Lolly Willowes


What  better way to recommend the marvellous Sylvia Townsend Warner to those who don’t know her than by quoting her? She’s like a combination of Jane Austen without the ladylikeness and Virginia Woolf without the snobbishness. Throw in a touch of Angela Carter and maybe a dash of Muriel Spark.

Lolly’s mother:

During the last few years of her life Mrs Willowes grew continually more skilled in evading responsibilities, and her death seemed but the final perfected expression of this skill.  It was as if she had said, yawning a delicate cat’s yawn, “I think I shall go to my grave now”, and had left the room, her white shawl trailing behind her.  (18)

The funeral of Lolly’s much-loved father:

The bees droned in the motionless lime trees. A hot ginny churchyard smell detached itself in a leisurely way from the evergreens when the mourners brushed by them. The sun, but an hour or so declined, shone with an ardent and steadfast interest upon the little group. “In the midst of life we are in death”, said Mr Warbury, his voice sounding rather shameless taken out of church and displayed on the basking echoless air. “In the midst of death we are in life”, Laura thought, would be a more accurate expression of the moment.  Her small body encased in tremendous sunlight seemed to throb with an intense vitality, impersonally responding to heat, scent and colour. With blind clear-sighted eyes she saw the coffin lowered into the grave and earth shovelled in on top of it. She was aware of movement around her, of a loosening texture of onlookers, of footsteps and departures. (35)

Her sister in law:

Caroline was a religious woman.  Resolute, orderly and unromantic, she would have made an admirable Mother Superior. In her housekeeping and her scrupulous account-books she expressed an almost mystical sense of the validity of small things. (43)

Her brother the lawyer:

Laura also thought that the law had done a great deal to spoil Henry. It had changed his natural sturdy stupidity into a browbeating indifference to other people’s points of view. He seemed to consider himself briefed by his Creator to turn into ridicule the opinions of those who disagreed with him, and to attribute dishonesty, idiocy, or a base motive to  every one who supported a better case than he. This did not often appear in his private life. Henry was kindly disposed to those who did not thwart him by word or deed. (47)


11 thoughts on “Lolly Willowes

  1. Wonderful – I’ve heard such great things about this novel. Have you discovered the Backlisted podcast by any chance? Giving new life to old books as their slogan goes. I’m pretty sure they covered Lolly Willows a few months ago.

    1. Thanks for this, Jacqui – I didn’t know about this podcast and there’s a lot there that would interest me. I had an idea that you had rvd something by Townsend Warner but I can’t find it on your site.
      My library has The Corner That Held Them so that’ll be my next. I might read them all.
      “an almost mystical sense of the validity of small things” – isn’t that marvellous?

      1. You’re very welcome. I’m delighted to have introduced you to it! The episode on Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight is particularly interesting, but the whole series is just full of great stuff. They might be covering Muriel Spark in the not-too-distant future…well, I think that’s part of the plan.

        Returning to Sylvia TW – yes, that’s lovely. I’ve only read one of her books, Summer Will Show, which I liked but didn’t love (it was a while ago, possibly pre-blog, so there no review). That said, I’ve heard that her books are all quite different from one another, so I’m sure to give her another try at some point). Everyone seems to love Lolly Willows in particular, so that’s got to be a good bet.

  2. About her brother -“It had changed his natural sturdy stupidity into a browbeating indifference to other people’s points of view.” Was he a likeable guy or a twit?

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