The Akeing Heart is the story of the tormented relationships between the British novelist and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner; her life partner Valentine Ackland; their American friend who threatened their happiness, Elizabeth Wade White; and Elizabeth’s neglected lover Evelyn Holahan. Valentine was the serial seducer, and Elizabeth the demanding lover claiming her sexuality for the first time. Sylvia kept faith in anger and despair, while Evelyn offered Elizabeth realistic fidelity to balance Valentine’s romanticism.
Valentine Ackland to Elizabeth Wade White, 29 October 1939
‘ … write to me as simply and truthfully as you can, giving me what hope, what help you can, telling me if you love me and in what manner you love me, if you would come to me, when that is possible, and in what way, under what conditions, you would come to me ...’
Sylvia Townsend Warner to Elizabeth Wade White, 12 June 1940
‘ … Apart from these practical wartime impediments you must in justice to Valentine realise that […] a meeting at this time is likely to be quite as painful as pleasurable, is as likely to result in distress and embarrassment as in consolation. […]
This is not anything to do with Evelyn. […] The question of Evelyn, so to speak, is at this moment, inaudible. The guns are too loud. And similarly, you must take into account the probability that if you come to England the guns may be too loud for Valentine and yourself to be able to hear each other’s voices; that the situation will not allow you to retain enough private individuality to work out any settlement, any temporary amelioration even, of your individual problems.
[…] I too am subject to this same strain, and find it an effort to discuss a private situation; partly because I am so circumstanced that to be advising you not to come must almost certainly make that advice seem either self-regarding or malicious; and partly, please believe me, because I don’t want to make you any unhappier than you are, and hate that our old peaceful and confident relationship should become all snarled up with explanations ...’
This revised edition of correspondence over twenty years between the four women makes this book one of the finest collections of twentieth-century literary letters about love and its betrayals.
Reviews from the first edition
‘This long-hidden treasure-trove of letters, with its many wonderful new photographs and illustrations, is a revelation. The “other woman’s” voice is heard, and the shape of the Warner-Ackland-White love-triangle changes subtly. The Akeing Heart is the most important and startling addition in decades to what we know about these perennially fascinating writers.’ Claire Harman, author of Sylvia Townsend Warner. A Biography and The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner
‘Judd’s story is an engrossing one, and the best of the Warner letters evince her characteristic joy in language and observation. Most moving are her efforts to retain Elizabeth’s friendship while allowing the affair to take its course.’ Times Literary Supplement