Lolly Willowes: She Just Wants To Be Alone


One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that - to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to by others

Laura Willowes has lived her entire forty-seven years in service to her family. After the death of her father, she is packed up like a piece of furniture and moved to her brother and sister-in-law's home in London. She's given a room, not the best spare room, and the job of taking care of her nieces and nephews. Her family at first attempts to find her a husband. After a few awkward dinner parties, they decide to leave her to spinsterhood. The family does love Laura, especially the children, who call her Lolly, and she becomes an indispensable member of the household.

For her entire adulthood, Laura feels as if she is missing something, something she can't put her finger on. The present Willowes like their smooth routines, even taking the same vacation year after year. Only the First World War disrupts their routine. After the war, Laura dreads more of the same, forever until she dies. She makes a spontaneous decision to move by herself to the country. The family is shocked. How can she live on her own? What is she thinking? But Laura is determined.

She loves living in the town of Great Mop, even if the neighbours keep strange hours and play music late into the night. She feels she's fitting in and the town belongs to her.... until her nephew shows up with plans of his own.

The classic image of the witch is of an old spinster kissing the devil's butt. Why do spinsters sell their souls to the devil? Well, Lolly Willowes would tell you it's so that they can be left alone. Selling their souls to the devil seems to be the only way for women to get out of family obligations.

"This wasn't in the brochure."
Laura wants the freedom to live her own life. To go for long walks, help her neighbour with his fancy chickens, to just lay in the grass and look at the sky. She's tired of taking care of other people's kids, of being useful. She just wants to do what she wants for a change. The town of Great Mop offers her an escape from her old life.

I felt for Laura who knows deep down that her life is being wasted. She does as she's expected uncomplainingly for decades, even giving up her own name and letting everyone call her by one the children chose. I cheered for her when she breaks free.

I didn't know what to expect from Lolly Willowes. It seems at first to be rooted in reality, but after Lolly leaves London, things take an unexpected turn. I thought her giving her soul to the devil would be more figurative, but nope, it's not. It gets a little weird. Nature and woodland places take on magical properties. Satan seems like an old world pagan god.

It's a funny but also serious book. It looks at the problem upper class single women in the early 20th Century had. There was no place for them in society. They had to be useful in order to not be considered burdens. The thought of a single woman choosing to live on her own was a radical idea. What is her purpose?

No witches were harmed in the making of this book, that makes it a winner!

4 comments:

  1. That does sound like a winner. WWI-era magical realism? Imma gonna be sold on that

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  2. Totally sold on this one. Witches, historical fiction, magic, feminism. Yep.

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  3. This sounds like a truly fantastic book - luckily my library has it! Thanks for the review :)

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  4. Great Mop is an A+ name for a town, I have to say. You are the second review of Lolly Willowes I've seen in a VERY short time period, and it's reminding me that I have to for sure read this book.

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