Skip to product information
1 of 1

The Corner That Held Them

The Corner That Held Them

by Sylvia Townsend Warner, introduction by Claire Harman

Regular price $18.95
Regular price Sale price $18.95

September 2019 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them is a historical novel like no other, one that immerses the reader in the dailiness of history, rather than history as the given sequence of events that, in time, it comes to seem. Time ebbs and flows and characters come and go in this novel, set in the era of the Black Death, about a Benedictine convent of no great note. The nuns do their chores, and seek to maintain and improve the fabric of their house and chapel, and struggle with each other and with themselves. The book that emerges is a picture of a world run by women but also a story—stirring, disturbing, witty, utterly entrancing—of a community. What is the life of a community and how does it support, or constrain, a real humanity? How do we live through it and it through us? These are among the deep questions that lie behind this rare triumph of the novelist’s art.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373874
Pages: 424
Publication Date:


[A]n exhilarating event, a radical work of fiction from seventy years ago which resonates sharply today.
—Tobias Carroll, BOMB

Warner’s style is delicate and arch . . . Though she teeters on the edge of satire, she lands instead . . . on poignancy.
—Josephine Livingstone, The New York Times Book Review

One of the great British novels of the twentieth century: a narrative of extraordinary reach, power and beauty.
—Sarah Waters

In The Corner That Held Them, [Warner] has observed and blended the nice trivialities, the emotional upsets and the occasional spiritual reflections of the some fourteenth-century nuns. . . . The form of the novel is outwardly as ramshackle as the convent buildings . . . but this is a license that may be allowed to the charm, the wit and the speculation which make the book very remarkable.
The Times Literary Supplement

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them strikes one as a masterpiece. As an act of imagined history—the life of a fenland nunnery in the fourteenth century—this novel has few rivals. Warner conveys the strange ordinariness of a distant yet immediate past with utter authority. But her chronicle of lives under pressure, at once visionary and petty, makes for a fiction of extreme density. No one after Hardy has interwoven more closely the sheer feel of material things, of weather, of light across water or foliage, with the inward landscapes of character. The prose precisely matches the theme and settings: it is at once bone-spare and of a rich, troubling opacity. A classic, whose resonance deepens inside the reader in proportion to its austere, luminous discretion. Also, as it happens, a work of high, frequent comedy.
—George Steiner, The Times Literary Supplement

A spellbinding piece of historical fiction—spare, luminous. . . . One starts rereading as soon as one has reached the last page.
The Sunday Times

A magnificent recreation of the life of a medieval convent.
The Daily Telegraph

[The Corner That Held Them] renders the dailiness of life . . . plot is done away with; there’s no tidy narrative arc or chain of cause and effect. There’s only minutiae. . . It’s a world run by women, with its own rules and rhythms. But this can be suffocating. . . The convent is dedicated, with a wink from Warner, to the patron saint of prisoners.
—Claire Luchette, The New York Times

View full details
  • Shopping for someone else but not sure what to give them? Give them the gift of choice with a New York Review Books Gift Card.

    Gift Cards 
  • A membership for yourself or as a gift for a special reader will promise a year of good reading.

    Join NYRB Classics Book Club 
  • Is there a book that you’d like to see back in print, or that you think we should consider for one of our series? Let us know!

    Tell us about it