City University of New York
Graduate School & University Center
New York, NY
War and Transgressive Sexuality in Sylvia Townsend Warner's "A Love Match"
Sylvia Townsend Warner's portrayal of the incestuous relationship between brother and sister Justin and Celia Tizard in her short story "A Love Match" (availabe in Women, Men, and the Great War, ed. Trudi Tate. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 1995) is at once an exploration of transgressive relationships during and after World War I, and a contrast between homosexual marginalization and heterosexual acceptance, regardless of any deviant form the heterosexual liaison might assume. The story can be analyzed as an exploration of sexual freedom and simultaneous persecution at the turn of the century as well as a statement on the privileged status of heterosexuality during this same period. Warner has war figure as a catalyst for transgressive sexuality and then explores the continuance of the relationship as a metaphor for the relatively unthreatening existence of any "Love Match," regardless of sexual orientation.
Over the Top: Aggression as Aphrodisiac
"A Love Match" does not just take place during World War I; its main events are inspired by the war. Before Warner explores the fate of the incestuous Tizards as they attempt to make their lives in the post-war English countryside, we first see the couple drawn together by the violence of the war. Justin is home on leave and elects to stay with his sister Celia, recently "widowed" by the war when her fiancé Tim "had been blown to pieces" (14). Celia receives the news of Tim's death while furnishing the private domestic space she has acquired following her mother's remarriage to a "meat king from the Argentine...to get away from England and the war" (15). Tim's fragmentation has left Celia's potential sexuality abandoned in a world devoid of men, but she is now an independent woman as a result of his legacy. These images of Celia living on her own with a large bank account serve to establish her as a liberated woman and are the first connection with what will later become many similarities to living a lesbian lifestyle, once she is involved with her brother.
It is important to realize in this story that Celia is not necessarily to be construed as a closeted lesbian, but her transgressive relationship with Justin and their attempt to make their place within society is a metaphor for the displacement of homosexual relationships at this time. As we will see, Celia's heterosexual desire for her brother is quite genuine. It is only when the couple is reunited after the war that their "closeted" relationship, with its upset of gender expectations, comes to resemble any other unconventional sexual union. Previous to Tim's death, Celia was planning to embark on a categorically heterosexual marriage.
Enter Justin, the war-torn melancholy brother who has come to replace Tim as the masculine figure Celia longs for and needs to relate to if she wishes to place herself within the context of war. After Justin's arrival at her home, he finds she has laid out for him the romantic rendezvous she had planned for Tim's return and she even dresses him up in the costume she had arranged for a soldier's homecoming. "The pyjamas were silk, the dressing gown was quilted and wrapped him round like a caress ... There was a table sparkling with silver and crystal, smoked salmon, a bottle of champagne. It was all as she had planned it for Tim - Oh, poor Celia" (15)! Celia simply substitutes her brother for her fiancé, as Warner stresses either the desperation of women left behind on the homefront, or just as possibly, the representation of women whose romance is not with men at all, but with the war.
Justin's return on leave following the battle of the Somme due to his "habit of not getting killed" is the turning point in what has been a close but natural brother/sister relationship (14). Yet seeing Celia in her apartment - an independent woman now rather than a fixture of the family structure - causes him to see her in a new light. "For the first time in his life he saw her not as a sister but as an individual" (14). As it turns out, he not only sees Celia as an individual but as a sexual being. Her disconnection from the family and its traditional morality cast Celia in a world of women who, deprived of fiancés and husbands, are free to explore alternative sexual situations. The connection between sexuality and aggression is first made here when, immediately after Justin has this realization about his sister, his view of her is obscured by visual memories of the war. "There was a blur on his sight, a broth of mud and flame and frantic unknown faces and writhing entrails" (14). To further this coupling between sex and violence, the next image Justin sees when he returns from his flashback is Celia's bed, the site for what will soon be the beginning of their social and sexual transgression. "When she showed him to his bedroom she stepped over mud that heaved with the bodies of men submerged in it" (14). Though it is Justin's hallucination, it is Celia who climbs over the corpses, a foreshadowing of Celia's involvement in Justin's memories that eventually leads to her involvement with him sexually. The idea of shared memory - especially memory of war and organized aggression - as the ultimate form of physical intimacy works an aphrodisiac for Celia and her troubled sibling.
