Kamis, 03 Mei 2012

Searching for Sylvia

It's a bit of Sylvia Townsend Warner themed week this week (I'll save writing about her diary for another day, I think) because today I drove off to Dorchester, to look at the Sylvia Townsend Warner archives.  I'd emailed the woman in charge beforehand, and she had warned me that there wouldn't be a huge amount for my area of interest - being Lolly Willowes.  Annoyingly for me, Warner only started her diary a year or two after Lolly Willowes was published, and there's not much in the letters either - but they did manage to provide some interesting items and I spent a happy 2.5 hours poring over various clippings, letters, and notes.  I haven't done a lot of archival work, because there isn't a lot out there for my authors, but it is easily the most absorbing part of my DPhil.

Anyway - as I was bidding farewell to the two women who'd shown me the materials, one mentioned that Chaldon Herring wasn't too far away, and that Sylvia Townsend Warner and her partner Valentine Ackland were buried there.  Their cottage had been bombed during the war, but at least I could still see the memorial.

Well, it turned out not to be quite as close as I'd hoped - especially given the lengthy single-lane tracks that sat-nav decided to take me down.  (That was rather a feature of the day, actually - I don't know the area to the south-east of our village at all well, and sat-nav took me on a lot of tiny roads, coming back.  Not fun.)  However, having been through several other Chaldons, all of which seemed to amount to a farmhouse each, I came upon the relative metropolis of Chaldon Herring.  There must have been at least ten houses... Actually, looking at the village website, there are apparently 170 people, and there seems to be rather a lot going on - including cream teas and a writers' walk, 'learn about Chaldon's extraordinary literary past', later this week.  I assume that would be about Sylvia Townsend Warner and David Garnett (who named his novel The Sailor's Return after the village's pub), and T.F. Powys, who lived there - and it sounds as though I should have waited a few days to go!  

My solitary, uninformed search was aided by a plan of graveyards in the church, and I managed to locate the place where Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland were buried.  Warner was herself rather anti-Christian, in quite a viciously closed-minded way which sadly colours a lot of her writing for me, but she would no doubt be delighted to have these views from her resting place (apologies for the poor weather - these must be stunning when it's sunny.)

It seems appropriate for an author who wrote so engagingly about nature, but without the townsman's fey illusions about the countryside.  Warner knew what village life was like - rarely pure and never simple, as my Mum says - but spent most of her life in rural areas, avoiding literary London.

Although the journey there was a little nerve-wracking, I'm delighted that Chaldon Herring was mentioned to me, and valued my little pilgrimage.

And, just because I'm at home, here's a new picture of gorgeous Sherpa... she's still tiny!

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