Do you ever wish a book had been published a bit earlier? I imagine a few people lamented that the first dictionary was issued just weeks after they'd struggled with spelling 'sincerely' at the end of a letter, or mourned that British Birds and How To Spot Them came out mere days after that flock of yellow-crested (or was it crested-yellow?) hornspippets descended.
Well, I'm feeling that way about With The Hunted - the selected non-fiction writings of Sylvia Townsend Warner, recently published by Black Dog Books (their website here.) If it had come out earlier, it would have saved me a LOT of time scrabbling through enormous, dusty old journals, hunting out articles by Warner, photocopying interviews from books, etc. etc.... But, truth be told, I had great fun doing that. And now it is available for everyone to read! Thank you Black Dog Books for sending me a review copy.
With The Hunted really is a goldmine. I haven't read it all yet, but I've read enough to know that it is an astonishingly varied and fascinating companion to Warner's novels - indeed, I have something of a chequered relationship with Warner's novels, and might find the writings selected here more consistent.
It includes so much! Remember how much I enjoyed her pamphlet on Jane Austen? It's in With The Hunted! I greatly enjoyed an interview from Louise Morgan's 1931 volume Writers at Work, which enchantingly begins '"I wish," said Sylvia Townsend Warner, "that I could tell you I wrote standing on one leg. Then you'd have something really entertaining and original to say about me!"' It's included! Her speech on 'Women as Writers' which re-popularised Woolf's A Room of One's Own - it's there! Everything from an essay on her grandmother's experience of the countryside ('iniquities she had thought of as rare vestigial occurrences in crime-sheets persisted and were taken as a matter of course among these cottage homes of England') to her views on Daniel Defoe ('there are some books, as there are some personalities, which one can open anywhere and be sure of an interest. This, I knew, was one of them') is here in this exceptionally wide-ranging volume. 418 pages never contained such infinite variety.
And then there are all the beguiling essays and reviews that I have yet to read! The titles leap out to me. I want to read 'Are Parents Really Necessary?' immediately; I cannot imagine what could lie behind 'Not To Be Done in May.' And then there are pieces on Saki, Katherine Mansfield, Dickens, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter - what riches!
Peter Tolhurst - the editor of With The Hunted - cannot be thanked enough. Not only will this book prove invaluable to future scholars of Sylvia Townsend Warner, who will not have the paper trail I had whilst writing my thesis chapter on Warner, but it is for anybody who has any interest in Warner's novels, or indeed in early twentieth-century literature. In this extensive collection we see Sylvia Townsend Warner as literati and as countrywoman, casting her eye over her contemporaries and Victorian literary greats, yet also the minutiae of everyday life and everyday concerns, with the same perception and humour.
Whether you love Warner or have never read her before, I think this is a wonderful resource to keep on the shelf, dip into, dip into, dip into - and marvel at.