Danielle’s Stories: Sylvia Townsend Warner Edition

Danielle’s enveloppe was waiting on our doorstep just before New Year’s Eve. How wonderful that she had chosen stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner! I’ve only ever read her novel Lolly Willowes but I adored the book and always vowed I should reread it. But it’s even better to discover something new by her.

I kind of saved these three stories for a special occasion. I had a business trip and to be able to go out to eat (even in a run-of-the-mill, train-station type of chain restaurant) by myself and read while eating was a good moment. To eat alone is not very funny, but with Sylvia Townsend Warner, it’s instantly better.

These three stories really reminded me why I’d loved Lolly Willowes. They feature quirky characters, banal, mundane situations that suddenly turn whimsical, defiant young women who seem prim and proper until they let you guess their feelings and thoughts. They seem so very British. Witty and warm, a bit like one of the first Harry Potter volumes. And sometimes it’s downright comic, like this part, in “Love”:

[Dinnie and Avery are viewing a cottage, to possibly rent it from a young couple]

“What rent-” began Dinnie. […]

At the same moment a door opened, a coffee tray was put down with a clatter, and the short stout young man said, “I hope you’ll excuse me, but the house in on fire.”

He darted away, leaving the door open behind him. The young woman hurried after him. A waft of flame came down the wide chimney like a goblin, flared, vanished. Avery shut the door and the window opening on the calm landscape.

Dinnie was on her feet. She had emptied a log basket and was filling it with their Staffordshire chimney ornaments.

“You get down the pictures, Avery. We can’t just sit here fiddling. We’ll take everything we can outside, the poor creatures!”

I don’t know about you, but I could so visualize the scene that I nearly broke in a peal of laughter (all by myself in the restaurant). The story is seen through Avery’s eye and is a great portrait of marriage, where two people may love each other deeply yet remain strangers to one another (at least to some degree).

In “Tebic”, Sylvia Townsend Warner tosses an unknown object in front of our eyes, refusing by all means to define what it is, and just letting us see how a simple thing can create tensions within two people and can highlight many aspects of their personality. It’s quite clever really, and if I have now my own opinion of what a Tebic really is, I wish other Tebic-lovers would show up to discuss the matter in depth.

In “Flora”, a young woman is introduced by her boyfriend to an eccentric, pompous scholar who lives as a recluse in the moor. He treats her disdainfully and her reaction is both subdued and whimsical: “I was sufficiently tired by my walk to feel chilled, and, from feeling chilled, to feel intimidated. To rouse my spirits, I began to nurse rebellious thoughts”. The second visit by Flora to this old misogynist snob is both comic and sad.

After finishing these three stories, I had only one thing left to do: order the whole collection from Amazon Marketplace! With luck, I’ll have the book in hand within a few weeks, with seventeen more stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner!


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