Even before their first sexual encounter, Justin finds his place in Celia's bed, while she listens very intimately to his breathing. Though she is spending the night on the couch, it seems a very thin wall separates her from his every movement. He begins to talk in his sleep and she tries not to listen out of a sense of the impropriety of voyeurism, not wanting to be a "Peeping Tom," already connecting her eavesdropping as a form of sexual violation (15). She is unable to help herself as "the ghastly confidences went on and on," until she is "dragged, a raw recruit, into battle" (15). Celia goes beyond relating as an observer to the horrors her brother has witnessed and actual joins him in his verbal memories, foreshadowing the physical intimacy that will subsequently occur.
The next day, as brother and sister explore the city, we once again see that Justin has begun to serve as a substitute for Tim. Passersby on the street mistake Justin for Celia's beloved, assuming their intimacy and reunion are that of lovers rather than siblings. "...many people glanced at them with kindness and sentimentality, and an old woman patted Celia's back, saying, 'God bless you, dearie! Isn't it lovely to have him home'"(16)? This was not only an English phenomenon that led to the mistaken identification of brother and sister as lovers. In Male Fantasies, Klaus Theweleit includes a selection from Thor Goote's Wir tragen das Leben, where a German sister reminisces with her brother about his World War I service: "'Do you still remember Helmut, how you used to walk with me when you were a brand-new lieutenant? I was so proud. Two aunts took us for a couple, instead of brother and sister'" (125). In either culture, the brother and sister couple are viewed with hope for the union of all (heterosexual) men and women, ostensibly to reproduce more soldiers. Having "him" home has come to represent the return of any able-bodied male to do his part in adjusting the unbalanced sexual homefront.
At home that night in preparing for bed, Celia once again puts on "that derision of a nightdress," presumably in lieu of the honeymoon penoir she desires, and listens to her brother "interminably muttering to himself" of the abomination of battle (16). The third night of Justin's raving finds Celia feeling "neither horror nor despair, merely a bitter acquiescence" (17). Celia has surrendered to the effects of war and, it appears, has also surrendered to the desire she feels for her brother. Some outcry pulls Celia into the bedroom to wake him and "[they] rushed into the escape of love like winter-starved cattle rushing into a spring pasture" (17). No explanation is given by the narrator as to what led to this alliance and Celia and Justin do not seem to question its virtue. There are two possible motives that undoubtedly worked together to bring two siblings into a sexual union, both of which are a direct result of the war. On one hand, Celia feels awakened sexually by her brother's return (as a surrogate for her dead fiancé) and is aroused by the tales of violence she hears in her brother's sleep, desiring to be a participant in and simultaneously a remedy for the terror. "'Oh, poor Justin, my poor Justin!'" she cried, as she "kissed his chattering lips" (17). On the other hand, neither brother nor sister can deny the duty and obligation imposed upon them by society as two heterosexual beings in traditional gender roles. Justin and Celia plan a future where he will perform the task of a man and return to battle to die, while she will perform the task of a woman, stay home, and "bear his child, to which she would devote the remainder of her existence" (17). Directly before she enters the bedroom to engage in intercourse with her brother, Celia reflects on the two previous nights "of a vicarious endurance of what was being endured, had been endured, would continue to be endured by a canceled generation" (17). Perhaps Celia is dedicated to "do her part" by un-cancelling the generation through having a baby with the only heterosexual man at her disposal.
This plan goes awry for the Tizards: the baby is never born and another is never conceived, because "a fruitful incest is thought even worse of than a barren one" (19). The absence of a child also helps the couple maintain their sexual anonymity; a baby, in essence, would blow their cover. Klaus Theweleit makes the connection between barren incestuous relationships and other transgressive sexual relationships in Male Fantasies. "It seems that the children of former whores (or of incestuous relationships) are not to be allowed to come into this world" (117). It is not a far leap to include the transgressive homosexual relationship in this grouping, and the indeed the (non)reproductive nature of a homosexual union is often used as an argument for its "unnatural" state of being. In any case, a baby not born in wartime is another soldier who will not have to fight in the next (inevitable) war.
