Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland: A Love Story
This is the love story of English writers Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, in a time before we were able to come out of the shadows and proudly proclaim our love for each other.
It’s a love story that is strangely familiar: one party loves the other more fiercely; one is patient in the face of infidelity.
Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland: Part 1
Born in 1893 in Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, Sylvia was highly accomplished writer who created novels, short stories and poems.
Her works were published in The New Yorker, and she later wrote a biography of novelist TH White.
Meanwhile, the poet Valentine Ackland was the pseudonym of Mary Kathleen Macrory Ackland (or Molly), who was born in 1906 in Westnminster, London.
While Ackland gained a place in literary history for her part in the philosophical Modernism movement, her works achieved its own prominence in women’s studies and lesbian literature.
Both women had strange relationships with their family: Warner was distant from her mother and was deeply affected by her father’s death, while Ackland was brought up as the son her father never had.
The two women met when in 1922, Warner went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset and amidst the community of writers, she met Ackland.
Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland: Part 2
Prior to meeting each other, both had partners before: Warner was involved with a married man 22 years her senior while Ackland contracted herself in marriage to a known homosexual.
By the time Ackland met Warner, she had turned herself into a “man” in the eyes of the world, with her hair cropped short and wearing male clothing.
In 1930, Warner bought a cottage opposite the village inn and invited Ackland to live with her. Their relationship lasted for 39 years, until Ackland’s death from breast cancer in 1969.
However, their relationship was fraught, given that Ackland became an alcoholic and was unfaithful with other women. Despite this they stayed together for 39 years.
The two traveled a lot, and in 1935, they even became members of the Communist Party, visiting Spain during the Civil War.
Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland: Part 3
Together, the couple had a joint collection of poems published in 1933, entitled, Whether a Dove or a Seagull. This work was important as some of the poems openly discussed lesbianism despite being forbidden.
The two also created a number of political pieces, with Warner putting down “After the Death of Don Juan” and Ackland writing “Instructions from England.”
Warner also produced some of her best work at the time, like The Corner That Held Them in 1948. She likewise translated Proust’s Contre Saint-Beuve into English and wrote a guide to Somerset.
Ackland was not as successful with her poetry as her partner. After she died, Warner had Ackland’s poems published posthumously, The Nature of the Moment.
However, Ackland still managed to write a book in the 1940s that covered her thoughts on love and life with Warner.
This book was published in 1985 and was entitled, For Sylvia: An Honest Account. But Warner wasn’t able to read this book as she died in 1978.
Both women were buried under a single tombstone in Chaldon churchyard.