“[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.” - Helen Macdonald in The New York Times Book Review's “By the Book."
In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster's struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while adding a dimension of the supernatural and strange. Warner is one of the outstanding and indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a writer to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the fantastic flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.
Praise For Lolly Willowes…
"I wish I could understand how fluidly [Lolly Willows] handles time and how it manages to be both utterly savage and strangely gentle at once. The turns of phrase that gleam on every page often seem nearly miraculous to me." —Garth Greenwall, LitHub
Sylvia Townsend Warner’s brilliantly varied and self-possessed literary production never quite won her the flaming place in the heavens of repute that she deserved. In Lolly Willowes, her first novel, she moves with somber confidence into the realm of the supernatural, and her prose, in its simple, abrupt evocations, has something preternatural about it. This is the witty, eerie, tender but firm life history of a middle-class Englishwoman who politely declines to make the expected connection with the opposite sex and becomes a witch instead.
— John Updike
Silvia Townsend Warner…is perhaps the most unjustly neglected of all the modern masters of fiction. She is remembered as a writer of historical novels, but her novels are written with such extraordinary immediacy that they stretch the possibilities of long-disparaged genera and blur the distinction between historical fiction and serious literature….Like the controversial movie Thelma and Louise, Lolly Willowes is [a] Rorschach blot that might suggest liberation to some readers and folly to others. It is an edgy tale that suggests how taking control of one’s own life might entail losing control; it might even entail an inexorable drift toward an unknown and possibly disastrous fate. In short, Lolly Willowes would be an ideal book-club selection, sure to spark a rousing discussion.
— Tim Walker, News-Press
NYRB Classics, 9780940322165, 230pp.
Publication Date: September 30, 1999
About the Author
Alison Lurie is a former Professor of English at Cornell. Her most recent novel is Truth and Consequences.