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Summer Will Show (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Sylvia Townsend Warner , Claire Harman
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: £9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

10 Sep 2009 New York Review Books Classics
Sophia Willoughby, a young English woman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed off her unsatisfactory and improvident husband to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She will devote herself to the serious business of properly raising her two children. Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long Sophia has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband's sometime mistress. Minna leads Sophia on a wild adventure through Bohemian and revolutionary Paris.



Sylvia Townsend Warner, was one of the most original and inventive of 20th-century English novelists as well as a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. Summer Will Show is the most out-and-out exciting of Warner's novels and a brilliant re-imagining of the possibilities of historical fiction.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (10 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173163
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173169
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Forget another adaption of 'Emma': I want to see this on Sunday night telly… It's a wildly leftist novel of love, war and death; Townsend Warner chucks the whole lot into her simmering story, but it remains skillfully crafted. Brilliantly entertaining and far ahead of its time, this is clearly way too hot for Sunday night drama to handle. (Guardian)

About the Author

Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) was a poet, short-story writer, and novelist, as well as an authority on early English music.

Claire Harman's first book, a biography of Sylvia Townsend Warner, was published in 1989 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. She has since published biographies of Fanny Burney and Robert Louis Stevenson and edited works by Stevenson and Warner. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sylvia Townsend Warner, Revolutionary.AA 28 Nov 2009
By Mrs. Barbara Deakin VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I am still surprised that I have discovered Sylvia Townsend Warner so late in my life. An amazing writer. She wrote "Summer Will Show" in the nineteen thirties and
some of its subject matter would have been unacceptable then. However, she wrote it
and succeeded in having it published. There is an extremely interesting account of
the French Revolution of 1848 and of Paris at that time.
The story tells us of certain events in the eighteen eighties that involved
Sophia Willoughby, a young aristocratic woman who has discovered that her husband is
having an affair with French mistress. She is the owner of the property and considerable land, having inherited it from her family. She therefor sends him away
to his mistress in France. Subsequent events cause her to travel to France to seek
him out.The Revolution begins almost as soon as she arrives. Being caught up in the
rioting, meeting her husbands mistress and finding herself unaccountably drawn to her, Sophia is trapped in Paris. The denouement is inevitable. I will not reveal any
of it. Sylvia Townsend Warner was certainly a revolutionary for the times she lived in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the proof of the book is in the reading 24 April 2013
By V. Eng
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not having had a London-based literary circle to promote her, Sylvia Townsend Warner has not so much been forgotten as ignored. Add to the above absence the fact that she was an unambivalent and non-covert lesbian and that she joined the Communist Party when choice was stark in the 1930s and an explanation begins to form.

Summer Will Show is a study of women and power, more precisely the powerlessness of married women in the nineteenth century when all pertinent, including economic, power lay in the hands of the husband. However, what makes this novel outstanding is the way the author subverts the above well-worn narrative. A well-off middle-class woman, the mother of two children and joined in matrimony to a philandering, largely absent husband, loses her children to an epidemic. In search of her husband, she travels to Paris where he has a mistress who is Jewish (it is perhaps pertinent to point ou that introducing a Jewish character is not of itself racist). A pivotal moment in the story comes when the two women find each other of greater interest than they do the Husband and Lover respectively

