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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

SOVEREIGNTY OF THE HEART Claire Harman, Sylvia Townsend Warner. A Biography (Chatto & Windus) £16.95

Since her death in 1978 Sylvia Townsend Warner's writings have become increasingly well known. Two collections of stories and the reprinting of several of her novels demonstrated yet again the originality of her imagination and her tart, fantastic wit. So did the selected Letters in 1982; and so will this biography, based on much hitherto unpublished material and written by the editor of the Collected Poems (1982). Some of its contents will already be familiar to readers of William Maxwell's Introduction to the letters, and of This Narrow Place (1988), Wendy Mulford's account of Townsend Warner's political convictions and activities in the 1930s and 1940s. But a great deal is new, and all of it is interesting.

One reads of Sylvia's girlhood as the only child of a house-master at Harrow School (where she was known as 'the cleverest fellow we had'); of her work as an editor of the Oxford Tudor Church Music, and of her seventeen-year-long affair with a married man, her colleague Percy Buck; of her move to Dorset in the 1920s, where she became a somewhat detached member of the Powys circle at East Chaldon; of her embracing of Communism in the 1930s and of her visits to Spain during the Civil War; and of her long, devoted relationship with the poet, Valentine Ackland. Sylvia Townsend Warner's life is thus of interest not only to readers of her fiction but also to feminists and to social and literary historians; it witnesses both to ...

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