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Lolly Willowes (VMC) [Paperback]

Sylvia Townsend Warner , Sarah Waters
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2012 VMC (Book 239)

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 success on its publication in 1926, LOLLY WILLOWES is Sylvia Townsend Warner's first and most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility, a theme that would later be explored by Virginia Woolf in 'A Room of One's Own'.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (1 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844088057
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844088058
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The novel sharply undercuts its genteel appearance to reveal a dark and visceral heart ... An elegantly enchanting tale that transcends its era (Lucy Scholes Observer 2012-03-18)

One of our most idiosyncratic, courageous and versatile writers (HERMIONE LEE)

'Witty, eerie, tender' (Times Literary Supplement)

She has a talent amounting to genius (John Updike, New Yorker)

Book Description

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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was Townsend Warner's first novel, and it's a striking one, which by all accounts caused quite a stir when it first appeared in 1926. The innocent-sounding title, and the quasi-Victorian, Gilbert-and-Sullivanish subtitle "Or, The Loving Huntsman" are deliberate attempts to lead the reader up the garden path. For the Loving Huntsman is none other than the Devil himself, to whom maiden aunt Lolly Willowes has sold her soul for a bit of peace and quiet.
Laura Willowes, known to friends and family as Aunt Lolly, is the youngest child and only daughter of brewery owner and doting father Everard, with whom she lives a happy, bookish existence until his sudden death when she is twenty-eight. She moves in with her brother and sister-in-law in London, who treat her with well-meaning condescension as a sort of unpaid nanny: "Henry and Caroline did all they could to prevent her feeling unhappy. If they had been overlooking some shame of hers they could not have been more tactful, more modulatory." Friends and family are unanimous in considering the Lolly problem settled. A few years later, however, she astonishes them all by renting a cottage in the obscure Bedfordshire village of Great Mop, where she intends to stay alone. But all is not as it seems there: the village community seems strangely closed, and there are odd goings-on by moonlight. None of this greatly troubles Lolly, who relaxes into a gentle nature mysticism. However, when her family begin inviegling for her return to London, she finds that there is no option but to invoke supernatural assistance...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane TOP 100 REVIEWER
I'd just like to add a little bit to existing reviews, all of which are interesting and have merit. The end of the book, though, is a lot darker than it might seem. Unhappy, pigeon-holed Lolly does escape from her suffocating (though well-meaning) family, and she is pleased. I should not give too much away, but it is fair to say that her escape, to say the least, takes an unconventional form. She is happy on the whole, and certainly feels liberated, but there is plenty of evidence in the book to suggest that she has in fact entered a new (and perhaps much more sinister) kind of thralldom, indeed that she has not so much made as move as been drawn or led into her new existence without understanding why (though she does in the end). This book is the work of a highly accomplished writer who uses whimsy and acerbic wit with remarkable skill (it was her first novel), but in the end it is a jeu d'esprit and not, in my view, entirely successful at that. Having said that, there are many more consistently successful books which are less fun to read!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Updike praises this perennial classic 11 Feb 2000
By A Customer
'With a chilling immediacy this book speaks today, as it did in 1925, for women. Not only women like Laura who are incapable of loving men, but for all those who have been "subdued" into ladyhood, or dwindled into wives. Women were strongly concerned with their status during the first forty years of this century. Now, after a sleep of twenty years, they, like Lolly Willowes, are awake again, seeking for lives of their own...Lolly 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, THE NEW YORKER
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious 11 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is the most beautifully written, lyrical, eerie, delicious tale of witchcraft in rural England - I cannot recommend it enough. The story concerns Laura Willowes ("Aunt Lolly") the maiden aunt of the family, confirmed spinster, who upon the death of her beloved father is exiled out to live with relatives and pretty much ends up being the "useful" aunt upon whom everyone comes to rely. An appendage in the family, Lolly is taken for granted by all, until she decides to do something for herself and moves to the charming village of Great Mop. There she meets a whole coven of witches, a kitten called Vinegar and Satan; and life starts to pick up for her.

