Authors: Sylvia Townsend Warner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

“Some World Far from Ours,” and “Stay Corydon, Thou Swain,” 1929

Elinor Barley, 1930

Moral Ending, and Other Stories, 1931

The Salutation, 1932

More Joy in Heaven, and Other Stories, 1935

Twenty-four Short Stories, 1939 (with Graham Greene and James Laver)

The Cat’s Cradle Book, 1940

A Garland of Straw, and Other Stories, 1943

The Museum of Cheats, 1947

Winter in the Air, and Other Stories, 1955

A Spirit Rises, 1962

A Stranger with a Bag, and Other Stories, 1966 (pb. in U.S. as Swans on an Autumn River: Stories, 1966)

The Innocent and the Guilty: Stories, 1971

Kingdoms of Elfin, 1977

Scenes of Childhood, 1981

One Thing Leading to Another, and Other Stories, 1984

Selected Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1988

The Music at Long Verney: Twenty Stories, 2001 (Michael Steinman, editor)

Long Fiction:

Lolly Willowes: Or, The Loving Huntsman, 1926

Mr. Fortune’s Maggot, 1927

The True Heart, 1929

Summer Will Show, 1936

After the Death of Don Juan, 1938

The Corner That Held Them, 1948

The Flint Anchor, 1954


The Espalier, 1925

Time Importuned, 1928

Opus 7, 1931

Whether a Dove or a Seagull: Poems, 1933

Boxwood, 1957

Azrael, and Other Poems, 1978

Twelve Poems, 1980

Collected Poems, 1982


Jane Austen, 1951

T. H. White: A Biography, 1967

Letters, 1982

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1994 (Claire Harman, editor)

I’ll Stand by You: Selected Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, 1998 (Susanna Pinney, editor)

The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938–1978, 2001 (Michael Steinman, editor)


Sylvia Townsend Warner, though published often, has received sparse critical attention assessing her importance as a writer of short fiction, novels, poems, biographies, and translations. She was born in Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, England, on December 6, 1893. Her father, George Townsend Warner, was a Harrow School housemaster, but Sylvia did not receive a formal education. Her mother, Eleanor (Hudleston) Warner, taught her to read, her father taught her history, and a governess tutored her in general subjects. By the age of ten, Sylvia was reading extensively in her father’s library. She favored books on the occult, a subject that would later influence much of her writings. After her father died in 1916 she took a job in a munitions factory during World War I. She then moved to London to study music and was a member of the editorial committee that compiled the ten volumes of Tudor Church Music (1922-1929), which took ten years to complete.{$I[AN]9810000786}{$I[A]Warner, Sylvia Townsend}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Warner, Sylvia Townsend}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Warner, Sylvia Townsend}{$I[tim]1893;Warner, Sylvia Townsend}

Warner’s first book of poetry, The Espalier, was published in 1925. Her first novel, Lolly Willowes, was printed in 1926 and was selected by the newly established Book-of-the-Month Club. Warner’s second novel, Mr. Fortune’s Maggot, published in 1927, was chosen by the Literary Guild. Despite this early popularity of her novels, Warner received little critical acclaim for them; she became best known for her short stories. From 1936 to 1978, The New Yorker published 144 of her stories. After her second book of poetry, Time Importuned, was published in 1928, Warner’s first collection of short fiction came out in “Some World Far from Ours,” and “Stay, Corydon, Thou Swain,” in 1929. Her prose style was often praised for its conciseness, precise wording, fast-moving action, and ironic tone. In 1930 Warner and her partner Valentine Ackland moved to the country, where Warner wrote and Ackland opened an antique shop. Always active, Warner studied the black arts, elves, and mysticism. She also became an accomplished cook. She used much of this knowledge in her writings. In 1935 Warner became active in the Communist Party. In 1936 she and Ackland sailed to Barcelona, Spain, to volunteer their services to the Red Cross. (Warner and Ackland would live together until Ackland’s death in 1969.) Also in 1936, Warner’s novel Summer Will Show was published. It is considered by some critics to be her best work.

