Sylvia Townsend Warner Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 555 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sylvia Townsend Warner was born in Harrow, Middlesex, on December 6, 1893. She was educated mostly at home (her father was a schoolmaster), having been considered a disruptive influence in kindergarten. Her early talent was for music, and in 1914 she was set to travel to Vienna to study under Arnold Schönberg, but the outbreak of World War I prevented it. In 1916, after the death of her father, she moved to London and was a member of the editorial committee which compiled the ten-volume Tudor Church Music (1922-1929). Her first publication was a collection of poetry, The Espalier, in 1925, a time when she thought of herself primarily as a poet. In the 1920’s, she met the novelist T. F. Powys, who proved to be influential on her early poetry and fiction. In 1930, Warner moved to the country and lived with her friend Valentine Ackland in a Dorset village. During the 1930’s, she and Ackland became involved in left-wing politics, joining the Communist Party and serving with the Red Cross in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. In subsequent years, Warner lived the quiet life of an English gentlewoman in rural Dorset, managing to sustain her literary output up to her final years. She died in 1978.