Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outside Looking In: Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show

Sylvia Townsend Warner is one of my most favorite writers.  It's hard for me to describe how wonderful she is.  Her work consists of cutting and polishing a diamond until it shines out in all its facets, cold, burning, phosphorescent.  And funny.  Moreover, I admire her life as much as her work.  She is very much like a queer Communist Jane Austen. 

Her novel Summer Will Show tells the story of a love affair between two women, who to a certain extent resemble herself and her life partner, Valentine Ackland.  (Interestingly, she imagined the two characters long before meeting Ackland, but didn't write the book until after they were together.)  As much as I enjoy the book, I couldn't help but recognize, upon re-reading it recently, that it has some flaws in its approach to race.

Sophia Willoughby (rather like Emma Woodhouse) is young, handsome, rich, and mistress of all she surveys.  She lives contentedly on her country estate with her two children.  It doesn't really bother her that her husband has run off to Paris to live with another woman - she doesn't want him back - although her conventional mind is rather unsettled by the discovery that this woman (whom she's never met) is not only older than Mr. Willoughby, but also Jewish.