I usually view collections like this with slight suspicion, reasoning that as the stories haven't been published in book form before they are somehow lesser works or afterthoughts.
"The Music of Long Verney", however, disproves this, with almost every story being a delight. Written over the course of fifty years they are lucid snapshots containing perceptively-drawn characters, in which one episode illuminates the wider whole.
Some of the stories are very funny, particularly 'Maternal Devotion' and 'Tebic' (read this, if only to find out what Tebic is); while others are poignant, as 'The Candles' and 'The Listening Woman'.
The book itself is a fine hardback, with a biographical introduction by William Maxwell and a critical afterward by Michael Steinman.
Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote seven novels, starting with the instantly successful Lolly Willowes. In the end it was her short stories, frequently published in the New Yorker, which brought her the greatest recognition. Although fourteen collections were published, these twenty have never before been issued in book form.
Writing from the 1920s right through to the 1970s, Warner's stories are exquisite vignettes of numinous moments in the lives of ordinary - or extraordinary - English people. Frequently she begins with an ordinary event - a snowstorm, a bicycle ride, an invitation to tea - only for the story to metamorphose into a depiction of the magical, the mythical or the deeply resonant. In The Listening Woman, an elderly lady rediscovers her younger self through a long-forgotten painting; in the title story, two dispossessed gentlefolk find themselves accidental guests in their own home; in Stay, Corydon, Thou Swain a lovelorn draper's innocent rural outing ends in supernatural panic.
The centrepiece of the collection is a cycle of five stories dealing with the Abbey Antique Galleries and its unusual proprietor, Mr Edom, through whose idiosyncratic gaze we see a wealth of miniature dramas play themselves out amongst the objets d'art. A young woman, oppressed by her husband's good taste, steals a Victorian necklace under Edom's approving eye; a sudden power cut plunges the shop into a candlelit interlude which transforms the goods on sale into magical artefacts.
Warner's early life as a musician also surfaces frequently in these stories, with stories of overblown violinists, callow composers and class-ridden choral societies. Funniest of all is In the Absence of Mrs Bullen, in which an ageing diva impersonates her own charwoman, terrifying an impressionable piano tuner.
A treasure - either as an introduction to Warner's work, or as an adjunct to an existing collection.