Lolly Willowes

Sylvia Townsend Warner
Lolly Willowes Cover

Lolly Willowes: or, The Loving Huntsman


Before the Willowes family moved from Dorchester to Wales and made a tidy fortune as brewers in the last half of the 19th century, their greatest claim to distinction was King George III's commendation of great-great Aunt Salome's puff pastry. Everard Willowes, patriarch of the second generation of brewing Willowes, had two sons and one daughter, Laura, born in 1874. His sons married and left Wales for London and the South. When his wife died, it was only natural that unmarried Laura would look after her father. When he died himself, it was only natural that Laura should move to London to live with her brother Henry and sister-in-law Caroline. The couple agreed that Laura would prefer the smaller of the two available extra rooms.

Laura becomes Aunt Lolly, de facto baby sitter to her nieces and nephews who eventually have children of their own. One day, when Laura is in her 40's, she sees what strikes her as especially interesting flower in a florist shop and learns that it is a British species that comes from the obscure village of Great Mop. Laura announces her decision to relocate to Great Mop. Henry has lost most of her capital in unwise investments, but she is happy to board rather than buy a house of her own. She makes the move, and once settled in Great Mop – which she liked very much – she realizes that she has become a witch.

Great Mop teems with witches and warlocks, and they welcome her to their Sabbaths. Laura finds the proceedings tacky and distasteful. But once she gets to know Satan himself, who works in the woods as a groundskeeper, she likes him immensely and he likes her.

Warner's novel ends with a long, invigorating conversation between Laura and her new master. She knows she has made the right decision. "One doesn't become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either… It's to escape all that – to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by others." She has saved herself from the fate of being an aunt.