Sylvia Townsend Warner

A stack of ten volumes of short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner.

The motley stack of ten books in the picture above contain most – but still not all – of the short stories written by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978). My first encounter with STW’s work, was, like most people’s, by way of her popular debut novel Lolly Willowes (1926). Although I admired its prose-style, I didn’t altogether fall for the book, and only returned to her work about a decade later, when I found a first edition copy of Kingdoms of Elfin (1977) in a charity bookshop: it cost me £1. I dearly loved the elegant, fatalistic fairy stories within, and began to search for her other short fiction. My purchase proved to be the kind of false bargain that prefaces a good deal of further expenditure.

Most of the above were acquired fairly inexpensively, but getting the last few wasn’t so cheap. An ex-library copy of The Museum of Cheats (1947) set me back about £20. The shabby US edition of A Garland of Straw (1943) would have been almost as much, taking international postage costs into account: it had spent a long while in a Baton Rouge library, acquiring a complex & rather fascinating aroma along the way. Lastly, I coughed up £50 for a copy of The Salutation (1932), by a clear margin the cheapest I could find at the time, even including price of shipping it from Australia. Warner had published a few individual stories and one small collection prior to ‘32, but at least some of those were re-issued in The Salutation, so I’ve not sought out those earlier books.

As far as I’m aware, the other collections I’m still missing are the elusively rare (and therefore very expensive) More Joy in Heaven (1935) and the posthumously-gathered Scenes of Childhood (1982) & The Music at Long Verney (2001). The one posthumous collection I do have – One Thing Leading to Another (1984) – is pretty good, but does represent a half-step down in quality from the collections assembled in her lifetime. The books in the picture are the fruits of their author’s long association with Chatto & Windus in the UK (seven of the ten) and Viking in the US (the other three). Four of the volumes in all are ex-library, while three of the remainder are inscribed: The Cat’s Cradle Book (1940: US; 1960: UK) was someone’s Christmas gift in 1970. Kingdoms of Elfin was a birthday gift in 1977; while The Salutation merely has its first owner’s name neatly written on the price-clipped fly-leaf.