In his study of Freikorps soldiers following World War I, Theweleit states, "[these] men look for ecstasy not in embraces, but in explosions, in the rumbling of bomber squadrons or in brains being shot to flames" (41). Though Justin and Celia seek ecstasy in their first sexual encounter as a sexual encounter, there is no denying that it practically takes place on the battlefields from which Justin has recently returned. Celia seeks to comfort him in the role of nurse to allow him escape from his blood-soaked nightmares. Theweleit connects the nurse figure to a soldier's repressed incestuous feelings. "[The] patient doesn't desire the nurse as a person, but as an incarnation of the caring mother, the nonerotic sister" (127). Celia goes one step further to become the erotic sister and moments later, they rush like cattle to the spring pasture, a pasture reminiscent of the French fields that became the site of brutal trench warfare.
In addition to introducing the connection between war and sexuality in "A Love Match," Warner is also able to introduce the connection between heterosexuality and social conformity and acceptance. By dissecting the relationship between a heterosexual brother and sister, Warner demonstrates how Justin and Celia are more able to conduct their sexual life inconspicuously away from the prying eyes of society, due to the mask of traditional heterosexuality and gender roles.
Anything But Inconspicuous: The Privileges and Privileging of Heterosexuality
Though Celia and Justin's post-war incestuous relationship can be seen as a metaphor for a variety of transgressive relationships, the fact remains that they are seen as closer to the norm because Celia is a woman and Justin is a man. Warner provides this dichotomy to demonstrate that transgressive relationships that resemble the sanctioned sexual model are more readily accepted by the general public. The Tizards mirror a standard heterosexual union though they are actually siblings engaged in a thoroughly unstandard "love match." Not only are the two mistaken for lovers in the street, even those observers that know of the family connection bestow their approval because it more closely fits what is accepted.
When Justin survives the war, he is visited by his sister and then released into her care. The attending nurse is described by the narrator as willing to support their coupling, regardless of its actual character. "If Nurse Painter had known what lay beneath this satisfactory arrangement, it is probable that her approval would not have been seriously withdrawn. The war looked like going on for ever; the best you could hope for was a stalemate. Potatoes were unobtainable, honesty was no more, it was hate and muddle wherever you looked. If a gentleman and lady could pluck up heart enough to love and be happy--well, good luck to them" (18)! Though Nurse Painter's liberated viewpoint seems a bit shocking on the surface, in actuality, Warner is calling attention to what Nurse Painter would object to. If a gentleman and a gentleman or a lady and a lady were the ones plucking up enough heart to love, it is highly unlikely that Nurse Painter's approval would be so forthcoming. Like the old woman in the street, Nurse Painter represents a society that is desperate for reproduction and visible symbols of traditional sexuality. This viewpoint allows Justin and Celia to remain relatively inconspicuous; observers either believe the relationship to be uncorrupted by sexuality or accept that sexuality as transgressive, but at least, closer in appearance to that which would not be transgressive.
This argument also explains the reaction of the citizens of Hallowby to finding the entwined bodies of Celia and Justin after their home is bombed during a German raid, decades later during World War II. As the First World War sparks the passion that leads to their incestuous love, the Second World War rips it apart. "A dark bulk crouched on the hearth, and was part of the chimney stack, and a torrent of slates had fallen on the bed, crushing the two bodies that lay there" (28). What could be conceived as an indictment of the transgressive nature of the Tizards' relationship by a militaristic society is quickly subverted by the reaction of the townspeople who find the bodies. The scene of carnage is described as a "spectacle" which is greeted by silence, until young Foe surmises, "'He must have come in to comfort her. That's my opinion'" (28). Again, Warner demonstrates how the traditional gender roles assigned to the couple as a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman are used to protect the two from scandal. It would only be natural, in the minds of Hallowby's citizens, that a virile veteran would rush to his frightened sister's side to assuage her fears. Whether or not this is actually believed by those that found the bodies is of no consequence because "...no word of what they had found got out. Foe's hypothesis was accepted by the coroner and became truth" (28). This is the final statement of the narrative and can be construed as Warner's comment on the willingness of society to accept "virtue," i.e. sexual norms, as "truth" more readily than verity. Though the fact that such hypotheses as Foe's are insidious and would not be as readily applied to same-sex corpses entwined in the rubble, the reaction of the townspeople signals a loosening of traditional mores that began during World War I. The sexual boundaries during and following World War I through World War II were in flux and this allowed more room for hypotheses to be accepted and margins to be modified.
