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This article is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.

The Short Stories Glen Cavaliero

Sylvia Townsend Warner may have been neglected by the critics, but her work was not unread. For over forty years her short stories appeared in The New Yorker, giving her a world-wide reputation; over one hundred and fifty of them appeared in published collections. Clearly she found them an appropriate medium for her gifts.

Those gifts included a talent for the telling phrase; similes that illuminated and did not distract; an eye for strangeness and incongruity; a detailed knowledge of the practicalities of daily life; the power to generalise informatively, an apparent inability to waste words, and a tart, unjudging awareness of the quirks and perversities of human nature. Also, an essential skill, she knew how to secure attention.

'Mary Glasscastle would have stayed quietly in his memory's cold storage if she had not been murdered.'

'Each warehouse along the London Thames has its staff of cats, half a dozen of them or more, heavy and redoubtable, hunters like William Rufus.'

'Private charity still persists in England though mostly it is practised in the disorderly, hole-and-corner style recommended by Jesus.'

The adroit, personal cadence and controlled aplomb betoken a confidence that becomes reciprocal. Nor are the stories in one mould; at the end one often finds oneself facing in a direction opposite to that in which one had set out. A good example is 'During a Winter Night', which gives a soberly ironical account of ...

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