Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner

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As I have mentioned before, I got my second year reading list a few weeks ago. And so, with due resignation, I signed on to Amazon, and ordered nearly forty novels, that comprises the entirety of the second year of university. My novels arrived and I was rather pleasantly surprised to find Lolly Willowes on my reading list. Unlike many of the novels for the upcoming year, it is rather short, and in comparatively simple prose. It isn’t overtly dense with meaning, because superficially it seems as though it is just a story about a sheltered woman, living in a tiny village, who becomes a witch.

However, I was asleep one night, and I ended up dreaming about the novel, imagining Lolly as a witch. The novel explores not just the parameters of the family unit, but also looks into ideas about marriage and the stigma of spinsterhood. Spinsterhood remains stigmatised even today, whoever was a much more obvious issue at the time of writing, 1926. The novel also discusses the idea of feminism in a rather oblique fashion. By empowering Lolly to go out into the world, alone, Sylvia Townsend Warner created a novel that supported Woolf’s rather more explicit literature, that also empowered women to go out into the world. The novel is significant in its own right, because of the subliminal message of strength it puts across. However it transcends into a network of early twentieth century literature, becoming a part of a literary network that also included Woolf, Mansfield, and other great female modernist writers.

The novel is not a modernist text in terms of linguistic style. It is written in the form of the Victorian novel, following a traditional structure in terms of time constraints, and character construction. This can be related to the fact that the novel itself is set in the patriarchal society of Victorian England. Lolly’s life, up until her move to Great Mop, is controlled by her brother, who represents the height of patriarchal control within England. Lolly is often considered as being passed around, almost as a package of no consequence. By moving along, and reclaiming herself, she becomes a woman in her own right, outside the control of her brother.

Conversely however, Lolly does fall under the influence of another male persona; Satan himself, disguised as a friend. By her assumption of his control over her, something that is never quite clarified for the reader, we see a necessity of patriarchy that structures all of Lolly’s actions. Whilst she is free, and has come under the influence of Satan somewhat willingly, there is still an echo of patriarchal society underpinning her world view.

The power dynamic that exists between Lolly and Satan is extremely interesting, because he is a kind of optional and yet inevitable patriarchal influence. There is a degree of resignation throughout the last couple of chapters in the novel, resigning Lolly to Satan’s eternal influence. To this extent, we can question the feminist tone that flows throughout the novel, and the extent to which it is effective.

If anything however, Lolly Willowes is very entertaining!

(:

(1) http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Books/Pix/covers/2012/3/12/1331563702226/Lolly-Willowes-Virago-Modern.jpg

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Onwards, Upwards, and Backwards

The problem is time, and loneliness. They go hand in hand; they always have. People do not form meaningful relationships overnight; a classic example of course, is the one night stand. However people also do not form relationships over any short period; there are fleeting friendships, holiday romances, work colleagues. They all form your perceptions of the world around you, and impact you in different ways, however they are rarely long-term friends, or even very good friends, because after all, we impact one another without ever really realizing that we have.

(1) It's nice, to be together. Ask Winnie the Pooh.

I always feel slightly deceived by the cliques that exist in high schools across the world, and the misconceptions that surround universities and colleges, after high school. Nothing really changes, and friends are not magically made. You do have to go out and find them, and hope that whilst you’re away, your old friends don’t move too far away from you. This is one of the worst parts of university; a complete upheaval of everything, including your friends, who are essentially the people you grew up with. It’s hard to be away from the people who know you better than anyone; suddenly you have to start making first impressions all over again, being presentable. You cannot be yourself in its full, unmitigated glory, because people can’t always handle that.

It’s challenging then, to go back to a time where people don’t know you, and have no history with you. They really don’t know you from Adam, and therefore, why would they bother with you if you didn’t come across well? This is a valid point, and one that I think is rather valuable to remember; people don’t owe you anything, ever. You call in favours, you must have history and friendship; the world is build on the latter. It’s a warm fuzzy idea, however sometimes it’s just plain alienating, because the new world is a billion miles away from where it used to be, and nothing is ever quite the same, after that. Including going home.

It’s inevitable that some life changing things will happen, and that some progress will be made. How much or how little is dependent on one’s willingness to change and evolve, and sometimes people have to go forwards in order to appreciate what they used to have. People move on. It’s one of the worst and best things about university, and I think it’s natural to think that. People are the same across the world; even if we were all still together, things would still be moving along. This tends to happen; as horrible as it is during high school, its way worse in reality.

But inevitably, we also find new people. And these people are just as amazing as the old people. They’re our people too. Real friends never tend to move too far away; they always come back given a phone call, or two.

(:

(1) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/best_friends255b1255d.jpg?w=300

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Since When Are Student Houses Idyllic Cottages?

However, no matter how nice my cottage is, it's nowhere near as cool as living at Hogwarts... (1)

I have a new house! Which seems a rather random declaration to make, but it’s true; instead of a grotty old flat, I’ve acquired, along with three of my friends, a three bedroom cottage, which is ideally placed in the middle of everything I need to be near. It was the closest I’ve ever come to believing in an intervention in fate; the cherry on top of the house being the fact the landlord is willing to buy new appliances, in colours of our choice (within reason of course). I spent about an hour picking out matching kettles and toasters, as well as pretty pink sofas.

