Lolly Willowes

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Lolly Willowes
Author Sylvia Townsend Warner
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Chatto & Windus
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)

Lolly Willowes; or The Loving Huntsman is a novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner, her first, published in 1926.


Lolly Willowes is satirical comedy of manners incorporating elements of fantasy, it is the story of a middle-aged spinster who moves to a country village to escape her controlling relatives and takes up the practice of witchcraft.[1] The novel opens at the turn of the twentieth century, with Laura Willowes moving from Somerset to London to live with her brother, Henry, and his family. The move comes in the wake of the death of Laura's father, Everard, with whom she lived with at the family home, Lady Place. Laura's other brother, James, moves into Lady Place with his wife and his young son, Titus, with the intention to continue the family's brewing business. However, James dies suddenly of a heart attack and Lady Place is rented out, with the view that Titus, once grown up, will return to the home and run the business.

Laura finds herself feeling increasingly stifled both by the obligations of being a live-in aunt and living in London. When shopping for flowers on the Moscow Road, Laura decides she wishes to move to the Chiltern Hills and, buying a guide book and map to the area, she decides upon the (fictional) village of Great Mop as her new home. Against the wishes of her extended family, Laura moves to Great Mop and finds herself entranced and overwhelmed by the chalk hills and beech woods. When out walking, she makes a pact with a force that she takes to be Satan, so as she can remain in the Chilterns rather than return to her duties as an aunt. On returning to her lodgings, she discovers a kitten, whom she takes to be Satan's emissary, and names him Vinegar Tom, in reference to the English history of witchcraft.

In the meantime, Titus, having visited Laura, has decided he wants to move from his lodgings in Bloomsbury to Great Mop and be a writer, rather than inheriting the family business. Titus' renewed social and domestic reliance on Laura make Laura feel frustrated that even as a witch living in the Chilterns she cannot escape the duties expected of women. Satan intervenes, plaguing Titus with tricks, such as curdling his milk and, finally, setting a nest of wasps upon him. Finally, having had his wasp stings treated by a Londoner named Pandora Williams, Titus proposes marriage to Pandora and the two retreat to London. Laura, relieved, meets Satan at Mulgrave Folly and tells him that women are like 'sticks of dynamite' waiting to explode and that all women are witches even 'if they never do anything with their witchcraft, they know it's there - ready!' The novel ends with Laura acknowledging that her new freedom comes at the expense of knowing that she belongs to the 'satisfied but profound indifferent ownership' of Satan.

Reception and Legacy[edit]

The novel was well received by critics on its publication. In France it was shortlisted for the Prix Femina and in the USA it was the very first Book Of The Month for the Book Club.[2]

Until the 1960s, the Manuscript of Lolly Willowes was displayed in the New York Public Library.[3]

In 2014, Robert McCrum chose it as one of the 100 Best Novels in English, for his list for The Guardian.[4]


  1. ^ Brian Stableford, " Re-Enchantment in the Aftermath of War", in Stableford, Gothic Grotesques: Essays on Fantastic Literature. Wildside Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4344-0339-1 (pp. 110-121)
  2. ^ The 100 best novels: No 52 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) The Guardian. 14 September 2014.
  3. ^ The 100 best novels: No 52 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) The Guardian. 14 September 2014.
  4. ^ The 100 best novels: No 52 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) The Guardian. 14 September 2014.