Sylvia Townsend Warner Biography

Start Your Free Trial

Download Sylvia Townsend Warner Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(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 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 ,...

(The entire section is 758 words.)