Pink Trousers and Bullfight Ballet: Images of Homosexuality and Gender Expectations
In contrast to the above emphasis on the heterosexual nature of the Tizards' relationship that masks the transgressive reality of their union, Warner develops their post-war attempt at social acclimation as a metaphor for the position of a homosexual couple in rural England during this time period. Images of homosexuality are initially apparent in the French environment where Celia and Justin have "exiled" themselves after the war, similar to many gay expatriates in the first decades of the century. Justin's first spoken words in the text are to introduce the arrival to Carnac of La Jeune France, who are characterized by "two young men in pink trousers with daisy chains round their necks, riding through the town on donkeys" (11). The flamboyant appearance and freedom of the young men contrast the presence of Mr. Pilkington, the new acquaintance of the siblings, who eventually convinces them to return to England and take charge of the military museum in Hallowby. Mr. Pilkington represents the judgmental and misinformed morality of the England they have escaped. Upon hearing of La Jeune France, "Mr. Pilkington asked if this was a circus" (11). Such liberated behavior is foreign (in more ways than one) to a member of the English education system, and he resigns himself to bringing Justin to Hallowby and "saving that nice fellow from wasting his days in exile" (10). He infers from Justin's "stoically endured embarrassment" while watching a bullfight ballet put on by La Jeune France that the Beelby Military Museum will be just the place for the wounded veteran (11). Justin's embarrassment more likely comes from the clash of evidence of sexual transgression with Mr. Pilkington's prudish presence. This discomfort - a discomfort that surrounds the couple for the rest of the story - drives Justin to accept the offer to curate the museum, thinking a more "sober, conventional, taxpaying life" would work as well as a veil as exile in France (12).
Not only does Warner construct a scenario where she can examine sexual relations, but Justin and Celia's characters also serve as a statement on gender expectations. The discomfort experienced in relation to sexual mores also extends in the narrative to discomfort experienced in relation to gender roles. The most prominent placement of Justin's masculinity is in relation to his role as a soldier. Though his service was presumably exemplary due to his record of surviving battles and his consequent disability leading to a permanent limp, he does not consider himself an "Army man." "'I'm not an Army man,' he said. 'I just fought. Not the same thing, you know." Miss Tizard exclaimed, 'No! Not at all,' and quickly changed the subject" (12). Justin refuses his connection to being a military model, associating the role not with a man who fights in a war but with a man committed to a prescribed lifestyle of masculinity and aggression. Celia is quick to agree to Justin's definition, knowing such gender delineations lead to a world even more hostile to their transgressive relationship.
Once the couple arrive in Hallowby to begin their curatorship of the Beelby Military Museum, Warner's play with gender roles becomes more apparent. Celia does not assume the more "feminine" duties of treating the private sphere of the museum as a domestic space and ensuring its appearance is presentable and representative of the male figure. Instead, "[of] the two, she had more feeling for the exhibits themselves, for the discolouring glory and bloodshed they represented" (13). Celia is once again most stimulated by the violence inherent in the symbols of war as she was by Justin's late-night narratives. In contrast, we see that Justin "combed plumes, shook out bearskins, polished holsters and gunstocks, oiled the demiculverin, sieved the desert sand" (13). While Celia attends to the telling of the war story, assuming the authority for the exhibits, Justin takes responsibility for the traditionally more feminine chores, because "[it] was the housewife's side that appealed to him" (13). The narrative voice does not judge or evaluate this upset of gender expectations. The situation simply exists, much like the incest between brother and sister, and stands in direct contrast to the discomfort foisted on them by society's constructions of morality. For the reader to judge is to join in the behavior of the repressive post-war environment, exemplified by characters such as Mr. Pilkington.