There is not a word out of place in the novel and reading it is quite simply a bewitching experience (if you'll pardon the pun). In fact, by the end I was longing to move to Great Mop myself, visit the fantastically named pub "The Reason Why" (every village should have one) and perhaps take up witchcraft. I also found a lovely quote from the book: "Life becomes simple if one does nothing about it." How true.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always Worth Reading 3 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Sylvia Townsend Warner's debut novel is always worth reading. A hit in its day it has always remained her most popular book, although all her tales are well worth reading. A story most definitely of its time this is much more than a whimsical read, which alas for all of Warner's books have got a reputation for being whimsical, or too hard. This book indeed has a whimsical surface, but scratch away the veneer and you will find something much deeper.

Laura 'Lolly' Willowes has grown up with her father, and then eventually living with one of her brothers. Gradually aging and being a spinster she lives as many others of her type have done so, always with members of the family, alone to a certain extent, bored and to an extent put upon for help. As the First World War takes men off to battle women are more and more called upon to fill men's roles, and Lolly does her little bit by making up parcels. With the world returning to a degree to its old habits, Lolly eventually finds a yearning for something more.

Leaving by herself she moves to Great Mop in the Chilterns. Seemingly an idyllic pastoral setting, it seems as if Lolly has found her own paradise, but then Tobias, one of her nephews, also moves to the area. As Lolly wants to be left alone, so she meets the 'Devil'.

This story, which was extremely relevant at the time is still for a lot of women quite relevant to their lives nowadays. If you are stuck at home, you would like to get a job, or just take more interest in something, then this book is well worth reading. With a light touch Warner tackles a problem that took most of her peers pages and pages to put down.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Spoiler Alert! I hate some reviewers, not the book...
Why do they do it? Now I know most of the plot and the ending - and I haven't even bought it yet! Tell me if you enjoyed it or not and why - but not what happens - please!
Published 1 month ago by E. Waterland
5.0 out of 5 stars Really loving the Huntsman
Alighted on this by accident - though recalled loving 'The Corner That Held Them' and was totally transfixed. Read more
Published 11 months ago by ChrisOutEast
5.0 out of 5 stars Wry, fantastical and true
The uneventful life history of an Edwardian spinster doesn't sound a riveting read, but it is. In part that is the quality of the writing - smooth, evocative, exact. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Wab Carlin
3.0 out of 5 stars Jarring changes in style
Two-thirds of this book are a lyrical narrative dealing with family relationships, which I felt was akin to E.M. Forster's novels. Read more
Published 16 months ago by joyfrankie
1.0 out of 5 stars Terribly dull
A dull story about a dull person; not redeemed by the introduction of a Faustian pact in the last quarter of the book. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Wendy du Feu
5.0 out of 5 stars satire / elegy / polemic
"Is it true you can poke the fire with a stick of dynamite in perfect safety? I used to take my nieces to scientific lectures, and I believe I heard it then. Read more
Published 20 months ago by notjim
4.0 out of 5 stars Quintessentially English
A time when single women were thought to be hopeless cases if they didn't get hitched. I can imagine the tension that this character feels between being seen to do the acceptable... Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2012 by Sue Curd
4.0 out of 5 stars ...a hind couched in the devil's coverts...
The vast majority of this book is about Lolly Willowes living as the proverbial maiden aunt in the bosom of her family, in her eldest nephew's house. Read more
Published on 10 May 2012 by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle Witch
The story of Laura Willowes who (belives she has) sold her soul to the devil in return for freedom from her tiresome family. Read more
Published on 13 April 2012 by Steve Snow
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful
Sylvia Townsend Warner's first novel and one of her best. It has the sort of subtlety that you don't see too much of these days and sparkles with flashes of wit and perception. Read more
Published on 5 Mar 2012 by Mr. P. I. Browne
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