bargains

by rantywoman

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/mar/02/sylvia-townsend-warner

For the first half of Townsend Warner’s novel, Laura looks set to follow their example. A tomboy in childhood, she is soon “subdued into young-ladyhood”, and after the death of her parents she joins the London household of her unimaginative brother, Henry, where she becomes the spinster “Aunt Lolly”, slightly pitied, slightly patronised, but “indispensable for Christmas Eve and birthday preparations” – an embodiment, in other words, of an old-fashioned female tradition for which her up-to-the-minute niece, Fancy, who has driven lorries during the war, has fine, flapperish contempt. But Laura has depths unsuspected by her deeply conventional relatives, and with her move to Great Mop she grows ever more subversive. She quietly rejects her family. She refuses to be defined by her relationships with men. She breaches the social barriers between gentry and working people. And, though she enjoys being part of the Great Mop community, her intensest pleasures are solitary ones. Again looking forward to Virginia Woolf, the novel asserts the absolute necessity of “a room of one’s own”, and Laura gains a clear-sighted understanding of the combined financial and cultural interests that serve to keep women in domestic, dependent roles: “Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament . . . the Bank of England, Prostitution, the Architect of Apsley Terrace, and half a dozen other useful props of civilisation” have robbed her of her freedom just as effectively as have her patronising London relatives. It is this analysis that informs her conversation with Satan near the end of the novel, in which she unfolds her memorable vision of women as sticks of dynamite, “long[ing] for the concussion that may justify them”. If women, Townsend Warner implies, are denied access to power through legitimate means, they will turn instead to illegitimate methods – in this case to Satan himself, who pays them the compliment of pursuing them and then, having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.

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