Keeping warm

Penelope Fitzgerald

  • Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner edited by William Maxwell
    Chatto, 311 pp, £15.00, October 1982, ISBN 0 7011 2603 5
  • The Portrait of a Tortoise by Gilbert White and Sylvia Townsend Warner
    Virago, 63 pp, £3.50, October 1981, ISBN 0 86068 218 8
  • Sylvia Townsend Warner: Collected Poems edited by Claire Harman
    Carcanet, 290 pp, £9.95, July 1982, ISBN 0 85635 339 6
  • Scenes of Childhood and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner
    Chatto, 177 pp, £6.50, September 1981, ISBN 0 7011 2516 0

Sylvia Townsend Warner expected her correspondence to be published, indeed she sensibly provided for it. ‘I love reading Letters myself,’ she told William Maxwell, her literary executor, ‘and I can imagine enjoying my own.’ She was born in 1893, an only child. Her father was a Harrow master, who, in a way not very complimentary to his profession (but quite right for STW), never sent her to school. She was allowed to study what she liked, and was devoted to him, emerging from the ‘benignly eccentric household’ as a musician: she was about to go to Vienna, to study under Schönberg, when the First World War broke out. When her father died, leaving her, as she put it, ‘mutilated’, she saw that it would be better to earn her own living than stay in the country and quarrel with her mother. She came to London, and worked as an editor on the monumental Tudor Church Music. Plain, frail, shortsighted, not quite young any more and, for the first time in her life, rather poor, she set out to enjoy herself. ‘I am sure that to be fearless is the first requisite for a woman: everything else that is good will grow naturally out of that.’

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