Intertextuality is basic to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s narratives: she is
a formidably learned, effortlessly allusive writer. From her slyly
absurd references to Wordsworth in the lush tropical setting of Mr.
Fortune’s Maggot (1927) through her retelling of Apuleius’s Cupid
and Psyche to produce an allegory of class oppression in her first historical
novel, The True Heart (1929), to the densely woven
intertextuality of Summer Will Show (1936), she uses allusion both to
ground her apparently implausible narratives within literary history
and to question and parody the politics, ‘history’, and narratology of
her predecessors. It is appropriate that in this novel, where the lesbian
romance in Paris is precisely coterminous with the 1848 revolution,
many of the allusions are to nineteenth-century French literary history.
Warner’s ‘unwriting’ of Flaubert’s L’Éducation Sentimentale has
received a great deal of attention since it was first noted by Terry
Castle in her 1990 theorisation of the lesbian triangular plot. Later
writers, in contrast, have emphasised the allusion’s Marxist significance. Quite another fictional genealogy seems more to the point,
however, when we consider Warner’s characterisation of Minna
Lemuel, the revolutionary Jewish story-teller: the representation, usually
by women writers, of the powerful, sexually active, sometimes
evil and sometimes doomed femme artiste, as in Madame de Stael’s
Corinne, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, George Sand’s Consuelo, and
Colette’s La Seconde. It is now abundantly clear that the intertextuality
of Summer Will Show demonstrates that the novel is
narratologically, politically, and sexually revolutionary.