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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Loving Huntsman (or "a room of her own")

Interesting tid bit:
1926 - The Book-of-the-Month Club in New York City chose as its first selection, "Lolly Willowes" or "The Loving Huntsman" by Sylvia Townsend as the offering to its 4,750 members.

I didn't realize that the Book-of-the-Month club started in 1926. Wonder how many members it has now, 80 years later...

Finished Lolly Willowes, a strange little book; another short one -- only 222 pages. Approximately the first 100 pages cover LauraWillowe's life as first daughter, living at home until nearly 30, then maiden aunt, living in the small spare room in her brother's home.

At home with her father, Laura is content with reading and botany and her father's brewery. She is interested in neither marriage nor an active social life. Her life is not exciting, but pleasant.

On the death of her father, Laura finds herself taken over by her elder brother Henry's family who move her to London to live with them. Their intentions may have been good, but after trying and failing to set Laura up with a suitable mate, they begin to rely on her as a sort of nanny for their children. This portion of the novel is deadly slow and reveals the 20 years that "Aunt Lolly" lives a stagnant life without questioning it. Her sister-in-law Caroline "was a good woman and a good wife. She was slightly self-righteous, and fairly rightly so, but she yielded to Henry's judgment in every dispute, she bowed her good sense to his will and blinkered her wider views in obedience to his prejudices" (50-51).

Laura thinks that "the law had done a great deal to spoil Henry. It had changed his natural sturdy stupidity into a browbeating indifference to other people's point of view. He seemed to consider himself briefed by his Creator to turn into ridicule the opinions of those who disagreed with, and to attribute dishonesty, idiocy, or a base motive to every one who supported a better case than he. This did not often appear in his private life, Henry was kindly disposed to those who did not thwart him by word or deed. His household had been well schooled by Caroline in yielding gracefully, and she was careful not to invite guests who were not of her husband's way of thinking" (51).

Laura, however, after 20 years of occupying this empty existence decides to make a change. She announces her intention to move to Great Mop, and despite being forbidden to do so, she follows through with her plan.

At his point, the supernatural elements begin to make a gradual entrance, and Laura discovers she is a witch by avocation.

The novel depicts a woman's struggle for independence, in a time that still views women only in circumscribed and conventional roles. Laura becomes a witch to escape this role and "to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out others..."

The devil appears, but not the demon we might expect. Not the "Wild Huntsman" of myth, but "The Loving Huntsman" who protects his own. Laura is not a typical witch, but a woman whose decision to take control of her own life could only have been achieved with supernatural help.

Information about The Wild Huntsman and the Wild Hunt can be found here. (I'm always gonna' go with folklore and myth.)

And this source: In other places the Hunter was not a God, but the leader of the fairies, such as Gwyn ap Nudd who was seen as the leader of the Welsh fairies (the Tylwyth Teg) and who led the Hunt in Wales and the West of England. [3] Toward the end of the middle ages, however, the Wild Hunt became more and more associated with witchcraft. Instead of saying that the Hunt was led by a spirit of God and featured many other spirits, it began to be said that witches participated in the Hunt and that their leader was either Satan himself or a demonic spirit. This belief also seems to have become muddled up with the idea that Witches rode in procession to Sabbats upon animals, or flew in the sky, and this idea became one of the major charges used in European witch hunts.
The Wild Hunt is a popular and very long lasting myth, perhaps arising out of the pre-Christian Pagan religions of Europe, and it is remarkable that it managed to survive being associated with Witchcraft during the witch mania. Herne and his counterparts have rightly been rescued from children's tales and brought back to be a positive male image in Paganism, which sometimes seems in danger of being unbalanced by an over-concentration on the female aspects of the Divine.

So Sylvia Townsend Warner has managed to associate a woman's independence with Satan (how dare a woman assert herself...unless the devil made her do it), and has chosen the Loving Huntsman as a means to remove Laura from a controlling, conventional family.


  1. Even though the book doesn't sound that enjoyable, it does sound like you had a bit of fun researching the myth.

  2. The novel definitely improves when Laura takes her life back, but this is also a book interesting for the impact it had when published. And yes, as soon as the references to Satan as a hunter appeared, I started thinking about the difference in the "Wild Huntsman" and a "Loving Huntsman." When I started researching and found the connection with witches, I appreciated Warner's references more.