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

Sylvia Townsend Warner and Mr Fortune's Maggot Paul Binding

I spent the Christmas of 1969 in the Old Rectory, Litton Cheney, then the home of Reynolds and Janet Stone and their family. Reynolds Stone (who died in 1979) was the most distinguished practitioner of the art of wood engraving since Thomas Bewick, whose peaceful, exact work his own so often recalls-not just in technique but in spirit. I remember that Christmas as clear, cold and snowless, with the bare, mysterious hills of East Dorset unusually sharp against sea and sky. One of the other guests in the Stones' house was Sylvia Townsend Warner, a close friend and neighbours of theirs for almost twenty years, someone whom they saw almost every week.

Entering the drawing-room of the Old Rectory on Christmas Eve I saw an elderly woman sitting by the fire. Her face wore an expression of desolation. Her intimate companion of many years, Valentine Ackland, had recently died after a long illness and Sylvia was in that strange early stage of bereavement when one talks about the dead with incredulity at the thought of their absence and yet with a determined casualness. Thus she recollected the shop which Valentine had run in Maiden Newton and spoke of Valentine's fondness for dogs which Sylvia, a great cat-lover, had not shared.

At the time when the Stones got to know her best, Sylvia Townsend Warner's reputation was at its lowest; her earlier books were out of print and the literary world seemed to have forgotten her, ...


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