Women, Witches and their Familiars: Exploring the Concept of Rural Modernism in Sylvia Townsend Warner and Mary Webb

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


title = "Women, Witches and their Familiars: Exploring the Concept of Rural Modernism in Sylvia Townsend Warner and Mary Webb",
abstract = "This paper uses the framework of ecofeminism in its exploration of two rural modernist novels, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes (1926) and Mary Webb’s Precious Bane (1924). The development of ecocriticism and ecofeminism in the 1980s saw a proliferation of work on the relation between literature, gender and the natural environment (Glotfelty and Fromm, 1996; Gaard, 1993; Warren, 1997). The 2000s saw beginnings of more nuanced and sophisticated applications of these concepts with the broadening field of “modernisms” benefiting from this innovative critical approach (Cantrell, 2003). Ecocritical approaches in modernism though have largely been limited to the canon, Virginia Woolf being a prime target (Alt, 2010; Scott, 2006, Scott, 2012). Within the discipline of modernist studies there still tends to be a focus on the urban, with ecological concerns being deliberated from a perspective which sees them as a product and reflection of the traditional city locale. More marginalised modernist writers have yet to be adequately considered in light of an ecocritical approach despite the fact that it is their works, tending towards outdoor rural settings, which could benefit most from such a framework. The identification of ruralism with witch-craft is apparent in both novels discussed here. While Laura Willowes, the heroine of Warner’s modernist fantasy novel, identifies herself with the community of witches in the rural village in which she resides, Webb’s Prue Sarn is cast as a witch by an intolerant and unreceptive society. The connection with the animal world which both women share becomes crucial to unravelling their sense of detachment from normal human society; both women are presented in contrast to this society which is seemingly incapable of “seeing” itself as part of the natural world. This paper will move off the map away from urban centres and examines modernist fiction which itself explores a more literal unchartered territory.",
author = "Ellen Turner",
year = "2013",
language = "English",
note = "Alternative Modernism ; Conference date: 16-05-2013",