The two women's relationship is cemented, and the Wife undergoes a process of radical change not merely of 'sexual orientation' but of her entire outlook on life. She is now penniless since she has refused to submit to the husband's efforts to blackmail her by withholding all her money. The two women, formerly Wife and Mistress, succeed in living in harmony, surrounded by their equally penniless but politically active friends, and the former middle-class mother joins in political work on the side of the Revolution.
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2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why would anyone bother republishing this? 10 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback
Can't believe that any publisher felt the need to drag this out of its well-deserved obscurity. Everything about this book is utterly unconvincing and contrived. After her children die from smallpox, wealthy landowner Sophia takes off for Paris and takes up with her estranged husband's Jewish mistress. And ends up on the barricades with a gun in her hands.
Even allowing for autres temps etc the racism and anti-Semitism in this novel are breathtaking. And as for the trite ending with Sophia reading The Communist Manifesto ... aaargh!
Drivel. But maybe you could turn it into a musical.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful book 20 Jun 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read. Blind hope that it would improve kept me going to the end. Sadly those hopes were dashed. This is badly written and requires a complete suspension of disbelief.
None of the characters are likeable and I didn't care about what happened to any of them.
Obviously this is my personal opinion and judging by some of the other reviews, it seems that it is possible to enjoy this book.
So glad to have finished this piece of utter nonsense.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warner's lesbian Marxist masterpiece 29 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A witty, romantic, political, feminist classic, Summer Will Show is the coming-out story of Sophia Willoughby, an apparently rigidly conventional upper-class early Victorian lady. Her history is gloriously downwardly-mobile as she abandons her arid marriage and ancestral home to find love in the arms of her husband's ex-mistress and life in the underground activities of the new communist movement during the Revolution of 1848 in Paris. Warner's delight in the absurd and the romantic is balanced by her meticulous sense of history; first published in 1936, her narrative's vitality reflects her new political excitement--she joined the communist party in its fight against fascism in 1935--and her day-to-day delight in her ongoing lesbian relationship with poet Valentine Ackland. Summer Will Show is the best "lesbian novel" I have read; celebratory, funny, and worldly-wise, it carries no trace of the anxiety in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness and most other representations of lesbianism of that time.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summer Will Show 8 May 2000
By Elizabeth Ewing - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Summer Will Show is Sylvia Townsend Warner's most bold lesbian novel. The book uses numerous scenes and even characters from other great English novels such as Great Expectations. After Sophia Willoughby loses her children to smallpox, she goes to find her husband with his mistress in Paris. She finds them both and his mistress Minna and Sophia find themselves unnaturally drawn to each other. Eventually they find themselves to be soulmates and both become actively involved in the French Revolution. The book contains the wonderful style and metaphors characteristic of Sylvia Townsend Warner. A must-read for Warner fans.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unexpected 3 July 2009
By Jay Dickson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
NYRB's reissue of one of Sylvia Townsend Warner's greatest novels could not be more welcome. Written after her conversion to communism the year before, Townsend Warner's 1936 novel is her most romantic, and shows the pleasures of abandoning yourself both to another heart and to a larger political cause (and indeed the two are often conflated in the novel). SUMMER WILL SHOW is not as formally innovative as Townsend Warner's next novel, THE CORNER THAT HELD THEM, but it may well be more challenging because of its intellectual sophistication: though this is a love story and a historical novel, it is also very much a novel of ideas.

Its heroine, Sophia Willoughby, enjoys a great measure of independence living at her ancestral mansion Blandamer House overseeing the management of the estate and the raising of her two children. Her rakish husband spends most of his time in London, or in Paris seeing his mysterious mistress; this is largely as Sophia prefers it because his absence allows her to do largely as she pleases. But when smallpox carries away both children in 1847 in the novel's bravura first section, Sophia is left without much purpose in life, and she surprises herself the next Feburary by traveling to Paris to see if her husband will grant her more children. And then she surprises herself again by falling in love with his mistress, Minna, an extremely ugly but mesmerizing storyteller who is also a leading figure in the February 1848 revolution against Louis-Phillipe.

The third and fourth sections of the novel have their longeurs as far as action goes, but they are absolutely essential to the meaning of the novel. Townsend Warner's characters never do or say quite what you'd expect (or what they would), and the movement of their ideas--and of Sophia's character--is so complex as to be nearly impossible to chart out. Yet nothing here feels forced or unnatural. This is one of the smartest books of the 1930s, and absolutely essential to understanding how British writers of the period were attracted to the promises of international communism particularly during the Spanish Civil War.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revolution from the Inside 4 Oct 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can't speak for everyone else, of course, but to me Sylvia Townsend Warner is a bit of a surprise. She doesn't seem to be very much read these days, and in many respects she'd be perfect for today's audiences. She had some profound political wisdom, she never did the same thing twice, and she was one of the earliest writers in English to examine gay themes and content on a regular basis. So get with it, audience.

On the other hand, she spent a considerable amount of energy on historical novels - her early career as a musicologist involved collecting church music from the Tudor period in England's 15th and 16th centuries. When she turned to fiction writing, she set several novels in times not her own. Maybe that's why today's audience has missed her. Even with the politics and the gay content, historical fiction is a hard sell these days.

