This month’s Across the Page features the highly anticipated new release by Malinda Lo, Ash (Little, Brown), a rerelease of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s historic lesbian novel, Summer Will Show (New York Review Books), and a new volume of Willa Cather’s short stories, The Bohemian Girl (Harper Perennial).
Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner (New York Review Books)
The New York Review Books’ recent release of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel Summer Will Show, begins with an insightful introduction by Claire Harman that explains why this historic lesbian novel is so widely respected and admired.
Summer Will Show is the story of Sophia Willoughby, a young and fiercely intelligent Englishwoman, caring for her children at the estate she inherited from her parents. Fredrick, her husband, is off with his mistress, a Jewish woman named Minna, in Paris.
Though Sophia does not necessarily miss Fredrick, and in fact she treasures her independence, she does spend a good amount of time wondering about Minna. When Sophia’s two children die of the smallpox, she decides to track Fredrick down in Paris so that he can give her more children and to see who this person is that has captured her husband so completely.
However, when she arrives, at the beginning of the 1848 revolution, her immediate, intense and shared attraction to Minna renders Fredrick obsolete. Minna is a seductive, dynamic character and full of contradictions. She is a leader of the revolution and a Bohemian whose art and livelihood come from the dramatic tales she tells of her childhood in czarist Russia.
Soon Sophia is caught in the middle of the revolution. Fredrick has left and refuses to give her any of her own money. Sophia has never been happier in her life despite near starvation and destitution, but her relationship with Minna grows increasingly more vulnerable as the undisciplined revolutionaries lose control of the uprising.
Summer Will Show is a story about passion in many of its messiest forms: the love a mother has for her children versus and the love a grieving mother has for children she believes she did not protect; the lust between two people from completely different worlds versus the control one person can have over another in a marriage; and, lastly, the connection between the personal and the political.
Claire Harman is also the author of Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography. In her essay, she makes several connections between the characters in the book and Warner’s relationship with the poet Valentine Ackland:
“The book is, after all, about two women falling in love, just as Warner and Ackland did in 1930. It is also about making common cause with the underdog during a period of violent political upheaval, just as Warner and Ackland did when they joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and went to Spain in support of the Spanish government during the civil war.”
In a blurb for the rerelease, Sarah Waters calls Warner one of the “great under-read British novelists of the twentieth century. This, my favorite of her novels, has a disaffected Victorian wife falling for her husband’s charismatic mistress, and discovering revolutionary politics along the way.”