Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

What if a story about a Victorian lady dropped all that does-he-love-her jibber jabber and took our rulebound heroine from walking her grounds, recreating her own childhood, to her children (“They had sloping shoulders, both of them.”) and their blistering, raving deaths from small pox to gay Paris, literally and matter-of-factly.Well, then that book would be this:

Precisely written and a bit autobiographical (according to the introduction by Warner’s biographer Claire Harman), Summer Will Show is a political novel, a love story and actually quite funny. The main character, Sophia Willoughby, after finding out that her decorative but none too useful husband Frederick has hooked up with a wild woman in Paris, must then decide how she is going to live the rest of her life. Will she take to books or embroidery or maybe hump around a bit herself? In the end she decides to go to France to confront Frederick and ends up in the infuriating situation of having to reconcile with someone much less interesting than Minna, the woman he left her for.

So, Sophia falls in love.

Some of the Parisian parts drag a bit with Sophia’s observations of Minna’s revolution-obsessed life, but it is well worth the trip. Between this and the even more fun Lolly Willows, I can’t wait to read some more Warner.

An aside: Though it was written well after Queen Victoria left the throne, there are some exoticizing/straight-up racist thoughts thunk by Sophia about Minna and others are interesting with respect to how bigotry sounds today.

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