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Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsman (original 1926; edition 2004)

by Sylvia Townsend Warner

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6012416,282 (3.88)1 / 125
Member:tiffin
Title:Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsman
Authors:Sylvia Townsend Warner
Info:Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2004), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Modern English Lit., Writing by Women

Work details

Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)

  1. 00
    The love-child by Edith Olivier (Stuck-in-a-Book)
    Stuck-in-a-Book: This is another book which uses the fantastic to combat spinsterhood.
  2. 00
    One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (GeraniumCat)
  3. 00
    Little, Big by John Crowley (chrisharpe)
  4. 01
    Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (Stuck-in-a-Book)
    Stuck-in-a-Book: Another great work of the fantastic.
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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
A pleasant enough story at the beginning, but ending in a mystico-psychological way that annoyed me. ( )
  JRuel | Mar 18, 2015 |
Well, this was strange yet wonderful. Laura Willowes was set to be the quintessential "auntie" of English life; unmarried, unappealing to the opposite sex (and uninterested in it as well), living with her brother, adored by his children, useful to his wife. But niggling in the back of her mind was the notion that she wouldn't just carry on that way indefinitely, and one day she picked an odd little village with nothing to recommend it but its odd little name--Great Mop-- and announced that she was going to move there. Leaving her "Aunt Lolly" persona behind, Miss Willowes settles in to Great Mop and gradually begins to know the villagers. Although she doesn't seem to fit in here any more than she did in London society, she is at peace with her situation until one day she comes home to find an inexplicable kitten in her rooms. Here the wonder and the strangeness truly begin. The moment the kitten grabs and bites Miss Willowes's hand, she realizes that she is a witch, and this kitten her familiar. Although she puts it that she has "made a compact with the devil" nothing about her story suggests a conscious decision to do that. (It isn't a spoiler to let you in on the fact that "the loving huntsman" of the subtitle is Satan, though not the horned satyr of so much popular culture. Rather he is a very ordinary looking gentleman who can disappear into his background, and who does not seem to move anyone to acts of sheer evil.) It just comes to her that now she is a witch. This passive acceptance of a fact so utterly outside the framework of this woman's prior existence struck a discord with me, and if I hadn't known it was coming (from reading blurbs on the cover and several reviews) I think I might have had one of those “WTH” moments and tossed the book aside. As it was, I kept reading, and I'm glad that I did, because Lolly's exploration of the world from her new perspective is really a joy. Her little conversation with Satan in the English countryside near the end of the book is just brilliant. Overall I was not as taken with this story as those who recommended it to me, but I give it 3 1/2 solid stars. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Nov 17, 2014 |
Okay, better after midway. Quick read. Women's plight. Need to have a place of one's own. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Like Jane Austen before her, Warner knows that there are few worse things in life than being a spinster beholding to your family. Despite the outrage her decision causes, Lolly Willowes decides to leave London and settle in the obscure, rural village of Great Mop. Slyly and with great affection, Warner tells us just what those village ladies were up to on those moonlit nights. A welcome return to this fine novel first published in1926.
  vplprl | Nov 13, 2013 |
Published in 1926, a few years before Virginia Woolf would deliver her "A room of one's own" lecture, this book charts the life of Laura Willowes, a sedate spinster well in her forties, who's spent all her life in the service of first her father and then her brother, wearing her independence uncomfortably but too apathetic to care much. An epiphany in a park leads her to leave all of that behind and move to a small rural village somewhat serendipitously selected from a guidebook. Here she can finally focus on her own happiness, aware as she's become that that possibility even exists. There she also explores different roles that are open to her as a middle-aged spinster of the years immediately after the first World War.

Laura Willowes is an elegantly inviting character, drawn with precise observations and well-chosen obstacles; pity never became the main reason I was rooting for her. The plot is fairly sparse in this one, and many pages go by between those events and decisions that make the plot move forward. Instead Warner relies on a hypnotic style to convey the constrained emotional life of her main character. She more or less succeeded in making the journey a pleasant one, but at times I found the story slow going and caught myself wanting to read other books instead. But once I was well into part three, the story picked up again, with enough external stimuli on Laura's mental life to compensate for a fairly slow first two thirds. I also enjoyed the overall absurdity of that final third.

The story slowly builds up to Laura's big monologue at the end, and even though this section could easily have devolved into a preachy tract, Warner keeps things deftly within Laura's voice, and it brings the whole of Laura's tale to a satisfying ending.

At three stars, I've deducted a star for those parts where I felt bored. But I'm glad I persevered, since this novel develops a bizarrish yet rewarding ending to a sweet character. ( )
2 vote Petroglyph | Jul 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sylvia Townsend Warnerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Waters, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To Bea Isabel Howe
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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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Book description
From the book cover:
"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.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0940322161, Paperback)

Sylvia Townsend Warner began her literary career as a poet, and her first novel is as nimble and precise as poetry and reads as if it might have been composed to a meter. Like some of Jane Austen's fiction, Lolly Willowes is a comedy about the perils, pleasures, and consolations of spinsterhood, and the predicament of its heroine is at first deliberately and deceptively commonplace. "Aunt Lolly, a middle-aging lady, light-footed upon stairs, and indispensable for Christmas Eve and birthday preparations," is nevertheless troubled by vague, indefinable longings, a hankering after the solitude of woods and dark rural places. At last a revelation in a greengrocer's leads her to abandon her outraged London family and take rooms in an obscure hamlet, Great Mop.

Here her neighbors keep curiously late and noisy hours, but otherwise allow her to pass the time "in perfect idleness and contentment." She is eventually pursued into her idyll, however, by her nephew, and Titus's familiar small demands drive her to rage and despair: "No! You shan't get me. I won't go back. I won't.... Oh! Is there no help?" She is promptly visited by a mysterious black kitten, who fastens its claws upon her hand and draws blood. At once she understands. The kitten is her familiar, and has been sent by dark forces. "She, Laura Willowes, in England, in the year 1922, had entered into a compact with the Devil."

She has, in short, become a witch--or, rather, she has rediscovered her own slumbering diabolical potential, in the unlikely setting of a Buckinghamshire hamlet that--as she now realizes--is peopled entirely by witches. Laura soon attends a rollicking but ultimately rather disappointing midnight Sabbath; she is visited by Satan in the shape of a pleasant-faced man in a corduroy coat and gaiters who rids her of Titus and restores her to privacy and peace. She is left with a vision of the women "all over England, all over Europe ... as common as blackberries, and as unregarded" to whom he has offered the promise of adventure, "the dangerous black night to stretch your wings in." It is this vision that lends the novel its subversive edge, that ultimately allies it less with the work of Austen than with that of Virginia Woolf, and with later feminists. They "know they are dynamite," says Laura of Satan's women, "and long for the concussion that may justify them." --Sarah Waters

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Sylvia Townsend Warner's first novel, published in 1926, is magical and subversive, anticipating the ficton of writers like Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.

(summary from another edition)

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