Everyone at some point or another is addressed by a title or a nickname that differs from our own birth name. This was something that I never really thought about before reading Lolly Willowes. In the novel, Laura was oppressed by her family and the societal expectations that were forced on her for years. This oppression came in many forms, especially in her nickname Aunt Lolly.
It might seem weird to think of a title, especially one as playful sounding as Aunt Lolly, as a form of oppression, but this name became a burden for Laura. “Aunt” is not a title that a person is born with, rather it is something that is placed upon them. It characterizes a person by being someone’s sister, and not necessarily being a separate person. In the OED Online, “aunt” is defined as “The sister of one’s father or mother” (def. 1a). This title, while it may be endearing, takes away the individuality of a person and essentially turns them into an object. I think that the same thing happens with Clarissa in Virginia Wolfe’s novel when she is called “Mrs. Dalloway.” These titles are used to see women as objects instead of people. And more importantly, they become objects belonging to specific people. In Laura’s case, this title ensures that she and everyone else knows her place. She is her brother’s sister. And this means that she was burdened with certain responsibilities. She was expected to be a caretaker of children that were not hers, pious, frugal, and obedient. These responsibilities were lifted from Laura she made her escape from London to Great Mop, but they were thrust onto her again immediately when Titus came to live there. In the novel, Laura showed great contempt for Titus being there because it forced her back into her old position, “When she was with him she came to heel and resumed her old employment of being Aunt Lolly” (Warner 149). Immediately this title of being “Aunt Lolly” thrust the dull and restricting responsibilities that Laura was trying to escape back onto her.
Escaping this oppression led Laura into the service of the Devil because she wanted to be free of a title that restricted her. Laura explained to the Devil that she did not become a witch because she was evil, but instead, she said: “It was to escape all that– to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others” (Warner 215). This novel is about a search for freedom, and to attain that freedom Laura, and other women, had to shed the titles and expectations that society placed on them. In Laura’s case this led to her becoming a witch, but in reality, this led to women becoming actual people instead of an assumed object.
“aunt, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 21 September 2016.
Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. New York Review Books, 1999.