"Summer Will Show", for instance, the author's 1936 offering, takes place about 90 years before that, largely in Paris. We'll get to the characters in a minute, but first let's set the scene. In 1848 France is about to experience yet another in a long series of revolutions. There was a king, Louis Philippe, and the people were sick of him because the economy was lousy. Next thing you know, people are setting up makeshift barricades across the roads and fighting the national troops, waiting for the king to step down. And of course, food is scarce, and there's certainly no time for fancy-schmancy affectations like art.

Meantime, over in England, a wealthy landowning heiress named Sophia Willoughby has sent her philandering husband packing and devoted herself to caring for her two young children. It's no spoiler (the information appears on the back jacket of the book) to tell you that both kids die of smallpox, leaving Sophia with little to do. After a few tries at redefining herself, she goes after hubby to demand that he come home and give her another child, but surprises herself by falling in love with her husband's ex-mistress, the performing Jewish storyteller Minna Lemuel.

So what we've got here is a rich lady who falls in love with another woman and thereby enters into her new partner's association of bohemian artists and secret communist revolutionaries. This actually seems fairly straightforward, and not even an original plotline. In this case, though, the emphasis is not on how the main character changes. Rather, we get to see how both women change and stay the same. It's a risky maneuver, because watching people not change isn't particularly interesting. Townsend Warner pulls it off because she's very wise about one aspect of human nature - people may change their political opinions, their sympathies and even their sexual orientation, but they seldom change their behavior.

Sophia, for instance, approaches every circumstance of her life with the same grand certainty that she knows what's going on and how to bend it to her will. She knows how to manage a great estate and goes about trying to manage the new revolution in the same way. She's in for a big surprise, of course.

Minna, too, clings to pretty much the same behavioral pattern whether it's effective or not. The child of a Jewish community in Poland wiped out in a pogrom, she learns to survive by telling the story of her life in manner that fascinates anyone within earshot. Which is all very well when people have the leisure to sit around and complain - when they're starving, no one has the time or the money to listen to Minna.

So, as usual, Sophia and Minna must confront their public and private lives, a process made more urgent by the fact that both aspects of life are undergoing a revolution. Public life is in flux, to such an extent that Sophia the landowner finds herself providing scrap metal to a communist cell. As for private life, it's fairly clear that neither of these women have even considered gay love before. Not that either one of them tells the other "I love you" in so many words. A professor of gay literature could probably explain why Townsend Warner left that bit out - I can't tell whether she felt overt lesbianism would chase all the publishers away or whether she was just being coy - but interestingly, the absence of any obvious love-talk makes the relationship seem more real. "Summer Will Show", by avoiding any academic discussion or abstract theorizing, shows just how it might be to live as a lesbian during a revolution.

I'll bet most people never even wondered what that would be like, let alone looking for a work of art that would express it, but leaving the specifics aside, there's something exhilarating about a simultaneous revolution in public and private life. You might not enjoy an actual life in which all bets are off - on the other hand, you'd probably enjoy reading about it, especially when the narration is so skillful. It's important, for instance, to see that even with food scarce and possible danger close by, Minna's storytelling abilities are amazing enough to attract an audience of children in a public park without even trying too hard. Townsend Warner was good enough to write that scene in such a way that we believe it, which makes it easier to believe that Sophia would stay with her.

The novel starts with a quick poem to explain the title - "Winter will shake, spring will try / Summer will show if you live or die". Which could mean a great many things, but one thing's for sure; if there's to be a revolution, public or private, our old ways of doing things will not be sufficient. This story is useful in showing us how that might work, for better or worse.

Benshlomo says, One way or another, the revolution's here.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you're looking for a romantic love story this isn't it. 18 Sep 2013
By BBaker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I did not like this book at all. The writer seemed to have written this with a full blown case of ADD. She constantly jumps from one thought to the next, past to present, changes direction abruptly, and can't seem to fully flesh out any scene. Trying to read this and stay engaged was a constant struggle. I did not feel connected to the main characters in any way because their development was so haphazard and incomplete. If you're interested in this book for the lesbian content be forewarned there is very little of it, and what is there lacks any real feeling and frankly at times the storyline doesn't even make sense.
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