‘A Love Match’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Chosen by Stuart Heath
While on leave in London, having survived the horrors of the Battle of the Somme, Justin finds solace in the arms of Celia, a young widow. Justin and Celia, however, are brother and sister. Living in a society that would be shocked by their love for each other, the couple go on to establish an outwardly conventional life together in a Northern English town. Included by Sylvia Townsend Warner in her 1966 collection A Stranger with a Bag (published in the US under the title Swans on an Autumn River), ‘A Love Match’ is a tale that permitted its author to comment indirectly on her own position as a lesbian in a long-term relationship in mid-20th Century England. Her prose here is, as nearly always, sharp & precise, yielding ample evidence of her wit and intelligence. Straightforwardly happy endings are as hard to come by in Warner’s fiction as they are in life, but this story of lovers never parted, and of a secret kept safe, comes closer to having one than most.

First published in A Stranger With a Bag and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus, 1966. Available to read online here, with a short introduction by Edith Pearlman
Stuart Heath is a middle-aged IT Consultant based in South Wales with no literary ambitions.

‘Tebic’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

‘Humphrey, what is Tebic? What does it do?’
‘Its duty – as Woolworth’s expects of it. Now go on to something else, you’re only halfway down.’

Tebic is a small gift – wrapped in silver paper, encased in blue plastic and embossed with a head of Athene – that Humphrey Warburton gives his wife Lydia in her Christmas stocking. The problem: he can’t remember what it is, and she throws it aside – until one day, it is seized on by a lunch guest who declares herself a “Tebic addict”. What I love about this story is that I still don’t know what to make of it, having it read it over and over again, or refined my ideas of what the mysterious Tebic might be – the best I can do is to say it sits in my mind with a black-and-white framed photograph of the back of a woman’s head that I’ve had for years.

(First published in The New Yorker in 1958, and collected in The Music at Long Verney)