In Carnac, Mr. Pilkington remarks on Justin's "indecisive remarks, his diffident movements," and this thought leads directly to his desire to save the disabled veteran from the corrupting influence of exile in France (10). He judges Justin's body language to not be as masculine as they might become as curator of an English military museum. Ironically, the founder of the "foolish collection" of military paraphernalia is also a portrait of non-active participation in the war machine. Whereas Justin's denial is philosophical, Davenport Beelby was restricted from active involvement by his health. His only contact with the war was lessons in history which led him to devote himself to the notion of military glory. The "badges, pikes, muskets and bayonets, shakos and helmets, despatches, newspaper cuttings, stones from European battlefields, [and] sand from desert campaigns" are symbols of Beelby's attempts to live up to society's image of what a man needs to define himself, inside or outside of wartime: symbols of aggression (11). Warner's placement of this man as the collector provides additional support for the gender discomfort present in the narrative.
Celia's discomfort is not related to aggression - a realm in which she is actually comfortable with no masculinity to uphold - but instead to her sexuality and her role as a woman. Due to the transgressive nature of her relationship with Justin, Celia primarily hides her sexuality to divert focus from it. She is able to blend into the rural English society by becoming an asexual creature. However, when the Tizards throw their first party having become known as "the most respectable couple in Hallowby," Celia "was so gay, and her dress so fashionable, that she was within an inch of being thought a dangerous woman" (20). In this case, rather than Beelby and Justin striving (or not striving) to fit into a mold of masculinity, Celia is torn between the two images of femininity that Warner has developed around her - an asexual "nurse" figure taking care of her disabled brother and a seductive, "dangerous" femme fatale. Here the discomfort is experienced by the citizens of Hallowby who see Celia's first hint of sexuality as a threat. Celia senses this discomfort and returns to her previous "safe" role as celibate sister, but it is not long before Warner employs Celia in another discussion of post-war roles for women.
When Celia grows older and less linked to her sexuality, the blandness of her life in Hallowby begins to wear on her and she turns to politics and that most feminine of political campaigns, relief work. Initially, she is attracted to rebellion from conformity in any guise. As we shall see later, Celia defines her identity largely on her "deviance."
The conformity of her life draws Celia towards the working class, scorning the bourgeois hypocrisy of middle-class Hallowby. "Only in Hallowby's shabbiest quarter - in Edna Road, Gladstone Terrace and Gas Lane - could she find anyone to love" (22). Connecting Celia to the socialists, and through them to the suffragists, Warner has her take on the political consciousness to which women were awakening at this time. Once the Depression hits, "Celia's uneasy good will and smouldering resentment found their outlet. As impetuously as she had flung herself into Justin's bed, she flung herself into relief work at Hallowby juxta Mare" (23). Celia's two defining moments as a woman are correlated here to underscore the gender roles to which she is drawn. However, the use of the word "impetuously" - implying a lack of logical forethought - signals a change in the narrative voice that assumes the attitude of the citizens of Hallowby.
Once Celia begins her relief work, she is considered by her observers through a lens of the stereotypes of women who attempt to be political. "Her schemes were so outrageous that people in authority didn't think them worth contesting even" (23). The "people in authority," i.e. men, don't take Celia seriously enough to even question her activities, assuming a woman doesn't have the power to inflict any real damage. "Her doings became a joke; you never knew what that woman wouldn't be up to next" (23). Not only is Celia considered a locus of local humor, she is also characterized as not accomplishing anything; the discussion is what Celia "wouldn't" be up to, not what change she might actually achieve. Warner uses Celia's political consciousness to explore the gender roles that are not only based in sexual identity, but those based in political identity (or lack thereof) as well.
"A Love Match" provides a forum for Warner to explore the gender roles and expectations that lie beneath society's tendency to construe any unconventional sexual relationship as "deviant." By showcasing a theoretically more deviant relationship - incest - and demonstrating how all relationships suffer from socially-constructed stereotypes, Warner condemns the power structure that forces love in any form into hiding. Yet Warner did not showcase a lesbian relationship and it is important to analyze why an incestuous relationship was chosen instead and how the Tizards' union works as metaphor.
Open and Notorious Evil-Livers: Incest and Enforced Otherness
The words of the incest taboo have written "the water is wide, and they cannot get across."
- Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies
Not only are the waters wide between the siblings seeking to break the incest taboo, but the waters are also wide for a lesbian author who does not wish to overtly reveal homosexuality as the main theme of a piece of fiction like "A Love Match." In "'And I Wondered If She Might Kiss Me:' Lesbian Panic as Narrative Strategy in British Women's Fictions," Patricia Juliana Smith offers the following definition for "lesbian panic:" "the disruptive action or reaction that occurs when a character - or, conceivably, an author - is either unable or unwilling to confront or reveal her own lesbianism or lesbian desire" (569). No mention is made of "A Love Match" in the collected letters of the author, so it is only speculation as to whether Warner felt "unable" to portray the attempt of a lesbian couple to assimilate in a rural English environment. It is clear, however, that for this short story, she was unwilling to do so and masked the theme of enforced otherness in a tale of incest. As metaphor, Justin and Celia's relationship in many ways mirrors the situation of anyone who moves outside the boundaries of society's norms.
Mr. Pilkington provides the reader early on with an image of Justin as "Tizard, poor fellow," who "must be under his sister's thumb" (10). A man "under his sister's thumb" suffers from two maladies, implied by the English schoolmaster, that of being a man somehow controlled by a woman, and even more pathetic, a man controlled by a woman who is not even his wife. This tag follows Justin throughout his life, in such cases as when he is pitied for having to deal with Celia's menopause. "Mrs. Mugthwaite ... felt sorry for poor Mr. Tizard; the Change wasn't a thing that a brother should be expected to deal with" (27). Warner here is underscoring the way Hallowby's citizens perceive Justin and Celia's relationship as "unnatural;" a man should not have to confront the problems of a woman who is not his wife. Celia's position beneath the proper role of wife is even present in Justin's mind. When he returns from the war, he is wary of continuing a sexual relationship with Celia, not because of his blood ties, but because of his war injury. "It's not decent for a peg-leg to make love; even to his sister" (17). These examples demonstrate how a couple that does not fit the norm of heterosexual man and his wife are pitied and even suffer from internal shame. If you add the ignominy of a homosexual stigma to the scenario, it is easy to identify the outside perceptions that plague any type of transgressive relationship during Warner's time.
The familiarity of Justin and Celia's relationship as brother and sister is similar to the familiarity of a same-sex relationship. Shared histories within a family or within a gender add a dimension to either an incest or homosexual relationship that contrast the typical "war between the sexes" that underlies the standard heterosexual union. Once settled in Hallowby, the siblings would often reconstruct traditions from childhood. such as "hurrying home on a cold evening to eat baked potatoes hot from the oven," described as "renewing" bonds (20). Warner implies that there are certain bonds between a brother and sister that are resurrected rather than constructed, and the same can be said for an same-sex relationship, where a world of gender experiences is shared immediately. Celia and Justin live dual lives, similar to those found within a covert lesbian relationship, but the incestuous siblings have an upper hand in terms of social assimilation. They have the mask of propriety (and under speculation of the "worst," the mask of heterosexuality). On one hand, they live as a closeted homosexual couple, hiding the true nature of their sexuality, and on the other, as socially acceptable celibate siblings. "Their new friends were all considerably older than they; the middle-aged had more conscience about the war and were readier to make friends with a disabled major and his devoted maiden sister" (20). Ostensibly, the middle-aged residents of Hallowby would not as readily welcomed a pair of non-blood-related women, like Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland who did not have the ability to be inconspicuous. Warner was aware of this fact, which possibly led to a tale of incest resulting from a narrative lesbian panic.
Scandalous Immunity: Notoriety and Sexual Identity
Rather than link image-by-image, scene-by scene the Tizards' relationship to the position of a homosexual couple in post-war England, Warner employs another more effective thematic device in her narrative. By highlighting the ironic situation of a wholly unobtrusive "quiet couple" threatened constantly by exposure and scandal, Warner calls attention to the farcical nature of sexual repression (10). During World War I, when Justin and Celia began their carnal relationship, there was a sense of sexual liberation in the air, a loosening of boundaries as will occur in any time of national crisis. One of the first things the Tizards decide to do when Justin comes home on leave is "to have some new experiences" (15-16). Eventually, this desire for novelty leads Celia into her brother's arms, but what is more important is that this scene is the only example of actual transgression in their long, dull lives. Yet they constantly look back with nostalgia on this time as a golden era where they were able to explore taboos without censure. When deciding to settle down in Hallowby, Justin reflects back on a nonexistent past where they were more free and took advantage of their liberty. "'We were young rowdies once'" (12). There is no evidence that the "young rowdies" ever did anything subversive aside from becoming "mated for life" after one sexual encounter (17). Warner here contrasts the emphasis given to the forbidden nature of transgressive sexuality, when in actuality, there is no sabotage of the social structure going on at all. Even Justin and Celia buy into society's dictates and believe themselves to be hellions that must realize they are of a "sober, conventional, taxpaying" class. Warner wants the reader to become aware of the gulf between how the Tizards fear they may be perceived and how they actually are.
