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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
1,1035313,629 (3.86)1 / 176
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 (49)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Subversive and fun ( )
  lehrer21 | Jun 29, 2021 |
My paternal grand-mother went back to school in her sixties. She had always wanted to be a lawyer, but a girl born in 1917 in a traditional family in Brazil was not to fulfill such ideas. She married at age 20 and had 4 children. Her youngest child died at age 2, and my grandfather died soon after. She was 47 when she became a widow – a year younger than I am now -and she came undone! Widowhood suited her better than married life. Her older children were married or already gone. She found a job by chance: governess of the town’s hospital. She travelled. She read books. She learned how to drive and bought a car. She decided that it was not too late to be a lawyer and took night classes for 2 years… until a second bout of breast cancer stopped her. She died at age 65.

Lolly Willowes made me think of her; of feminism rising from deep in the soul, often not overly verbalized, but sensed by those around her. My grand-mother, like Lolly, was a witch and made a pact with the devil, for the god of her days would had kept her chained to a kitchen stove, to the church bazaar, to babysitting grand-children. But as a witch she got to fly above it all.

I can only imagine how this book must have seemed revolutionary in 1926 when it was published. It precludes Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. But if the details of the story appear dated – a spinster at the mercy of her family in Britain at the beginning of the 20th century – the pressures of social expectation still binding women to roles that don’t suit us all is still real.

My inner witch is happy I finally got around to reading it!
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
I was surprised at how readable Warner's Lolly Willowes is; the words simply flowed. Described unmarried women's lives in the 20th Century as dependent and drudge-like. These women were expected to live with their brothers or sisters submissively caring for their families without recompense.

Many like Lolly did so. But when Lolly reached a certain age, a restlessness caught up with her. She shows a rebellious, independent streak by moving out of London to a small country cottage despite her family's shock. Now able to do as she pleases, she is thrilled with her freedom. But then her nephew Titus comes calling expecting her to accommodate him. She is irritated and feels her family has re-captured her.

These first 2 parts of the book I understood. It is this last part which I find troubling. Seems to keep her freedom Lolly must make a deal with the devil. Of course people will do almost anything when desperate. But I don't think this is the right direction for Lolly or any woman to go.

To me it seems to be saying that if you aren't willing to comply with society's norms, you, single women are 'witches,' and bad and deserve only the devil for companionship. This is an egregious depiction of adult women who choose independence for themselves. They need to be heard, understood and loved, definitely not castigated, discouraged and disrespected.

What was Warner trying to say with this novel?
  Bookish59 | Jan 14, 2021 |
Laura Willowes (or Lolly as she is now called by all her relatives) has lived at Lady Place in Somerset all her life, but on her fathers’s death it is decided by her relatives that she would be much better going to live with her brother Henry and his wife Caroline in London:

‘Lolly ought to come to them. London would be a nice change for her. She would meet nice people, and in London would have a better chance of marrying. Lolly was twenty-eight. She would have to make haste if she were going to find a husband before she was thirty.’

But Lolly is never interested in any of the men that are presented to her (or them her). The First World War comes and goes, and her nieces get married and have children of their own, and still Lolly remains in the house of her brother and sister in law, never living the life that she wants to live, or even knowing what life that might be. But at long last a chance encounter in a greengrocer’s shop sends her suddenly to live alone in the village of Great Mop in the Chilterns, much to the consternation of all. And after years of stultifying conventionality ministering to the needs of others, Lolly (or Laura, as she is now able to revert to her proper name) is finally able to focus on herself.

Written in 1926, this is a thoughtful book which looks at the options open to an unmarried woman in the first decades of the twentieth century and which comes to a surprising conclusion. It doesn’t end up where you expect it to at all. ( )
  SandDune | Jan 14, 2021 |
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 |
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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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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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