It's official. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner has been added to my pantheon of all-time favorite books. Originally published in 1926, it's a story about an aging spinster named Laura (called "Lolly" by her relatives) who longs to escape her suffocating, dull life as a family caretaker in the uppercrust rungs of England. Eventually, she finds her way to the countryside village of Great Mop, where she begins a potent personal renaissance. She lives on her own, communes with nature, and finds herself turning toward the way of the witch.
To say anything more would give too much away I think, so I'll just share a few extra thoughts. First of all this book is a true work of feminism. The idea of a woman leaving behind her domestic and gendered obligations would have been revolutionary at the time, and the novel underscores Laura's longing for - and eventual revelry in - liberation. Of course, I absolutely love the magical underpinnings of the tale as well, particularly as her powers give her both identity and agency, while still being literal in the pagan sense (and which is, I would argue, true of the archetype of the witch at large). Some reviewers bemoan the slow pace of the beginning of the novel, but I must say I rather enjoyed it. It builds up an initial confining psychological sphere that feels all the more delicious when Laura finally breaks away. The book is definitely a slow burn, but proves in the end to be truly incandescent.