patricia nicolai: 1 post

Perfume in the Library : Lolly Willowes and Le Temps d’Une Fete

The heroine of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel, Lolly Willowes, rebels against society’s expectations. It’s a common enough theme, except that her rebellion takes an unconventional turn. Laura Willowes’s father dies when she’s twenty-eight, and the family council decides, against her wishes, that she should leave the country estate where she grew up and move to London. Treated as “a piece of family property forgotten in the will,” she becomes attached to her older brother’s household, where she’s expected either to marry or be useful as Aunt Lolly. She steadfastly refuses to do the former, and eventually she shocks her relatives by announcing that she will live on her own in a village called Great Mop. To safeguard her freedom, she becomes a witch.

lolly-willowes

Townsend Warner paints Laura’s transformation from Aunt Lolly to her own self through a series of events, most of which involve small sensory pleasures, out of which “she had contrived for herself a sort of mental fur coat.” They include second-hand bookshops, soaps, roasted chestnuts eaten in bed and cut flowers. Her relatives look down upon such frivolous–in their eyes–expenses, but for Laura they become an antidote to her dull, senseless life and catalysts for her awakening.

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