Sarah Waters on Sylvia Townsend Warner

Finds’ has been thrilled to reissue four collections of short stories by the great Sylvia Townsend Warner, an endeavour which we were pleased to have endorsed by Sarah Waters, who told us last year that she rated STW as ‘one of the most talented and well-respected British authors of the twentieth century.’ Last weekend Waters expanded on this appreciation in a long piece for the Guardian, focused on the debut novel Lolly Willowes but considering many aspects of STW’s life, work, accomplishments and influence. It is a splendid tribute worth reading in full:

‘The intelligence of her writing has sometimes resulted in her fiction being misunderstood as difficult, and has perhaps lost her readers; she’s certainly one of the most shamefully under-read great British authors of the past 100 years… She remains [] relatively under-appreciated – a fact that baffles, frustrates and, I think, secretly pleases her admirers, for she’s the kind of novelist who inspires an intense sense of ownership in her fans. She has a special significance for lesbian readers, thanks not so much to the content of her work (only her fourth novel, Summer Will Show, can really be claimed as a lesbian text) as to the example of her life, nearly 40 years of which she spent in open, passionate partnership with another woman, Valentine Ackland. Both she and Ackland were writers and avid readers, and both were seriously committed to radical leftwing causes. Together they constitute a tremendously inspiring model of romantic, literary and political engagement.’

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The perenially ‘sharp’ if ‘under-read’ Sylvia (Townsend Warner); and ‘fantastic’ Faber Finds (!)

We are most grateful for any and all interest in our offerings from the well-read daily papers, and so take special pride in this commendation from the Guardian‘s September fiction paperback round-up of last week. Justine Jordan writes that:

“the fantastic Faber Finds – “The Place for Lost Books” – has rescued Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1966 sharp story collection ‘A Stranger With a Bag and Other Stories’. The author of ‘Lolly Willowes’ is now, as Sarah Waters says, “shamefully under-read”; this edition might help to correct that.”

Amen to that. Townsend Warner does seem to enjoy one of those Orwellian ‘large, vague renowns’ – to be, in the phrase that can curse just as it blesses – ‘a writer’s writer.’ But when as here the first writer in that sequence is Sarah Waters then one can only hope that her good offices will act as bone fides enough for new readers to give Sylvia a whirl.

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In praise of the great Sylvia Townsend Warner: Sarah Waters + Adam Mars-Jones

Sylvia Townsend Warner by Cecil Beaton, 1930

A Stranger with a Bag and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner is new in Faber Finds this month, following on from our publication of her A Spirit Rises, Winter in the Air, and Scenes of Childhood, all available to order at this page too. I am delighted to say that the occasion of our latest reissue is marked with tributes from two of the most esteemed novelists at work today. I thank Sarah and Adam for their contributions, and very much hope that readers yet to encounter this remarkable writer on the page will take onboard these powerful recommendations:

Sylvia Townsend Warner was one of the most talented and well-respected British authors of the twentieth century. Today she is shamefully under-read. Her short stories have been particularly neglected – and yet, intelligent, lyrical, beautifully crafted, they constitute some of the very best of her work. It is wonderful to see so many of them being made available again by Faber Finds.

Sylvia Townsend Warner is too definite a personality to be described as ‘elusive’, but I’ve never been able to predict where she is taking me, and never been disappointed by where it turned out to be.

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