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Sylvia Townsend Warner
(1893 - May 1, 1978) U.K.

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Novelist and poet

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Sylvia was the only child of Harrow School housemaster George Townsend Warner and his wife, Nora. After an unsuccessful term at kindergarten she was educated at home. Sylvia was an accomplished musician, and it is said that the outbreak of War in 1914 alone prevented her from going abroad to study composition under Arnold Schoenberg.

In 1917, she joined the Committee preparing the ten volumes of Tudor Church Music published by Oxford University Press. One of her fellow committee members - and long-time lover - was Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years her senior.

Tall, thin and bespectacled, Sylvia was a disappointment to her mother, with whom she had an uneasy relationship. After her mother's remarriage (George Townsend Warner died suddenly in 1916) matters improved, but mother and daughter were never to be close.

In 1922, Sylvia, at the instigation of Stephen Tomlin, went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset to visit the writer Theodore Powys. Along with Tomlin and the writer David Garnett, Sylvia Townsend Warner was instrumental in the publication of Theodore's novels and short stories which had languished unseen for years.

Sylvia Townsend WarnerAt Theodore Powys's house, Sylvia first met the poet Valentine Ackland. When in 1930 she bought 'the late Miss Green's cottage' opposite the village inn, she invited Valentine to live there. So began a love affair which lasted until Valentine's death from breast cancer in 1969.

Although most of their life together was spent in Dorset, they also travelled widely and lived from time to time in Norfolk notably at Frankfurt Manor, Sloley and Great Eye Folly, Salthouse (which was later destroyed by the sea).

In 1935, Sylvia and Valentine became committed members of the Communist Party, attending meetings, fund-raising and contributing to left-wing journals. They twice visited Spain during the Civil War. In 1937 the two women moved to a house on the river at Frome Vauchurch in Dorset.

Here Sylvia produced many of her most important works. Valentine met with less success in her own painstakingly-sustained career. After her death, Sylvia published a collection of her poems. Sylvia lived on for another nine years. The couple's ashes lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard.

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Her first volume of verse, The Espalier (1925), was followed by several others, including Whether a Dove or a Seagull (1933), written in collaboration with her lover Valentine Ackland; the posthumous Twelve Poems (1980); and Collected Poems (1982).

Her original voice is heard more strongly in her novels, which include Lolly Willowers (1926), Mr Fortune's Maggot (1927), and The True Heart (1929). Her Diaries were published in 1994.

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Source: © 2004 The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society

Website: http://www.townsendwarner.com/

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