Critics have long considered the most distinctive feature of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes (1926) to be the generic shift from realism to fantasy when Laura Willowes becomes a witch and makes a pact with Satan. This article however examines Warner’s underappreciated and unusual depiction of Laura’s consciousness. Although her decisions are the crux of the plot, Laura is regularly presented as having a blank mind, experiencing mere sensation, or even “not thinking” at all. Drawing from cognitive science as well as narratology, this article maintains that Warner’s “cognitive minimalism” brings her into connection with contemporaneous modernist experiments from which she would otherwise seem to stand apart. The apparent move to fantasy is in the service of depicting minimal mental functioning. This cognitive minimalism, moreover, serves as an implicit social critique by pointing to the lack of representation of the thinking of an undervalued category—the unmarried woman.


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pp. 44-62
Launched on MUSE
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