Summer Will Show
by Sylvia Townsend Warner, introduction by Claire Harman
Sophia Willoughby, a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed her cheating husband off to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She intends to devote herself to the serious business of raising her two children in proper Tory fashion.
Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long she has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband’s sometime mistress, whose dramatic recitations, based on her hair-raising childhood in czarist Russia, electrify audiences in drawing rooms and on the street alike. Minna, “magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering,” leads Sophia on a wild adventure through bohemian and revolutionary Paris, in a story that reaches an unforgettable conclusion amidst the bullets, bloodshed, and hope of the barricades.
Sylvia Townsend Warner was one of the most original and inventive of twentieth-century English novelists. At once an adventure story, a love story, and a novel of ideas, Summer Will Show is a brilliant reimagining of the possibilities of historical fiction.
Sylvia Townsend Warner has to be one of the great under-read British novelists of the twentieth century. This, my favourite of her novels, has a disaffected Victorian wife falling for her husband's charismatic mistress, and discovering revolutionary politics along the way.
— Sarah Waters
As the dénouement of Summer Will Show, where elegance burns into fervor, seems to me the most triumphal single moment in revolutionary fiction, so the whole elaborate, fine-spun novel seems the most skilful, the most surefooted, sensitive, witty piece of prose yet to have been colored by left-wing ideology.
— Mary McCarthy, The Nation
This book is indeed a woman's handiwork, with a woman's insight, malice, exquisiteness; in its wit, its instinct for style, its drawing-room urbanities, it will suggest at one time or another the work of a Rebecca West, a Virginia Woolf, an Elinor Wylie.
— Louis Kronenberger, The New York Times
Set in Paris during the revolutionary spring of 1848, Summer Will Show tells of the struggle of Sophia Willoughby, a woman set adrift by the death of her children, for self-understanding, commitment, love. With the arrival of Minna Lemuel, her husband's mistress, the novel unexpectedly takes a turn that gives it greater dimension and weight. In Minna, Warner created one of the more memorable female characters in modern fiction. Summer Will Show...demonstrates the same virtues of wit and compassion that grace all of her work.
"It's a wildly leftist novel of love, war and death; Townsend Warner chucks the lot into her simmering story, but it remains skilfully crafted. Brilliantly entertaining and far ahead of its time. " — The Guardian