Justin and Celia's exile in France provides a certain amount of freedom from suspicion, but once in Hallowby, arrangements are made to avoid gossip. Their first consolation is that "poverty is the sturdiest of shelters," knowing that a lack of financial presence would also prevent a presence of notoriety (19). They claim they are not able to afford live-in help to prevent the presence of someone who might suspect the truth of their relationship. It is not long, though, before Celia becomes concerned by how unnoticed they are by the community and decides friends will make her less "odd" (19). She is drawn to the church, knowing only "open and notorious evil-livers... which they had every intention of not being" were forbidden the sacrament (19-20). The irony here is that Celia's identity is strongly tied to being an "evil-liver;" this status informs her every move, but she will not allow herself to be "open and notorious." As a result of Celia's careful machinations, the residents of Hallowby found the Tizards "agreeable if slightly boring" (20). When Celia's sexuality does almost get her in trouble, it is not as the lover of her brother, but as a potentially "dangerous woman" in a fashionable dress.
Celia and Justin are shown to delight in their "scandalous immunity from blame" once within the private confines of their home, where they "cast off their weeds of middle age, laughed, chattered, and kissed with intensified delight" (20). It is not their sexual behavior that is characterized as scandalous, but their "immunity from blame." The Tizards see their life as "a model couple ... treading hand in hand the thornless path to fogydom" as more preposterous than their incestuous relationship (20). What is actually preposterous in Warner's narrative - and indeed one of her central statements - is the fact that the pretense they think they have to maintain to avoid blame is really no pretense at all. They are "junior fogies;" just because their sexual life is unconventional does not mean any other part of their life is or should be (20). By portraying the Tizards in this way, Warner accentuates the reality behind misconceptions about homosexual couples: they can be as orthodox and humdrum as anyone else. In other words, a person's sexual preference does not define their identity.
This idea may be Warner's viewpoint, but unfortunately for the Tizards, some of the residents of Hallowby do not agree and one in particular seeks to use the vulnerability of the couple's secret to achieve her own ends. Celia and Justin live to see the world once again become a more sexually liberated place, a time when "children nowadays are brought up on that sort of useful [sexual] knowledge," such as knowing an incestuous relationship could be going on even in a town like Hallowby (26). By this time, "living in defiance of social prohibitions and the absorbing manoeuvers of seeming to live in compliance with them" became routine, but as sexual discussion becomes more open, Celia and Justin's position becomes more precarious (22). "Loving each other criminally and sincerely, they took pains ... to safeguard their happiness from injuries of their own infliction or outside" (18). Settling the dispute with Mary Semple is a final escape from potential notoriety.
If we accept Terry Castle's hypothesis based on Eve Sedgwick's discussion of homosocial relations between men that a competition between two women over a man is really about the exchange between the two women, we can see the dispute with Mary Semple as another insertion into the narrative of Warner's lesbian presence. Mary Semple intrudes upon the Tizards' life with a vengeance, seeking vengeance. She has been scorned by Justin and now threatens Celia through "vile" letters to expose their relationship. There is an explanation for her attack on Celia - the first letter is addressed to "Hag" and the subsequent letters become more and more abusive - rather than on the man that has rejected her. Patricia Juliana Smith incorporates Castle's idea into her discussion of lesbian panic and uncovers a narrative of panic and violence. "Typically, a female character, fearing discovery of her covert or unarticulated lesbian desires - whether by the object of her desires, by other characters, or even by herself - and motivated by any of the factors previously described, lashes out directly or indirectly at another woman, resulting in emotional or physical harm to herself or others" (569). Mary does indeed attack Celia, using her representation of femininity as the focal point for the assault. It is, as we shall see, possible that Mary's closeted sexuality and fear of exposure are the factors that allow Justin to silence her. The result of her attack on Celia is emotional harm to herself rather than harm to the Tizards' relationship.