In 1939 Warner published Twenty-four Short Stories (including stories by Warner, Graham Greene, and James Laver), which was followed by another short-story collection, The Cat’s Cradle Book, in 1940. Then her A Garland of Straw, and Other Stories saw print in 1943. These stories show her continued interest in Spanish life, first seen in her novel After the Death of Don Juan. Some of these stories depict the effects on individuals of the Spanish Civil War and appear more angry than playful. More short-story collections and novels followed over the next eight years. Her last novel, The Flint Anchor, appeared in 1954. After this publication, another book of short stories, Winter in the Air, and Other Stories, went on sale in 1955, and a collection of poems, Boxwood, was published in 1957. In 1962 Warner’s stories were collected in A Spirit Rises. Her prolific output continued, and her writings were still popular even when she was in her eighties. A short-story collection, Kingdoms of Elfin, and a collection of poems, Azrael, and Other Poems, were published shortly before her death.

BibliographyAckland, Valentine. For Sylvia: An Honest Account. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985. A brief but poignant autobiography by Warner’s lover, detailing the years with Warner and the painful separation caused by Ackland’s struggle with alcoholism. Bea Howe’s lengthy foreword discusses her firsthand understanding of the influence of Ackland on Warner’s personal and professional life.Brothers, Barbara. “Through the ‘Pantry Window’: Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Spanish Civil War.” In Rewriting the Good Fight: Critical Essays on the Literature of the Spanish Civil War, edited by Frieda S. Brown et al. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1989. Places Warner in the context of her contemporaries regarding the period of the Spanish Civil War. Bibliography.Dinnage, Rosemary. “An Affair to Remember.” The New York Times, March 7, 1999. A review of Selected Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland; comments on Warner’s offbeat short stories from The New Yorker, claiming the short story was well suited to her whimsy; discusses her lesbian relationship with Valentine Ackland.Harmon, Claire. Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography. London: Chatto Windus, 1989. An even and thorough biography with illustrations, a bibliography, and an index. Deals openly and prominently with the relationship between Valentine Ackland and Warner. Gives a biographical and historical context of Warner’s work but with little critical detail.Loeb, Marion C. “British to the Core.” St. Petersburg Times, August 6, 1989, p. 7D. A review of The Selected Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner; notes that her stories deal with the world of civil servants, vicars’ wives, and pensioners; comments on her graceful, lyrical style.Maxwell, William, ed. Introduction to Letters: Sylvia Townsend Warner. New York: Viking, 1982. The novelist and editor for The New Yorker and Warner’s longtime personal friend shows great admiration for Warner’s work. Maxwell notes her historical astuteness, her “ironic detachment,” and her graceful formalism of language. Maxwell also considers the letters in the light of their being a writer’s “left-over energy” and written without the inhibition of editorial or critical judgment. Includes a brief biographical sketch.Perenyi, Eleanor. “The Good Witch of the West.” The New York Review of Books 32 (July 18, 1985): 27-30. Argues that Warner’s writing reputation has suffered from the inability of critics to categorize her writings, which include dozens of short stories and seven novels; notes that the publication of her letters has sparked new interest and that their talk of dreams and visitations suggests that Warner harbored “more than a touch of the witch.”Strachan, W. J. “Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Memoir.” London Magazine 19, no. 8 (November, 1979): 41-50. An overview of Warner’s fiction, with a close look at the elements of fantasy and realism. Kingdoms of Elfin and Lolly Willowes, for example, seem incongruent given Warner’s activity during World War I, but such realistic works as The Flint Anchor demonstrate her earthy, pragmatic quality. Even her most fantastic works reveal reason “firmly in control.”Tomalin, Claire. “Burning Happiness.” The New York Times, February 18, 1996. A review of The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner; discusses the nature of her feminism and her communism; notes the passion of her grief for Valentine Ackland after Ackland’s death.Updike, John. “Jake and Olly Opt Out.” The New Yorker 55 (August 20, 1979): 97-102. In this comparative review of Kingsley Amis’s Jake’s Thing (1978) and Warner’s Lolly Willowes, Updike looks at the role of nature in Warner’s work and discerns a subtle strain of feminism. He argues that, unlike Amis and other former poets-turned-novelists, Warner’s poetic style retains elements of “magic and music” and that her talent merits a much greater recognition than she has received.
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