Spotlight Series: New York Review Books Classics
About the Author:
Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893–1978) was a poet, short-story writer, and novelist, as well as an authority on early English music and a devoted member of the Communist Party. Her many books include Mr. Fortune’s Maggot and Lolly Willows (both published by NYRB Classics), The Corner that Held Them, and Kingdoms of Elfin.
Summer Will Show (1936)
“Sophia Willoughby, a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed her cheating husband off to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She intends to devote herself to the serious business of raising her two children in proper Tory fashion.
Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long she has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband’s sometime mistress, whose dramatic recitations, based on her hair-raising childhood in czarist Russia, electrify audiences in drawing rooms and on the street alike. Minna, “magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering,” leads Sophia on a wild adventure through bohemian and revolutionary Paris, in a story that reaches an unforgettable conclusion amidst the bullets, bloodshed, and hope of the barricades.”
I read Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner as part of the Spotlight Series focus on New York Review Books Classics. I must admit that while the name was somewhat familiar I had never read any of this British author’s works or heard of this particular novel. However since British period literature is one of my delights I thought I would enjoy this book and have a good read while helping to promote a smaller press that supports classic literature.
While I can say that I was happy to do the second, I am afraid I cannot say that I much enjoyed the book. Sylvia Townsend Warner was no doubt ahead of her time and advanced in placing very modern ideas in historical fiction, something quite common today but rarely done in her time. However to me there was something lacking in her work. I feel for me it was characterization. I found Sophia cold and unlikable. I simply could not align myself with someone who dealt with the death of their children in such a off handed and emotionless way. As a wife and new mother this turned me off immediately especially when one got the feeling that the mother in question never truly cared for her children anyway in anything other than the general sense of what they might become. Never truly bonding with the main character of the novel led to the writing holding little appeal for me and the story did not flow as well as one would have liked. If it had perhaps I would have been more interested despite the character’s inability to produce anything other than decidedly introspective and self centered behavior. While I did finish the work I simply could not say that I “enjoyed” it. It deserves its place in literature to be sure and is very ahead of its time but it was simply not to my taste. Although I think there is absolutely a large audience of readers who would be drawn to it, I alas am not one of them. You may be though so I invite you to give the book a try and see for yourself.