The Corner that Held Them, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

The Corner that Held Them, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, traces 50 years of a small Benedictine convent in England during the time of the Black Death (1349-82), through the acts and thoughts of many of the nuns (and the men, bishop, priest, and bailiff). Much is petty, and there is no discernible major story arc (through perhaps it all leads to the damaged Dame Sibella’s ambiguous act of self-liberation). The accumulation of lives, spent together, knowing one was staying together until death, is striking for the reader. And as is well-known, Warner is a master writer. I opened the novel randomly to this sentence: “Yet the afternoon was not entirely unpleasant, for his seat by the window was cushioned and he could look out and see the dragon-flies darting over the moat, or the aspen quiver of the reflected sunlight on the mossed wall, or a water-rat swimming across and dragging its wheat-ear pattern of ripples after it.” The benefit of my age is I used to collect wheat pennies (before the Lincoln Memorial was on the back), so I know exactly what a wheat-ear pattern is! One of the very best scenes in the book belongs to a man… he discovers the ars nova in a leper colony.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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