“The One and the Other” - A Short Story by Sylvia Townsend Warner - first published January 22, 1972 in The New Yorker - included as the lead story in Kingdoms of Elfin in 1977, one of sixteen stories . Reprinted in 2018 with a Forward by Greer Gilman and an introduction by Ingrid Hotz-Davies
One of the joys of The Reading Life is Reading your first work by an author you had never before encountered and knowing this is someone to add to your list of beloved authors. Once I found Warner loved Siamese Cats that was all it took. I like stories about alternative worlds overlapping this one and am drawn to fairies and spirit beings. In certain times the feeling seems mutual.
The fairies in the stories of Warner border on evil, like those in the stories of the great Irish writer of supernatural stories, Sheridan de La Fanu.
“Elfindom is an aristocratic society, jealous of its privileges. The ruling classes engage in such pursuits as patronizing the arts or hunting with the Royal Pack of Werewolves, while the lower orders take pleasure in conducting brutal raiding parties into the world to torment mortals.
The Kingdoms of Elfin are more diverse and widely scattered than is often thought; from the Welsh Elfins who, though constitutionally incapable of faith, remove mountains, and the elegant and witty French Court of Brocéliande where castration almost becomes a vogue, to the Kingdom of Zuy in the Low Countries, trafficking suppositories and religious pictures” - from Goodreads
I loved the descriptions of how fairies took Human children and replaced them with fairies.
“.Elfhame is in Heathendom. It has no christenings. But when a human child is brought into it there is a week of ceremonies. Every day a fasting weasel bites the child’s neck and drinks its blood for three minutes. The amount of blood drunk by each successive weasel (who is weighed before and after the drinking) is replaced by the same weight of a distillation of dew, soot, and aconite. Though the blood-to-ichor transfer does not cancel human nature (the distillation is only approximate: elfin blood contains several unanalyzable components, one of which is believed to be magnetic air), it gives considerable longevity; up to a hundred and fifty years is the usual span. During the seven days, the child may suffer some sharpish colics, but few die. On the eighth day it is judged sufficiently inhumanized to be given its new name. ‘Dear little thing,’ said Tiphaine. ‘I hope he won’t age prematurely.’ For when grey hairs appear on the head of a changeling he is put out of the hill to make the rest of his way through the human world; which is why we see so many grey-haired beggars on the roads. Mrs Tod, the baker’s wife, did not notice the difference between her baby which had been stolen away and the elf-baby left in its stead. She was busy making sausage meat and pork pies that day; and this was not her first child, to be studied like a nonpareil39. Indeed, it was her ninth, though not all of them had lived.”
Written in amazing prose it seems to real. Who is to say it is not?
For sure I will read all the stories.
From The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society
Sylvia Townsend Warner was a highly individual writer of novels, short stories and poems. She contributed short stories to the New Yorker for more than forty years, translated Proust's Contre Saint-Beuve into English, wrote a biography of the novelist T.H.White and a guide to Somerset.
Born in 1893, Sylvia was the only child of Harrow School housemaster George Townsend Warner (remembered as a brilliant teacher) and his wife, Nora. After an unsuccessful term at kindergarten she was educated at home. Sylvia was an accomplished musician, and it is said that the outbreak of War in 1914 alone prevented her from going abroad to study composition under Arnold Schoenberg. In 1917, she joined the Committee preparing the ten volumes of Tudor Church Music published by Oxford University Press between 1922 and 1929. One of her fellow committee members - and long-time lover - was Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years her senior.
Tall, thin and bespectacled, Sylvia was a disappointment to her mother, with whom she had an uneasy relationship. After her mother's remarriage (George Townsend Warner died suddenly in 1916) matters improved, but mother and daughter were never to be close.
In 1922, Sylvia, at the instigation of Stephen Tomlin, a charismatic if manipulative figure who later became part of the Bloomsbury Group - and who was a former pupil of her father's - went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset to visit the writer Theodore Powys. This melancholic, withdrawn man, whose large family included John Cowper and Llewelyn Powys, had been writing unsuccessfully for years.
Along with Tomlin and the writer David Garnett, Sylvia Townsend Warner was instrumental in the publication of Theodore's novels and short stories which had languished unseen for years. First to be published was "The Left Leg", three stories dedicated to his trinity of supporters. Powys and Warner became great friends and for a time there was almost a "school" of Chaldon writers, quirky, droll and rustic, which included Sylvia's novel "Mr Fortune's Maggot", Garnett's "The Sailor's Return" and many of Powys's short stories.
Also in Chaldon, at Theodore Powys's house, Sylvia first met the poet Valentine Ackland. When in 1930 she bought "the late Miss Green's cottage" opposite the village inn, she invited Valentine to live there. So began a love affair which lasted until Valentine's death from breast cancer in 1969. The couple's joint collection of poems "Whether a Dove or Seagull" was published in 1933. Although most of their life together was spent in Dorset, they also travelled widely and lived from time to time in Norfolk notably at Frankfurt Manor, Sloley and Great Eye Folly, Salthouse (which was later destroyed by the sea).
In 1935, Sylvia and Valentine became committed members of the Communist Party, attending meetings, fund-raising and contributing to left-wing journals. They twice visited Spain during the Civil War. Their lives at this time and most of their writings - like Warner's "After the Death of Don Juan" - were charged with politics.
In 1937 the two women moved to a house on the river at Frome Vauchurch in Dorset. Here Sylvia produced many of her most important works, including "The Corner That Held Them", (1948) set in a medieval East Anglian nunnery. Valentine met with less success in her own painstakingly-sustained career. After her death, Sylvia published a collection of her poems, "The Nature of the Moment". Sylvia lived on for another nine years, dying on May Day, 1978. The couple's ashes lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard.