With the Hunted: Selected Writings by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Edited by Peter Tolhurst) - review by Elspeth Barker

Elspeth Barker

‘Led Away by Paper’

With the Hunted: Selected Writings


Black Dog Books 418pp £16.99

Sylvia Townsend Warner declined to write an autobiography on the grounds that she was ‘too imaginative’. She liked to make a distinction between her self as a person and as an artist; the Sylvia self existed quite apart from her books, ‘no more to me than the woman reflected in the mirror opposite’. Towards the end of this splendid volume of miscellaneous pieces we are offered glimpses of this self in conversation and interviews. ‘In appearance she is tall and pale, and she moves her arms in a way that subtly suggests wings.’ The interviewer remarks on her great personal charm: ‘she keeps her listener constantly on the alert and never by any chance gives him what he is prepared for’. Her editor at the New Yorker, which published 150 of her stories over 50 years, was overwhelmed by her and didn’t want her to move out of his sight. ‘Ever.’ 

Her readers will find these qualities – wit and generosity and compelling erudition – in her writings; the Sylvia self and the artistic self do seem to be one. In her 82nd year, in conversation with Michael Schmidt, she announced, ‘I am, what is that odd thing, a musicologist.’ Her

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