WARNER (SYLVIA TOWNSEND) Series of some 64 autograph and typed letters signed ("Always Sylvia", "My love always Sylvia", "With our love Sylvia", "Ever Sylvia"), to her friend and reader at Chatto & Windus, Oliver Warner ("Dearest Oliver"),  East Chaldon; Winterton, Norfolk; Frankfort Manor, Sloley; Frome Vauchurch, Dorset, and elsewhere, 15 July 1931 to 20 December 1977
Lot 204
WARNER (SYLVIA TOWNSEND)
Series of some 64 autograph and typed letters signed ("Always Sylvia", "My love always Sylvia", "With our love Sylvia", "Ever Sylvia"), to her friend and reader at Chatto & Windus, Oliver Warner ("Dearest Oliver"), East Chaldon; Winterton, Norfolk; Frankfort Manor, Sloley; Frome Vauchurch, Dorset, and elsewhere, 15 July 1931 to 20 December 1977
£ 2,000 - 3,000
US$ 2,600 - 3,900

Lot Details
WARNER (SYLVIA TOWNSEND)
Series of some 64 autograph and typed letters signed ("Always Sylvia", "My love always Sylvia", "With our love Sylvia", "Ever Sylvia"), to her friend and reader at Chatto & Windus, Oliver Warner ("Dearest Oliver"), eighteen to his wife Elizabeth, and two typed letters from Valentine Ackland, comprising some 22 autograph and 39 typed letters and 3 postcards; affectionate and amusing letters on a wide range of subjects, discussing her life in the country with Valentine, her writing, literature and family, war and politics, c.150pp, mostly 8vo and 4to, East Chaldon; Winterton, Norfolk; Frankfort Manor, Sloley; Frome Vauchurch, Dorset, and elsewhere, 15 July 1931 to 20 December 1977

Footnotes

  • 'I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN A LETTER WITH MORE PASSIONATE CONCERN' -- SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER TO HER FRIEND OLIVER WARNER

    Spanning over forty years, with the majority from the 1930's and early 40's, the letters reveal a close and affectionate friendship which had begun in 1928 with their joint purchase of 113 Inverness Terrace, a house she refers to as the "Warnerium", an expedient arrangement whereby Oliver and his wife took the upper floors with Sylvia living below. By 1931, when this series begins, Sylvia was living in the Dorset countryside with her lover, the poet Valentine Ackland, whom she had met through the Powys family, and had already published her first three books and numerous short stories. A prolific author, she enjoyed considerable success and her writing has undergone a revival in recent years.

    She sees the world through a writer's eye, whether it be talking of the weather and the beauty of nature ("...Alternate wild storms of rain and wind, and deceitful intervals when everything flashes with sun and wet...") or taking great delight in the characters she encounters. Her letters are peppered with amusing, sometimes merciless, observations - on strangers ("...she wears her spun-glass white hair in a black chenille net with a little soup-plate hat of 1870 above it...stomps briskly into the cathedral three times a day..."), her gardener ("...on the day when I gave him two cart-loads of manure he suddenly became a new being...") or a late local land-owner ("...His legs in particular were a pleasure to me...").

    Passionate about the countryside, she keeps Warner up-to-date on work in the garden and orchard ("...Oliver, have you ever put on grease-bands?...the effect is admirable; and effect is almost everything... ...Today we had a most magnificent bon-fire...the cats sat round at discreet distances warming their paws..."), and discusses family news (she is much admiring of his daughter Bridget who is "Nothing short of an angel...She has a sly wit, too, and what will ripen into a pretty touch of malice when she is older"), finances and tenants of no.113, her animals, visitors ("...Katie Powys...stayed long enough to wear us out...") and mutual friends ("...Alis Moxon has had her hair cut short, and looks like a Giotto..."). She remains a supportive and loving friend, never more so than in 1934 when, after his wife's mental collapse, Oliver attempted suicide, ("...Even if you had to be helped off the field, the field was won before you quitted it...Do not reproach yourself...I have never written a letter with more passionate concern...").

    Books and literature are much discussed – whether her own work ("...It's nice to think that my book comes out today...it is titillating to think that one has been read in Holland..."), his biography of Nelson ("...a near and dear success is best of all...") or the work of others ("...You know my passion for Byron..."). They both read Cakes and Ale ("...enjoyed it with the deepest satisfaction...what a happy life Somerset Maugham must have had while he had such a viper warming in his bosom. I wonder that Hugh Walpole has not challenged him to a duel..."), Cobbett ("...What a splendid prancing well-fettled Bull in a heraldic China shop he was...") and Eliot's Practical Cats ("...an entrancing work..."). In February 1935 she lunches at Max Gate ("...The present Mrs T.H., very properly, has altered nothing; there is a nice Hardyesque garden, too... It is exactly right, melancholy, respectable... grim and genteel... I saw some of his poetry manuscripts too. Very neat and clear-headed, few alterations, no unfinished expeditions in the margins...Mrs Hardy is charming... And I should like you to see that walk, so grimly reserved, so discreetly mossy that a ghost's footfalls would never sound in it...").

    In September 1936 she announces she and Valentine are to go to the Spanish Civil War with the Red Cross Bureau and names him as her executor should she "get nipped off by a piece of shell or a bit of gas". A year later she visits the Congress of the International Association of Writers in Defence of Culture where she is "genuinely glad, genuinely unembarrassed at being a representative of culture – not, as in England, a mock and a scorning...this is the reception that we got from everybody". The same year she comments amusingly on the abdication crisis, and the choice between Edward with his Wallis Simpson and the future George VI with his Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon ("...I cannot decide in my mind which in the long run one should prefer... Why it should be worse, of course, to get sexual excitement from an American lady than from an old pair of fur bedroom slippers will remain a mystery to me. But apparently the church will bless the one little foible and not the other...").

    In wartime, Sylvia and Valentine acted as ARP wardens ("...it is frightening to go out at night and stand in total darkness and hear the Wardens go tearing past in search of something to do...") and take in a family evacuated from London ("...guns bark around the house and we dug up an incendiary bomb from the artichokes..."), complaining of constant planes overhead and the lack of decent writing paper ("...in our de-civilianised stationers...").

    The latter letters, mainly addressed to Oliver's second wife, Elizabeth, lose none of her exuberance, praising her on the manuscript of her novel No Time to Cry, and supporting her after Oliver's death in 1976 ("...Darling Elizabeth, tired toiling Elizabeth... try self indulgence... there is much comfort in caressing a cat...").

    Fourteen of these letters have been quoted in William Maxwell's Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1982), but the majority remain unpublished. Also included in the lot is a collection of related papers, notes, correspondence and printed articles including Oliver Warner's draft obituary of Sylvia Townsend Warner for The Times.

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