Why I read Lolly Willows
Lolly Willows has been on my radar for some time, but for one reason or another, I never read it. To be honest, I thought it was much longer than it is, and I also thought it was late 19th century rather than early 20th century, and 19th century books tend to read more “slowly” because of the style.
I realize now that I have gotten Sylvia Townsend Warner confused with Susan Warner, who wrote The Wide, Wide, Wide World, which is fairly long, so that mystery is explained.
The Wide, Wide World is also free.
Why You should read Lolly Willows (or not)
First of all, I’m just going to tell you point blank that if you are a devout Christian, you are probably not going to like this book. Satan is characterized as a person that you can hang out and talk with, if you are in the right frame of mind…not unlike the way that Adam and Eve hung out with God in the Garden of Eden. He isn’t a particularly negative character. I’m just letting you know. If nothing else, he is pretty much the same as God in the early Old Testament (before people made God too mad). I know a Christian would say that this presentation is part of the deceit of Satan, and I’m not going to argue that. Going into this book, you have to accept Warner’s characterization and point of view or not, which is why I’m giving you head’s up.
It also helps if you have read a lot of nineteenth century novels, especially those by and about women, so that you are familiar with the trope of the woman being left with limited resources and options for one reason for another. Most often, the women is without both financial and romantic resources, since limited financial resources usually results in limited romantic options, but sometimes the woman HAS the financial resources, or at least enough to be comfortable, but still for some reason has limited romantic options. Sometimes the fear is that she will marry “beneath” her.
Lolly, or Laura, Willows basically has would be considered the “ideal” arrangement for a woman in her time and place. She is a spinster, but she has the choice between two nice homes with either of her brothers, and she lives with them for most of her life. She has also been left with a personal income that keeps her from being totally reliant on them, including her sisters-in-law.
So that is where we get to the question of the book: when a woman is not on the typical path of husband and children, what is she do to with herself? And what are her obligations? What are other people’s assumptions?
While this question might have been directed at women in the early 20th century, which is when this novel is set (we are given the clear marker of World War 1 as a reference point), I would argue that this question affects many more people, male and female, in the dawn of the 21st Century. More of us lead longer lives than generations in the past, and we stay physically able to contribute to public life longer.
If you don’t believe me, look up some of the blog posts you can find online with photos and ages of people even 20 or 30 years ago, and you will be surprised at how much more quickly they aged. Also look at photos of everyday people you know…one of the reasons social media is so interesting to me is that I get to see people I went to school with all the time, so I know exactly how old they are.
So if you find yourself as a grandparent in your 50’s, or even 40’s, you might have 20-30 years left where you can be “active” full time (working and pursuing your hobbies), and maybe another 10-20 years after that where you can, or will want to be, active part time.
I have one relative who has finally retired, for the last time I think, at age 79, and that is not because he can no longer work but because he needs to care for someone else full time (he was working about 8 to 10 hours a week, mainly for fun).
I have neighbors who must be in the their 70’s, or at least that’s how old they look to me, and they regularly swim in the creek behind our houses. The gentleman gave up his big sailboat just a year or two ago, but he goes out rowing almost every morning.
If I seem all over the place, let me get back to the point: Lolly Willows is about making choices in our own lives and the terms of those choices. It’s a quick read that will certainly give you a lot to think about, especially if you are at the point of your life where you can make choices.