I don't remember now what the impetus was for me to pull Syvia Townsend Warner's The Flint Anchor down from my library's shelves last week. I'm sure I saw a reference to her somewhere and the name clicked as someone I've seen mentioned on blogs (I'm guessing Simon was the mentioner). No doubt I looked her up in the catalog, saw what we owned and then went looking for more information. When the lone Amazon reviewer of this novel calls all of Warner's books "superb" and this one specifically one of her "two masterpieces" then her work is obviously something I need to explore.
Sylvia Townsend Warner was an English novelist and poet who worked in a munitions factory during WWI. She gained fame in the 1920s with her first novel Lolly Willowes about a woman who "moves to a country village to escape her controlling relatives and takes up the practice of witchcraft." It should be enough that not only did Virago publish her work but that now NYRB does. Definitely need to sit up and listen now. But is The Flint Anchor the best place to start? My library only owns this, a book of short stories and a biography by her and several of her translations of Marcel Proust.
The Flint Anchor appears to be her last book which was published in 1954, and while the subject matter seems somewhat dour the reviews I've read in the New York Times are very favorable.
"Satirical, witty, cheerfully grim about the prevalence of of knavery and folly, Miss Warner's comedy in intellectually amusing without being humorous."
This is one of Warner's historical novels about a Victorian family, which spans the life of one man and his wife and follows the fortunes of their children over the course of time as they grow up and mature. It sounds as though Warner excels in creating convincing and timeless character studies.
"The Flint Anchor is a satire that flirts with fantasy. Miss Warner has made no effort at realism, has included many blithely improbable events and circumstances and has left the historical background against which the Barnard family lived nearly a blank. Except for the greater power of the head of the family, the greater importance of conventions and the greater role of religious observances, the Barnard family's story might take place in the present century."
In a way this story doesn't sound like one I would normally pick up, but I am strangely intrigued by the element of fantasy which seems to run through her books. Whose read her? And which book is her best?