Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373874
Pages: 432
Publication Date: September 10, 2019

The Corner That Held Them

by Sylvia Townsend Warner

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Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote The Corner That Held Them, perhaps the most strikingly original of this unfailingly original novelist’s works, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and it is a historical novel like no other, one that immerses the reader in the dailiness of history (history as it goes on happening, unimportant history) rather than history as the given sequence of events that, with time, it comes to seem. Time ebbs and flows and characters come and go in this novel set in the England of the second half of the fourteenth century, the era of the Black Death, and tells of the life of Oby, a Benedictine convent, quite removed from the world and of no particular 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, in which background and foreground continually shift, is not only a picture of a world run by women but also a story stirring, disturbing, witty, utterly entrancing—of what is perhaps the most defining but also unobserved of human units, 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 might be considered the deep questions that lie behind this rare triumph of the novelist’s art.

Praise

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