Feminist Friday: Lolly Willowes

Dear Reader,

Today sees my eleventh Feminist Friday post! For those of you who are new, each month I select a book to read that fits my own feminist criteria, which I then share with you on the second Friday of the month. For me, the books I choose must embody female strength of character and be inspirational to read. I try to explore work from a wide variety of genres, reading anything from classics and memoirs to fiction and poetry.

This month I would like to begin by saying thank you to Penguin Modern Classics, for sending a reading copy of this months book, on request through my job as a Bookseller at Waterstones. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner was first published in 1926 but has just been re-issued with this gorgeous cover (see below) by Penguin Modern Classics and I was thrilled to be able to select it as my Feminist Friday choice for November.

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Laura Willowes, known as ‘Aunt Lolly’ to her overbearing relatives, has a docile, accommodating and gentle temperament. Her helpful and practical nature is considered to be indispensable to all who know her, and she becomes trapped in the suffocating pattern of her life. But Laura has another side to her character. A side that no one suspects.

Now middle aged, she surprises everyone by announcing her desire to move to the depths of the countryside – alone. Once there, her inner, darker calling to witchcraft becomes increasingly more evident – with intriguing consequences…

That’s why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business, to satisfy our passion for adventure… It’s to escape… to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others.

Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner, 2020, p. 155, 156

I was so excited to read this book – the synopsis really intrigued me and I was hooked by the hint of witchcraft… Helen Macdonald describes it as tipping suddenly into extraordinary, lucid wildness, which I think is perfect! The book is split into three parts. The first two concern the Willowes family history, Laura’s early life and then her time at her Brothers house in London. Towards the end of part two she has a revelation (probably my favourite part of the book – it was so beautifully described) about her life and begins to feel an awakening desire for escape. The third part is the tipping point. Though it follows her new life in the country, her deepening connection to the landscape around her and her reflection on the lot of women, it also contains her encounters with the devil….

I lost myself in the language (both setting and character were very vivid) and the sense of spirituality. Sylvia Townsend Warner’s prose is immersive, poetic and perceptive, particularly with regards to the lot of women in the early 20th Century. She describes with acute perception the suffocation of the patriarchy, behavioural expectations and attempt to re-box women after the first world war. Sylvia also uses Laura’s position to highlight her lack of financial independence (her brothers use of the inheritance on her behalf incensed me!), and also her changing relationship with her nephew. He, in the end, through his total oblivion to her feelings and self indulgence of his own, tracks her down in her solitary home, brings back ‘Aunt Lolly’ and uses her as a kind of servant. Her dealings with the devil certainly play their part in her revenge! The parallels with witchcraft added a compelling and otherworldly, almost supernatural element – I loved this fictional twist on the otherwise traditional story. I also thoroughly enjoyed the subversion of the stereotype – the seeking of enlightenment by a journey – but to the devil, to gain ultimate freedom of the soul. Laura’s ‘dark streak’, the streak that brings her closer to the spiritual world, seems to symbolise her rebellion against conformity and I found myself willing her to respond to this inner calling, find her independence and listen to her spirit.

I really enjoyed this months choice, it was quirky and beautiful yet with a whisper of darkness…

I’d love to hear if you are as intrigued as I was to read this book or what you thought if you have already read it – please feel free to leave a comment! As always don’t forget to like if you enjoyed this post and hit follow so as not to miss out on December’s Feminist Friday choice 🙂

Have a lovely evening,

Meg Readz xx

3 thoughts on “Feminist Friday: Lolly Willowes

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