EXTRACT FROM SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER

In 1911 and 1912, Sylvia was at an age when all good upper middle-class girls should ‘come out’. Her long hair was now dressed and worn ‘up’, her shoulders were exposed at suitably grand dinner engagements and one or two dances were attended. This was the absolute minimum, but somehow even modest social adventures were sabotaged by Sylvia not adjusting her demeanour in the least to the requirements of coquetry. Her coiled hair only emphasised an angular jaw, at the grand dinner she would turn the conversation round to theology and at her first ball she was only happy when dancing with her father, and then she was in heaven. To Nora, this must have been extremely galling. On every count that she held dear, her daughter did worse than fail; she deliberately refused to take part.

 

     Being unmarriageably intellectual was not completely a comfort to Sylvia, for she still had unwanted admirers to deal with, some of a particularly unwantable stamp. On one occasion, at a dinner, Sylvia became impatient of the repeated advances of a cleric (she was fatally attractive to elderly clerics) and his sepulchral breath chilling her shoulder. Nora had boxed the ears of married men; Sylvia attacked with erudition. She unloosed an astonishing flow of language at the hapless man, making some chance remark of his the occasion for a closely-argued exposition of the life and work of Aloysius Beza, jurist of the Counter-Reformation. She must have done this in part to entertain Percy Buck – who was also present – and no doubt he was entertained.

 

      Despite, or perhaps because of, Nora’s policy of non-cooperation on the matter of clothes, Sylvia became, as soon as she had an allowance, a young woman of fashion. Often her choice – of hats especially – emphasised her extreme individualism and soon made her as much of a joke among the boys as Nora had ever been. More, indeed, for Nora was considered to be a very good-looking woman and Sylvia was not. Once Sylvia appeared in the Hen-coop – the transept of Harrow School chapel reserved for masters’ wives, daughters and other stray women – in an almost unbelievable hat from which protruded an artificial lily on a tall stem, inspiring joy in many schoolboy hearts that morning, and as a fashionable bridesmaid she wore a ‘tea-tray’ hat so wide that she could only get into the car by holding her head on one side and letting it in vertically. She remembered herself at this time as being ‘in outline like a kite, an immensely wide hat and skirt measuring four inches round the ankles, or wearing one of those cache sex muffs that hid my young form from waist to knees. It was the largest muff in Harrow, and Oh! How I fancied myself: and a very amiable man who was then engaged in making love to me asked me very tenderly if I curled up in it at night.’

 

      The very amiable man was Percy Buck and he succeeded. A love affair between them began in 1913, when Sylvia was nineteen. The considerable difficulty of keeping this secret in the closed society of the Hill was partly assuaged by the satisfaction Sylvia derived from conducting such an affair (Buck was married, had five children and was twenty-two years her senior) under her mother’s nose. Sylvia remained Buck’s mistress for the next seventeen years, during which time he was, in his unassuming way, immensely influential over her. And though she had several other lovers as a young woman, none was so much her equal as ‘Teague’.

 

 *  *  *  * 

 

OTHER WORK ON SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER BY CLAIRE HARMAN:

Editions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvia Townsend Warner: New Collected Poems
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner

Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvia Townsend Warner: Selected Poems
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

Introductions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Corner that Held Them
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Flint Anchor
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Will Show
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Salutation
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 Click here to return to Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography

EXTRACT FROM SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER

In 1911 and 1912, Sylvia was at an age when all good upper middle-class
girls should ‘come out’. Her long hair was now dressed and worn ‘up’,
her shoulders were exposed at suitably grand dinner engagements and
one or two dances were attended. This was the absolute minimum, but
somehow even modest social adventures were sabotaged by Sylvia not
adjusting her demeanour in the least to the requirements of coquetry.
Her coiled hair only emphasised an angular jaw, at the grand dinner
she would turn the conversation round to theology and at her first ball
she was only happy when dancing with her father, and then she was in
heaven. To Nora, this must have been extremely galling. On every
count that she held dear, her daughter did worse than fail; she
deliberately refused to take part.

 

     Being unmarriageably intellectual was not completely a comfort to Sylvia, for she still had unwanted admirers to deal with, some of a particularly unwantable stamp. On one occasion, at a dinner, Sylvia became impatient of the repeated advances of a cleric (she was fatally attractive to elderly clerics) and his sepulchral breath chilling her shoulder. Nora had boxed the ears of married men; Sylvia attacked with erudition. She unloosed an astonishing flow of language at the hapless man, making some chance remark of his the occasion for a closely-argued exposition of the life and work of Aloysius Beza, jurist of the Counter-Reformation. She must have done this in part to entertain Percy Buck – who was also present – and no doubt he was entertained.

 

      Despite, or perhaps because of, Nora’s policy of non-cooperation on the matter of clothes, Sylvia became, as soon as she had an allowance, a young woman of fashion. Often her choice – of hats especially – emphasised her extreme individualism and soon made her as much of a joke among the boys as Nora had ever been. More, indeed, for Nora was considered to be a very good-looking woman and Sylvia was not. Once Sylvia appeared in the Hen-coop – the transept of Harrow School chapel reserved for masters’ wives, daughters and other stray women – in an almost unbelievable hat from which protruded an artificial lily on a tall stem, inspiring joy in many schoolboy hearts that morning, and as a fashionable bridesmaid she wore a ‘tea-tray’ hat so wide that she could only get into the car by holding her head on one side and letting it in vertically. She remembered herself at this time as being ‘in outline like a kite, an immensely wide hat and skirt measuring four inches round the ankles, or wearing one of those cache sex muffs that hid my young form from waist to knees. It was the largest muff in Harrow, and Oh! How I fancied myself: and a very amiable man who was then engaged in making love to me asked me very tenderly if I curled up in it at night.’

 

      The very amiable man was Percy Buck and he succeeded. A love affair between them began in 1913, when Sylvia was nineteen. The considerable difficulty of keeping this secret in the closed society of the Hill was partly assuaged by the satisfaction Sylvia derived from conducting such an affair (Buck was married, had five children and was twenty-two years her senior) under her mother’s nose. Sylvia remained Buck’s mistress for the next seventeen years, during which time he was, in his unassuming way, immensely influential over her. And though she had several other lovers as a young woman, none was so much her equal as ‘Teague’.

 

 *  *  *  * 

 

OTHER WORK ON SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER BY CLAIRE HARMAN:

Editions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvia Townsend Warner: New Collected Poems
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner

Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvia Townsend Warner: Selected Poems
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

Introductions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Corner that Held Them
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Flint Anchor
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Will Show
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Salutation
Click here to read more at Amazon.co.uk

 

 Click here to return to Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography

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