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Warner, Sylvia Townsend.

LETTERS: Correspondence file.


Sylvia Townsend Warner
Viking Correspondence
Townsend, Sylvia. Correspondence File.
Correspondence between novelist, short story writer, and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner and her American editor, Viking's Marshall Best, as well as later correspondence from William Maxwell regarding the publication of Warner's letters.
I. Sylvia Townsend Warner - Marshall Best
  • Ca. 15 ALS from Warner to Best, 1967 - 1976, many regarding publication of Kingdoms of Elfin (Viking, 1977). With carbons of Best's outgoing letters; in one instance, his ALS.
  • With a handful of other letters from Warner to Best's colleagues at Viking, including Alan Williams and John Meyer.
Related manuscript material:
  • "Queen Mousie," 16 pp. revised typescript with Warner's autograph corrections. Originally slated for inclusion in Kingdoms of Elfin, Warner expresses on more than one occasion that she would like to omit the story from the collection, explaining that it "sits awkwardly" and observing that if she had "taken twice the trouble over it, it would still be a misfit in the book."
Summary and highlights of Warner - Best correspondence
In her letters to Best, Warner discusses her vision of Kingdoms of Elfin, which includes not only the cohesiveness of its stories but also illustrations, setting instructions, dust-jacket designs, etc.:
ALS, "Sylvia" to Best, 11/27/ 1975, one side. In part: "The Elfin stories are yours - with one stipulation: no illustrations, no typographical whimsies. If the get-up is to match the tone of the stories, it must be plain-faced and sober. And this will apply to the cover of the paperback, too. Perhaps a Bewick engraving, something of that manner."
ALS, "Sylvia" to Best, 2/14/1976, two leaves, two sides. In part: "This coming week I shall send the text of Kingdoms of Elfin - or whatever it may be in the end - to Alan Williams at the Viking Press. At present it consists of 17 stories, but I incline to leave out one, Queen Mousie, because though it is a fairyish story in itself, it is out of the picture with the rest."
Best appears to have changed Warner's mind regarding one item that she had been staunchly against - illustrations. He sends a map of "Kingdoms of Elfin," and her 10/12/1976 letter to him begins, "The Elfin map is admirable; and a triumph of research," and though she follows this by listing several corrections, she seems pleased overall.
Warner and Best indeed have a good rapport; she signs many letters "love" and on one occasion sends poetry and a snapshot, presumably of Dorset, with a New Year's greeting. Other content includes Best's inquiries about Warner's rumored autobiography (she claims to have no idea what he's talking about) and Warner sharing the news of her honorary membership to the Academy of Arts & Letters.
In one letter Warner also discusses publishing an omnibus of her work and whether it would be financially wise, namely in terms of taxes her estate might incur should it be successful:
ALS, "Sylvia" to Best, 6/4/ 1974, aerogram, two sides. In part: "Every English person of my age is engaged in trying to defeat death duties. If you did an omnibus before I die, and if it was a success, it would be added to my taxable estate. Stories in collections, out of print or just lying about the house would not be included. As for the current Elfin stories, I am still writing them. So the omnibus must be deferred."
Warner also touches on her attitude toward adaptations of her work:
ALS, "Sylvia Townsend Warner" to Viking's John A. Meyer, 4/3/1966, aerogram. Warner declines a screen adaptation for her prize-winning story "A Love Match," explaining that her answer "must be no - to Miss Grant's and any other applications. My aim with that story was to write about incest without special pleading or high-lighting. It is not possible to afford special pleading on the screen or the stage. Actors have personalities which will inevitably compel their audiences to take sides."
II. William Maxwell and publication of Letters
While fiction editor for The New Yorker, Maxwell worked with Warner for over forty years. In the late 1970s, he took on the task of editing a volume of her correspondence and in a letter of his own, Maxwell describes the experience of reading through all of her missives; he writes, in part, "Going through them just now the thought that crossed my mind was if this were something I had nothing to do with, but just a book I picked up and started reading, I would go out of my mind with pleasure" (TLS to Marshall Best, 8/8/1980). Letters was published by Chatto & Windus in 1982.
Included here are approximately 69 photocopies of Warner's letters, written over the course of several decades, which were sent by Maxwell to editors at Viking so that they might get "a fair idea of the level of interest of STW's correspondence."
Breakdown of correspondence
  • 4 TLS from William Maxwell to Marshall Best and Alan Williams, regarding publication of Letters.  
  • Ca. 69 TLC, from Warner to various correspondents, 1933 - 1978, ranging from a few lines to 4 pp. Ostensibly selected by Maxwell for inclusion in the book, some sparsely annotated by him. Mostly minor clarifications concerning meaning or identity, as well as a few sentences deleted here and there.
  • Correspondents include: T. Llewelyn Powys; his wife, Alyse  Gregory; Paul Nordoff; Frome Vauchurch; Steven Clark; Harold Raymond; George Plank; Martha Bacon Ballinger; and many to Maxwell himself.

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