Lolly Willowes (New York Review of Books Classics) by Sylvia Townsend Warner

By Sylvia Townsend Warner

In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an getting older spinster's fight to damage approach from her controlling family—a vintage tale that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, whereas including a measurement of the supernatural and unusual. Warner is without doubt one of the amazing and imperative mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a author to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the wonderful flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.

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Moreover, while the New Guineans and Yanomamo¨ are notorious for their pugnacity, anthropology has revealed no aboriginally peaceful peoples, much less the prelapsarian world of primitive harmony envisioned by Rousseau and his many followers. Kung San of southern Africa, famously dubbed ‘‘the harmless people’’ by an ethnographer,5 had homicide rates several times higher than the most violent American cities. Kung’s homicide rates were low in comparison with many other simple societies. 6 While the Waorani represent an extraordinary case, a comprehensive survey recently concluded: ‘‘All of the available evidence indicates very high killing rates in all known simple huntergatherer societies’’7 The argument that war is a squawking newborn in man’s repertoire of evils, that modern man is fallen from primitive grace, is totally unsupported by compelling historical, archaeological, anthropological or literary evidence.

2 TRIBES, CHIEFDOMS, OR KINGDOMS? Until the last few decades, reconstructions of Homeric society were implicitly or explicitly based on the models of European monarchies, Mycenaean kingdoms, feudal baronies, or Classical Era city states. Thus translations of the Iliad and Odyssey typically refer to the basileus with regal, un-Greek terms like ‘‘Prince’’ or ‘‘King,’’ commentators casually refer to Homeric heroes as ‘‘aristocrats,’’ and unwary readers are apt to conclude that the meaning of the term polis in Homer (a town and its surrounding territory) is the same as the meaning of the term in later Greek history (city-state).

Finally, a generation of Homerists emerged, led by Moses Finley, who realized that the customs and lifeways described in Homer had more in common with the tribes and chiefdoms described in anthropology than the state societies of the Mycenaean era. For these 22 The Rape of Troy reasons, Homeric scholars over the last half-century have gradually arrived at the conclusion that Schliemann and other advocates of the Mycenaean theory were wrong. Finley’s dismissal of the Mycenaean model, which was boldly iconoclastic in the 1950s, is now the clear consensus: ‘‘The Homeric world was altogether post-Mycenaean and the so-called reminiscences and survivals [of life in the Mycenaean era] are rare, isolated and garbled.

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