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

'The Secret Country of Her Mind' - Aspects of the Novels of Sylvia Townsend Warner J. Lawrence Mitchell

'For then I knew only the wintry words of my race, such words as exile, and captivity, and bondage. I had never heard the word Liberty. But it was Liberty I acclaimed, seeing the river sweeping away its fetters, tossing its free neck under the ruined yoke' (p.127).

The speaker is Minna Lemuel, Jewess, revolutionary, and mistress to Frederick Willoughby, the estranged husband of Sophia, the protagonist of Sylvia Townsend Warner's novel, Summer Will Show (1936). Minna is addressing an audience of revolutionary sympathisers in Paris, at the outbreak of the 1848 Revolution, and the imaginative power with which she conjures up incidents from her childhood in Lithuania moves even her rival, Sophia. Not that Sophia is yet ready to embrace the revolutionary cause herself; indeed for some time to come she manages to ignore or forget the turmoil around her, in best British fashion. She is as much drawn to Minna for what she is and has accomplished as for what she says: a woman, an artist, and one who has already achieved, for all the hardship of her life, a personal freedom of which Sophia had only dreamed. Thus, even before the death of her children from smallpox, Sophia had 'found herself betrayed by fancy into Cornwall, and leading there a wild romantic life, in which, unsexed and unpersoned, she rode, sat in inns, slept in a bracken bed among the rocks, bathed naked in swift-running brooks, knocked people down, outwitted shadowy enemies . . ...


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