Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell

Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell are two writers I love, even though I’ve not read a whole lot by either of them (that reminds me, I shelved The Chateau at 100pp. – must dig it out some time, and probably start again.) So, of course, I had to get The Element of Lavishness when I heard about it – it’s the letters between them. I’ve barely started it, but already I wanted to share a couple of lovely bits from it with y’all.


STW to WM (12th June 1951)
I am thankful that Emmy is back. In her absence you do not spell as well as at other times. Does she know this? It is a delightful tribute, she should wear it as a brooch.

STW to WM (9th February 1951)
When I was young I had a young friend who was extremely sensitive to the cold. He was at Hailebury, rather a bleak and bracing public school; and then in this sixteenth year his place in class got him next to a radiator. From that moment until his schooling ended two years later, he gave his whole mind to remaining by the radiator. He told me it required the exactest calculation and foresight to remain at just that level of scholarship. It did not do, he soon discovered, to be just inertly stupid. That angered his form master, who marked him down. He had, so to speak, to row, and yet remain by the same tuft of reeds. And in summer, when the radiator was apt to slip his mind he had to be as alert as a mosquito not to give way to emulation and the line of least resistance. He stayed by the radiator, however, and left with a scholarship, much to every one’s annoyance and surprise.

If I see other equally delightful excerpts, and if I remember, I’ll share them as I go!

10 thoughts on “Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell

  • May 4, 2011 at 1:40 am
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    Very nice – don't know which I enjoyed more – the brooch, or the rowing and yet remaining…. :)

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  • May 4, 2011 at 8:56 am
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    Brilliant excerpts! I also love the phrase 'the element of lavishness' – that alone would make me want to read this collection.

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  • May 4, 2011 at 9:13 am
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    Susan – they're both lovely, aren't they!

    Miranda – yes! It is a quotation from one of their letters, I think… can't remember, but it was in the epigraph.

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  • May 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm
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    I don't know anything about either writer, but you made these letters sound so lovely I just ordered a used copy ($1.00!) While ordering, I also ordered a copy of "Lolly Willowes" by STW. Have you read it? It sounds charming – a 'maiden aunt' comes into her own, becoming a witch in the countryside. Thanks for another great suggestion!

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  • May 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm
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    Oh Simon, do get a copy of the letters of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (What There is to Say We Have Said)! I started it on the ferry home last night and thought I would never get to bed. I think you would really enjoy it, it's just as wonderful as the STW and WM letters – which are a great favorite of mine as well.

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  • May 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm
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    Bridget – oh good! And I love Lolly Willowes – it's one of the novels I'm using for my doctorate, and it's wonderfully written.

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  • May 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm
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    Heather – Heather, that looks great… not out in the UK yet, though…

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  • May 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm
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    I'll have to paraphrase. SWT's cats when she had pnuemonia, I think: "Oh, Sylvia, you are so ill. Who will feed us if you die?"

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  • May 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm
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    And by the by, I named my 1930's era Singer sewing machine Sylvia, after STW. Don't know why, it just seemed appropriate somehow.

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  • May 5, 2011 at 12:21 am
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    There is so much sublime and delightful writing in this book that it can hardly be born.

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