In her letters, Mary sets up a contrast between her version of womanhood and Celia's. Mary clearly feels her "traditional" femininity is more deserving of Justin's attentions. Celia is mocked as "ugly, ageing, and sexually ridiculous," vulnerable due to her lack of sanctioned female behavior described earlier in this essay (24-25). She is "ugly" simply because it is difficult to attach the adjectives "pretty little" to her name as they do with Mary Semple. When Justin reveals the author of the "poisen-pen imbecile" to be Mary, Celia is shocked (25). "That pretty little Mary Semple?" Justin replies, "That pretty little Mary Semple," calling attention to the fact that Mary has employed another mask in this narrative; virtue and innocence hide a vicious home wrecker (25). Celia is described as "ageing" to underscore the orthodox notion that beauty only resides in the young. She is "sexually ridiculous" because she has not forfeited her sexuality when she forfeited her youth. The obvious privileging by the narrative of the Tizards' relationship when threatened by a "conventional" beauty is another statement by the author in favor of this transgressive relationship.
The Tizards are not exposed, regardless of how often Mary threatens that eventuality. When Celia finally reveals the letters to Justin, he immediately confronts Mary in a mysterious scene that is not described by the author, but that leaves the Tizards once again immune from blame. Justin is seen to approach the enemy with a military aggression. Celia notes, upon hearing Justin's plan to engage Mary in conflict, that "[she] had not heard that note in his voice since he cried out in his sleep" (26). As the narrative informs us, Justin has proven himself to be capable of dismantling his adversaries, and the transgressive nature of the sexuality in the narrative is his weapon. It can be surmised, keeping Castle's theory in mind, that Justin turns the tables on Mary's own sexuality. Somethingis said to her that quiets her in a way that only the equal threat of exposure could do. The last image of Mary is during a production of King Arthur. She sings "with such venom that her hearers felt their blood run cold, and afterwards remarked that stage fright had made her sing out of tune" (27). Since "stage fright" can be defined as a fear of appearing, exposed and vulnerable, before an audience who will judge, it is possible in this context that Mary's fear is not wholly related to her singing voice. The ambiguity of this confrontation between Justin and Mary provides the opportunity for a reading of lesbian panic as well as providing a return to stability for the Tizards.
Conclusion: "A Love Match" as Lesbian Fiction
Though "A Love Match" is an analysis of an incestuous relationship on the surface, there is much more going on here that reaches out towards the boundaries that encompass all transgressive relationships. "A Love Match" can be read as a piece of lesbian fiction as defined by Terry Castle (using Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show as a paradigm). "Such a fiction will be, both in the ordinary and in a more elaborate sense, non-canonical." Without a doubt, a tale of incest sparked by the sexuality inherent in war aggression which masks a discussion of transgressive sexuality is thematically non-canonical. "Like Townsend Warner's novel itself, the typical lesbian fiction is likely to be an under-read, even unknown, text - and certainly an under-appreciated one." Judging from the amount of literary criticism available on this text (little to none) and the depths of irony and characterization, "A Love Match" would certainly fulfill these requirements. "It is likely to stand in a satirical, inverted, or parodic relationship to more famous novels of the past - which is to say that it will exhibit an ambition to displace the so-called canonical works which have preceded it" (146). Justin and Celia stand as a satirical inversion of all the "brother/sister" relationships that exist within the chaste world of the Victorian novel, with the exception that they consummate their relationship and bring Sylvia Townsend Warner's "A Love Match" into the "canon" of lesbian fiction at least.
Castle, Terry, "Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Counterplot of Lesbian Fiction." Textual Differences in Lesbian and Gay Writing, ed. Joseph Bristow. London: Routledge, 1992.
Smith, Patricia Juliana, "'And I Wondered If She Might Kiss Me:' Lesbian Panic as Narrative Strategy in British Women's Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies 41 (Fall-Winter 1995).
Theweleit,, Klaus, Male Fantasies, Volume 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Warner, Sylvia Townsend, Letters, ed. William Maxwell. New York: The Viking Press, 1982.
Warner, Sylvia Townsend, "A Love Match." Women, Men, and the Great War, ed. Trudi Tate. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 1995.