Buried Treasure

Clare Colvin on 'Mr Fortune's Maggot' by Sylvia Townsend Warner
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The Independent Culture

I first came across Sylvia Townsend Warner through her diaries. I had picked them up out of interest in her Dorset village, where I lived as a child. The writing was such a delight that I searched out her novels, republished by Virago. After the Dorset-based Lolly Willowes, she set off on imaginative journeys - to revolutionary Paris, 18th-century Spain and the South Seas. Mr Fortune's Maggot is an imaginative tour de force, for Warner had travelled no nearer Polynesia than Paddington library. The relationship between the Rev Fortune and his sole convert, Lueli, is delicately balanced. Fortune's erotic feelings for the boy are sublimated into a desire to instruct him. The theme, that we can never love anything without messing it about, works on different levels - as a satire on colonialism, a feminist critique and a lament for civilised man's inability to live for the moment.

I first came across Sylvia Townsend Warner through her diaries. I had picked them up out of interest in her Dorset village, where I lived as a child. The writing was such a delight that I searched out her novels, republished by Virago. After the Dorset-based Lolly Willowes, she set off on imaginative journeys - to revolutionary Paris, 18th-century Spain and the South Seas. Mr Fortune's Maggot is an imaginative tour de force, for Warner had travelled no nearer Polynesia than Paddington library. The relationship between the Rev Fortune and his sole convert, Lueli, is delicately balanced. Fortune's erotic feelings for the boy are sublimated into a desire to instruct him. The theme, that we can never love anything without messing it about, works on different levels - as a satire on colonialism, a feminist critique and a lament for civilised man's inability to live for the moment.

Clare Colvin's novel 'The Mirror Makers' is published by Arrow

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