Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner


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!





A Lecture on the Visual Sounds of Tennyson

So you know the feeling, when you sit down and start listening, and that feeling of fuzzy begins to encompass your brain. That is what I began to feel when I sat down to listen to Dr. Jason Hall, explain his theories on meter, and the perception a person has of meter. Coventry Patmore claims that:

“Meter is only present in the mind”

This assumption of course leads us to believe that meter is in the mind, it is a force of the imagination and subsequently doesn’t really exist in its own right, as a solid product. This means of course that literature, especially poetry, can be considered subjectively and therefore is an individual experience for the reader.

The general question posed therefore is “Should meter be adhered to at all, when read aloud, or should we hear the poem naturally, as though it were prose?” This is especially important when one reads 20th century poets like T.S Eliot, and the idea of Modernism poses another important question to this end; where Modernism sought to break tradition and redefine traditional prescriptive writing styles, such as that of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”. If meter truly is in the mind of the reader, then is the whole idea of writing to a certain form, or in a certain style, especially in poetry, completely invalidated by the subjective opinion of the reader?

The idea that nothing is solid, but that everything is open to interpretation is both liberating and asphyxiating, because with no prescribed, solid form, there is very little that a person can hold on to, to work through a complex and challenging text. In a sense, prescriptivism provides a hand for the reader to hold, something to focus on when one finds themselves drowning in ideas and words and structures that combine to create cataclysmic confusion. However, being without a babysitter forces you to walk alone, and to stand on your own two feet and just figure it out, alone, possibly with the dictionary as a lonely companion. The intellectual challenge therefore is made innumerably more interesting without structure or support.

I emerged from this talk thinking that I know, and understand very little, about ideas of meter and rhyme, despite a lengthy extended project (which I may upload extracts of soon) on the poetic form used in 14th Century Chaucer. However, through my confusion, I managed to make a little sense; found a little understanding in a sea of ideas that are so sophisticated, that you realise that you are barely an amoeba in the great ocean of English education.

And I can honestly say that I loved every second of it, and I hope that I never lose the want to get better, and know just a little more than I did yesterday.