One of the notable features of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s short stories is her elegant, precise, epigrammatic, and witty prose. These qualities are particularly noticeable when she focuses on what she knows best: the niceties of English middle-and upper-class life as they reveal themselves in day-to-day domestic and social routines, and the sudden disruption of those routines. As in the novels of her British contemporary, Barbara Pym, her detached and humorous observance of the oddities of humanity is one of the chief pleasures to be gained from her stories. She has a sharp but sympathetic eye for eccentricity of all kinds, and her stories cover a wide range of situations and points of view.
Perhaps because of the variety of her fiction, it would be misleading to pinpoint specific themes or leading ideas. Warner’s stories do not reveal a consistent or dominant mood or atmosphere. She does not espouse a philosophy or champion a cause. Her subject matter is the infinite variety of human nature: its follies, regrets, hopes, deceits, compromises, its small defeats and victories, the tidy chaos of the average human life. The stories frequently develop out of an apparently insignificant event or chance encounter or an incident or memory from the protagonist’s past, which resurfaces to affect the present. A sudden rift is produced in the otherwise smooth fabric of daily life, and often an ironic twist at the end will reveal a new dimension to a relationship...
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