THE DIARIES OF SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER by Claire Harman

THE DIARIES OF SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER

edited by

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A richly rewarding view of an unconventional woman's eloquence, intellect, and passion over the course of five decades. Warner (18931978), a British author best known for her short stories in the New Yorker and her novels Lolly Wilowes and Mr. Fortune's Maggot, vividly documented everything in her life from the mundane to the monumental. These diaries recall her teas with musicians and authors; gardening; thoughts on politics and writing (her own and others', such as her controversial contemporary Radclyffe Hall's); her lesbianism and love for poet Valentine Ackland; and the crushing grief of Ackland's death. What emerges is a portrait of a romantic, versatile, and clever woman with a novelist's eye and a poet's ear--a delightful character to encounter whether or not one is familiar with her fiction. Her early entries are lighthearted. Here she is on a lousy day's work: ``I wrote like an old flock mattress''; or on two languorous weeks of writing, socializing, and gardening: ``a peaceful fortnight of ladylike behavior''; or on her utterly untortured creative process: ``In the late afternoon I suddenly found myself with poem . . . It was odd to be shot into that feeling again, that deliberate trance, without a word of warning.'' Her initial years with Ackland are filled with adventures and high spirits until 1949, when Ackland began an affair with another woman. But most profound are the entries from the decade between the onset of Ackland's terminal cancer and Warner's own death in 1978, in which Warner heartrendingly recalls ``the sensual freedom of the days before calamity.'' These portions powerfully evoke the pain of lost love, a pain heightened by Warner's vigilant return to their love letters and blunted only by whisky and writing. With deft editing, Harman, her biographer, has both illuminated Warner's day-to-day existence and allowed the woman's vitality and grandeur to speak for themselves.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-85381-885-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Collins & Brown/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1995




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