Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Review: Lady Into Fox, by David Garnett

Review: Lady Into Fox, by David Garnett

by Rich Horton

David Garnett (1892-1981) was part of the Bloomsbury Group. His mother was the Russian translator Constance Garnett, and he married Virginia Woolf's niece, rather scandalously (she was over a quarter-century younger than him, and he had met her as an infant, and she was the daughter of his one time lover Duncan Grant.) He published his first novel during the Great War under a pseudonym. Lady Into Fox (1924) was his second novel, or, really, a novella -- it's not much over 20,000 words long. He wrote quite a few more books, of which the best known is probably Aspects of Love (1955), the source material for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of that title.

The book was illustrated in woodcuts by R. A. Garnett -- David Garnett's first wife. My edition is the 2004 reprint from McSweeney's, which reproduces R. A. Garnett's illustrations. 

It's the story of a young woman, Silvia Tebrick (maiden name Fox) who one day suddenly turns into a fox. Her husband Richard is despondent -- they were a truly loving couple -- and takes his vixen home with him, and tries to make a life with her in her transformed state. He dismisses his servants, and tries to feed her at the dinner table, and have her sleep in the bed with him, and she even plays piquet.

But over time her urge to be outside dominates, and she loses interest in piquet, and wants to eat food she's caught herself. Eventually Richard must set her free, which only leads to further difficulties for him. She has a litter, and he finds himself desperately worrying about the local fox hunts. There is still a relationship -- and Richard dotes on some of the foxes in her litter, though he's jealous of the father. But the arc of the story is clear, and the tragic ending inevitable.

It's a rather neat story, at once tragic, but a bit arch. Is it an allegory of a woman's desire to have her own life? That's certainly one way to read it. But perhaps it's just a "beast story", or something unexplainable. There is never any reason to doubt the true affection of Richard and his wife, no question of cruelty. But her independent life as a vixen seems something she values as well. A fine novella, and best at this lenght -- any longer and it would have overstayed its welcome.

(Vercors' 1960 novel Sylva, the first book in translation to be nominated for a Hugo, was apparently in part a response to Lady Into Fox, as it's sort of the reverse story -- Sylva is a woman raised by foxes, or perhaps a fox that has become a woman. (I haven't actually read the book.))


  1. Have you read John Collier's HIS MONKEY WIFE, published a few years later? It's quite a satire of Bloomsbury, and of the "New Woman" and perhaps women in general.

    1. I have not. I really should read more Collier -- I've only read Fancies and Goodnights.

  2. I like Lady into Fox very much, perhaps for the very reason that I'm not sure what it means; I find myself thinking about it from time to time. My 1940's paperback copy also includes A Man in the Zoo, which is lighter in tone and could easily have been written by John Collier.