The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend WarnerIn memory of the wife who had once dishonored and always despised him, Brian de Retteville founded a 12th-century convent in Norfolk. Two centuries later, the Benedictine community is well established there and, as befits a convent whose origin had such ironic beginnings, the inhabitants are prey to the ambitions, squabbles, jealousies, and pleasures of less spiritual environments. An outbreak of the Black Death, the collapse of the convent spire, the Bishops visitation, and a nuns disappearance are interwoven with the everyday life of the nuns, novices, and prioresses in this marvelous imagined history of a 14th-century nunnery.
Distant voices, small lives
A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox vulpes libris : small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard. More nuns. The author manages to conjure a whole world, and the mindset that goes with it. The characters are allowed their intelligence and their imagination, but these are infused with the reality that they know and see and unadulterated by what we know and see. There is something marginal and provisional about the place — it is on an island, in what I assume must be undrained fens.
'Satanism as a Feminist Strategy in Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes (1926)', Per Faxneld
The Corner That Held Them is a fictionalisation of history, with no heroes and no heroines, and the protagonists jog slowly past our field of vision as we move from the twelfth century through the thirteenth, into the fourteenth. We meet five prioresses, four bishops, one custos or convent business manager, in modern parlance , and one priest with a rather important secret that has become a nunnery tall tale since he revealed it inadvertently in the throes of a fever, thinking he was dying. Naturally none of the nuns believe him. The plot, such as it is, begins with how this nunnery was founded. It was built in the memory of Alianor, the dead wife of Brian de Retteville, whom we first meet in bed, just before her lover is killed by her husband.