they go on vacation, Aunt Lolly, as the children call her, can not even take a walk by herself, she must be on hand to watch the children.CornishVaughan. The Scenery of England (London: Council for the Preservation of Rural England, 1932).
This striking story, published in 1926, perfectly blends a deceptive lightness with a serious argument: that a woman sidelined by life has so little opportunity for escape and respect that she might as well become a witch. I loved Laura--the way she stands up for herself and embraces her individuality. I especially loved how she knows things she doesn’t know.On one hand this is delightfully odd, gesturing to the literary tradition of English eccentrics. But, on another, there's a heartfelt and important message here about what it costs for a woman - middle aged, middle class, with a depleted private income - to find some space in which she is free from familial and societal expectations, a place to be herself, solitary if that's what she wants: A Room of One’s Own, indeed, as Virginia Woolf was to put it three years after this book was published. I liked maps. I liked place-names, and the picture-making technique of map-reading’, Warner wrote in 1939. 15 Her depictions of maps and map-reading follow Gillian Rose’s suggestion that ‘mapping is distinctive of spatial representation because it can be interpreted as visual and/or textual. To read maps as texts highlights their social construction and their potential for multiple interpretations by both producers and consumers’. 16 Indeed, Warner was resistant to the map’s representation of a spatialised Englishness that served to reinforce the power structures of social organisation. In Lolly Willowes, Laura’s rejection of her brother’s London household for a life of rural solitude finds its first expression in maps. In search of unchartered territory, Laura is lured to the Chilterns by the map’s ‘surfeit of green’, representing, as Jennifer Nesbitt notes, ‘both a natural landscape and one that has not been fully organised and known by the state apparatus’. 17
Kahan, Benjamin A. Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013). The book] 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.Warner was involved in travelling to study source material and in transcribing the music into modern musical notation for publication. Warner wrote a section on musical notation for the Oxford History of Music (it appeared in the introductory volume of 1929).  DaviesGill, MalcolmDavid and SimonsJohn (eds.). Critical Essays on Sylvia Townsend Warner: English Novelist, 1893–1978 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006).