Books: Gentle Witchery

SWANS ON AN AUTUMN RIVER by Sylvia Townsend Warner. 222 pages. Viking. $4.50.

Sylvia Townsend Warner's genteel and wonderfully Victorian prose has always seemed at first sampling to be as innocuous as dandelion wine. Only after the unwary reader is under its influence does he discover that it is laced with gall and witchy nightshade, not to mention a dollop or two of venom.

Already long famous as one of Britain's most versatile and gifted writers (her Lolly Willowes was the first selection of the fledgling Book-of-the-Month Club in 1926), Author Warner turned to writing short stories exclusively in 1954. This baker's dozen...

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