I’ve never really had a house of my own before, and so I’m incredibly excited about the decorating. I like buying things for houses, and I have a sugarplum fairy shaped house planned out in my head. The paint can all be of our choice, as long as it remains in pastel shades; pale pink and purple. We’ve decided we’re going to grow flowers, in window boxes (because it’s a cottage, they’re already installed), and we have a two level back garden, with adorable little steps going up to the top. We’re currently entertaining some rather grand notions about what we’d like to do with the garden; this includes growing our own vegetables, to having barbecues.

This cottage seems to have improved my mood considerably, probably because I like the idea of being able to move into a house and not having to move out again, after a year. We’ll be able to live in our sugarplum cottage until we graduate, which is certainly an advantage to sharing with a smaller group of people; there’s less likely to be huge upheavals in the house, and because we’re all like-minded, we’re unlikely to seriously argue. I feel extremely lucky to have found some people with whom I feel comfortable sharing with for two years, at least.

Anyway, I only have one seminar left now, until the end of term, and revision commences. There will be a couple of revision lectures, however nothing strenuous, and until the end of May, it’ll just be cups of tea, books, and myself. It’s about five solid weeks of work, revision, and exams, but then the summer will arrive, and I’ll be back home with my Mum, Dad, sister and my friends for four whole months. There’ll be a week when I have to come back, to move and decorate my house, but aside from that, it’s back to work and home, just as if I’ve never been away.

I’d love to know how everybody else found their student houses; were they nice, could you decorate, or were they stereotypical student houses, renowned for mould, damp, and leaking pipes? I find housing experiences distinctly fascinating, because they seem to help shape a person’s university experiences. Living somewhere habitable and lovely improves your mindset immeasurably, making you a happier student, and therefore much more likely to get your work done. Sitting amongst moldy, cold houses, is a recipe for disaster.

I’m just feeling incredibly lucky today.

(:

(1) http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lyj226l9nf1r5ap1go1_500.jpg

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Humanity, 1910

Virginia Woolf is famously quoted to have said:

“On or about December 1910, human character changed.”

This infamous quote is perhaps one of the best summaries of the modernist period; a period in which nothing was entirely certain, and a period which changed the future of English literature permanently. The catalyst for this cataclysmic change can be considered to be any number of things; from Nietzsche’s revelation that “God is dead”, to the emergence of Darwinism. One of the most important facets of this change however is perhaps the First World War, a topic that I have previously discussed, in relation to Wilfred Owen. The nature of this war was destruction, in return for precious little result; indeed it can be argued that the First World War served as a kind of epilogue to the destruction that was to follow, merely twenty years later. Nevertheless however, the First World War altered our perception of mankind, and of ourselves, permanently.

The aftermath of the war was that society had changed in dynamic due to the horrific death toll; hardly a woman in Europe was left with both husband and son. Men were either too old to have fought, or too young to remember. These children however, began shaping the future of literature in a dynamic way; the canon of war poetry was not shaped by its creators, but it’s critics.

This can be said for all forms of literature, however in this case, it is particularly important, especially when one considers society’s revulsion towards those who had been left behind. Society seemed to abandon the injured, favouring instead to embrace the period of extravagance that followed in the 1920s, before the wrath of the great depression. These factors culminate to a society that was somewhat frivolous towards its criticism of war poetry, especially in England; patriotism was far more popular than the shocking realities that the poems of Sassoon, Owen and their counterparts represented. No nation ever really wants to remember its blackest hour, or relive the memories of it.

However, the idea of the changing human character resonates in one’s ear; that society could change so completely in such a short space of time is shocking. Victorian reserve was abandoned, and staunch Christianity was deeply questioned. Of course, who could possibly blame them for wanting to disband the society that had created the war that killed millions?

However, Woolf explicitly states that this change began to occur before the war began; a mere four years before, but indeed it was before. This early change was perhaps less marked at the time it occurred, and we are all familiar with the power of hindsight in relation to history. Everyone has wondered, “what if I could go back, and tell myself this?”; this is the futile nature of humanity’s retrospect, however.

It is, to my mind at least, completely fascinating that these changes and discoveries across the board colluded to make such a vital, almost fatal, change. The poets, artists, and novelists of the modernist period were unsure how to approach the new attitudes towards society and humanity itself, and this is represented in the deeply experimental nature of their literature, and art. Poetry was no longer of a solid rhyming persuasion; it was chaotic, changing in form, and almost a form of anarchy, reacting to what they saw outside.

Trying to make sense of this anarchy then, was the only way for these poets to progress; they no longer had the certainty that had existed not twenty years before; they no longer had the factual basis that so many great writers before them had, to act as a template. Within this evolving society, they too had to evolve with it; there was no place for the old ways, when they represented so much fear and anxiety. They were forced to push forwards, off the edge of the world, if you like. They had to jump, to find an ocean to which they belonged.

I think it was rather courageous.

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*I was going to find some modernist art, but my image up-loader seems to be affected! I’ll try to edit it tomorrow (:.

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