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Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman (1926)

by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,0124614,582 (3.87)1 / 161
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.… (more)
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English (45)  Catalan (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
It seems like the author had something she wanted to say about women's independence, so she wrote a 5-page essay about it, and then realized that the essay needed some context, so she wrote a 200-page novel to build up to the 5-page essay.

The rest of this review isn't exactly a spoiler, but since the main events of the book don't happen until the very end, it's impossible to talk about the book without talking about how it ends, so read on with caution.

Laura Willowes (called Lolly by her niece and nephews) is a quintessential maiden aunt - after the death of her father, her married brothers and their wives take control of her life. She is cared for and given a place to live and enjoys helping to raise her nieces and nephews, but no one ever asks her what she wants. One day when she is in her middle age, she spontaneously decides to move to a small village in the countryside. The behavior of the villagers is rather strange. Laura soon realizes that they are all witches, and she joins them. And... that's pretty much it. She becomes a witch, meets the devil, gives her feminist speech, and that's the book.

I suppose that it's easy to find this book disappointing a hundred years after it is set, knowing that what Laura says at the end about women's right to independence not the controversial statement that it was at the time. I also found the brief dalliance in Satanism to be very underdeveloped. Laura just kind of realizes she's a witch one day, and never stops to think about the implications of Satanism or what it means to give her soul to the devil. In the midst of a feminist screed about women's independence, it seems odd that this monumental decision is just something that happens to her rather than something she chooses to do, and that her form of independence is basically just agreeing to the whims of some man she's never met and whose existence is only theoretical.

Despite all of that, the fact that I kept reading despite the fact that there was not really a plot does tell you something about how good the writing is - the book was still engaging. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Jun 20, 2020 |
Not quite what I expected -- the much vaunted (in book summary and introduction) deal with the devil doesn't come until the final third of the book, and it's with such a soft touch that I wondered why everyone took Warner at her word that a deal indeed had been made!

Strong feminist message -- circled around for most of the book, then named explicitly at the very end in a monologue from Miss Willowes.

4.5 stars for descriptions of being among nature in the English countryside. A , would imagine I was there. ( )
  elam11 | May 30, 2020 |
Can't a woman just get some peace without being treated like chattel by her well-intentioned family?

Apparently not without selling her soul to Satan.

Did she have other options? Would make for an interesting discussion.

  gakgakg | May 28, 2020 |
pretty good narrative though i felt a bit disengaged by the end; i wonder if the film "The Witch" is directly inspired by this. written in a lively, anachronistically quite biting and contemporary manner belying its 1926 publication date ( )
  boredgames | May 17, 2020 |
This is the most boring book about witches I've ever read! 3 stars for ambiance. ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Warner, Sylvia Townsendprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anders, AnnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gatti, GraziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hernández, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lévy, FlorenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Méndez, ZaharaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, AnitaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waters, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Bea Isabel Howe
First words
When her father died, Laura Willowes went to live in London with her elder brother and his family.
Quotations
Preference, not prejudice, made them faithful to their past. They slept in beds and sat in chairs whose comfort insensibly persuaded them into respect for the good sense of their forbears. Finding that well-chosen wood and well-chosen wine improved with keeping, they believed that the same law applied to well-chosen ways.
So Laura read undisturbed, and without disturbing anybody, for the conversation at local tea-parties and balls never happened to give her an opportunity of mentioning anything that she had learnt from Locke on the Understanding or Glanvil on Witches. In fact, as she was generally ignorant of the books which their daughters were allowed to read, the neighboring mammas considered her rather ignorant. However they did not like her any the worse for this, for her ignorance, if not so sexually displeasing as learning, was of so unsweetened a quality as to be wholly without attraction.
Being without coquetry she did not feel herself bound to feign a degree of entertainment which she had not experienced, and the same deficiency made her insensible to the duty of every marriageable young woman to be charming, whether her charm be directed towards one special object, or in default of that, universally distributed through a disinterested love of humanity.
She had thought that sorrow would be her companion for many years, and had planned for its entertainment.
After some years in his house she came to the conclusion that Caroline had been very bad for his character. Caroline was a good woman and a good wife. She was slightly self-righteous and fairly rightly so, but she yielded to Henry's judgment in every dispute, she bowed her good sense to his will and blinkered her wider views in obedience to his prejudices. Henry had a high opinion of her merits, but thinking her to be so admirable and finding her to be so acquiescent had encouraged him to have an even higher opinion of his own.
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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.

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"When I think of witches, I seem to see all over England, all over Europe, women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded. . . and they think how they were young once."

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 and great success on its publication in 1926, Lolly Willowes is Sylvia Townsend Warner's most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility--and her pursuit of the theme Virginia Woolf later explored in A Room of One's Own.
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