I’ve been reading the Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, a Virago paperback I picked up in the Oxfam bookshop a while back. On the strength of her writing here, she is much underrated and deserves a wider readership.
For example, this wonderful entry for 16 Feb 1950 on the cremation of her mother:
… Nora’s small purple coffin coming out of the hearse; the one bunch of brilliant spring flowers on it. Out of such bare material, out of mere birth and death, we spin the intricate web of love, we distil it from these poor bones and ashes, and with it conceive the tale that is told and ended when we die.
Followed the next day with:
It is a curious sensation to get one’s mother by post; and rather hastily I took her upstairs and unpacked a small violet cloth-covered casket, with a shiny name-plate (good lettering). After breakfast Evans & I buried it with some moss and snowdrops under the cherry tree …
Writing with a rare lightness of touch that captures the spiritual and often disconcertingly practical dimensions of the death of a loved one.
Running through the diaries is her account of the intricate, and tangled, web of her love affair with Valentine Ackland, with whom she lived in Dorset.
It’s odd reading a published diary that unfolds in a landscape and towns and villages that you know well. It adds an extra poignancy when you know the hotel at Yeovil Pen Mill station to which Sylvia retreated, heartbroken, when another lover of Valentine’s came to stay at their house. I will have to call in and see if they are aware this fine writer was a guest at the hotel in the late ‘40s.
My room looks out on the main road, with buses – behind is the station. I have a view of the laundry, some public trees, and a poor, almost real wood. I have a choice of a bentwood chair, an easy one that is not easy, and the window sill, which is best.