Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Spinster (Ashton-Warner) 40

I have to admit to being a little confused by the authorship of this book - I had confused Sylvia Ashton-Warner with Sylvia Townsend-Warner in my head, thinking that it was perhaps her maiden name. However, when I opened the book and read the information on the flyleaf, and then the introduction, I realised my error - Sylvia Ashton Warner is a completely different person! Sylvia Ashton-Warner was a teacher from New Zealand, and quite different from Sylvia Townsend Warner, the author from England!

Spinster is a very autobiographical novel, so reading it helped me learn more about SAW. It tells the story of Anna who teaches Maori children in a remote village school. (In some ways it represented a different culture version of Miss Read). I loved the way that the children were characterised, and there are frequent extracts from their work in the text, for example:
"Me and my sister" struggles Twinnie, trying to write because she saw Tame at it,
marbles when it was nearlydark. Then we
went inside and
slipped on my coat"
The character of Anna is an interesting one; she is a bit of a mystery. There are hints early on that she may have an alcohol addiction; we wonder also why she dislikes being at home so much and finds escapism in the classroom. This is developed alongside the novel as we follow through the seasons of the school year.
The book was made into a film in 1960, which I would love to see. It's just published the once by Virago, with the green cover above.


  1. It is strange that Virago should pick up on two authors with such similar names in their early days. You make this sound much more appealing than the cover blurb, so I really must pick up my copy soon

  2. Jane - it is a lovely book and definitely worth reading. I'm surprised she's not more popular given the similarity of her name to another popular author!

  3. Oh I am interested in this one, being a New Zealander... will have a scout around abe and amazon for this. Thanks for your review.

  4. Hallo Verity, so impressed by your determination to read the whole of Virago's output. That's a terrific goal. I looked for this author in your tags straight away because I adored this book sometime in the early nineties then completely forgot the author's name and tended, like you, to confuse her with the other writer. One day it suddenly came back to me...I enjoyed that little fellow Seven, who kept getting into trouble. Also Anna reminds me of my aunt, who taught infant classes on a Pacific island some years back.