14 thoughts on “Sylvia Townsend Warner: The Corner That Held Them

  1. I’m intrigued by your review of this book, and I find I tried, at third hand, to read significance into the butterfly – isn’t this what we do sometimes in real life, we try to construct sense/pattern/significance/history out of events or chance remarks?
    I’m looking forward to reading this book.


  2. Thank you for this wonderful review – I deeply appreciate your insights into literary theory and techniques of historical fiction and where this superb novel fits in.

    I am also tickled PINK by the notion that it is ‘As moving as The Nun’s Story’ 🙂


  3. I was so pleased to find that cover, and I am passionately interested in how many people read it earnestly looking for smut.


  4. Thank you for recommending this book. I have read a lot of the heroic running around and fighting sort of historical novel and it was good to read one where ‘nothing happens’ (though of course to the nuns it’s their life and so lots happens). As you say, the little details and the parts of people’s stories that you don’t see all of, though you believe they exist outside the novel, are part of the appeal.

    I am often interested in reading your recommendations though generally rely on what my local library can offer. They have a few other Sylvia Townsend Warner books which I now look forward to trying too. Do you have any particular recommendations (or ones to avoid)?


    1. I’m very pleased that you liked TCtHT. The most accessible STW novel is Lolly Willowes, which your library is likely to have. Other than that, her novels are so individual, I’d hesitate to recommend one over another, since she is such a personal writer. I really like her Tales of Elfin (or is it Kingdom of Elfin?: short stories written late in life for The New Yorker about the Kingdom of Elfin, which is absolutely not the kind of faerieland one would expect. And her Collected Short Stories are also excellent.


      1. Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately, Lolly Willowes is not one they have but I’ve requested a couple of other books and will see how I go.


      2. I managed to get hold of Kingdom of Elfin, which I enjoyed for a while, but then found the stories getting too similar and stopped. I could imagine having enjoyed them one at a time in separate New Yorker magazines but couldn’t manage them in too big a dose.

        I also read After the Death of Don Juan, which in some ways reminded me of The Corner that Held Them, being another ensemble cast story where not very much happens, though this time set between the Spanish nobility and peasants. Also one of the weirdest book covers I’ve seen in ages: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2037408.After_the_Death_of_Don_Juan

        I felt that was enough STW to keep me going for a while but might keep my eye out for more in future.


  5. I admire this book so much; a chronicle-novel about a time that cherished chronicles. Somehow the lack of a single protagonist works; the protagonist, somehow, is the way of life itself, played out over the long dureé. Small correction: Tallis was hundreds of years after the heyday of Ars Nova–see any number of fine recordings of the music of Guillaume de Machaut for better examples. Tallis (1505-1585) was a Tudor composer. Not all polyphony is the same, not by a long chalk.


  6. I also enjoyed this book a great deal and also appreciate your review/write-up here.

    It’s my way to read a book’s introduction only *after* I’ve finished the book so I remember the reference to the butterfly in the introduction. It bothered me there and since you mention it too, I’m offering the following: The butterfly doesn’t disappear from the story: Dame Amy sees the butterfly trapped in a cobweb and sets it free which is a nice bit of symbolism, I suppose, but she then notices the cobwebs and tidies and then turns to the books . . . and it’s only been a few pages since the reader was told that Sir Ralph used one of his books to keep all manner of papers in so surely Dame Amy is about to discover . . . but she doesn’t. I feel like Sir Ralph’s many close calls were something the author teased the reader with and to dismiss the butterfly as being a nothing detail is a mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

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