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

Who was Sylvia? George Painter

Sylvia was a birdlike woman, as elegant and alert, innocent and wise as a thrush. We met only three or four times, the first in 1959; but I had then already known her as part of my mind for thirty years, from Lolly Willowes and Mr Fortune's Maggot, which I had read again and again in the 1930s, not because she was famous even then (though she was), or because my friends did so (though they did), but because these books spoke so directly, so clearly, from so deep down, evoking a response apparently identical with themselves. She began with these two masterpieces, ended with two more, T.H. White and Kingdoms of Elfin, and produced at least two in her middle period, The Corner That Held Them and The Flint Anchor, which I reviewed for Joe Ackerley in The Listener on 30 December 1948 and 21 October 1954, a very long time ago. Later we corresponded; her first letter is dated 10 February 1957 from the Royal Albion at Brighton, her last (followed by a final Christmas card) 21 October 1977 from Frome Vauchurch.

I never saw Sylvia's cottage by the talking waters of Frome, though I seemed to stand in it, emptied of her presence but still peopled with her books, when a parcel came from her executors with a card in her living hand reading: 'George Painter: my great-grandfather's Molière, in upstairs passage, small bookshelf; Légende de la Mort, my sitting-room, left-hand bookshelves.' The Molière, ...


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