2016: 78. - 84. Excellent Angela Thirkell Novels

I know. I said I was done for a while with Angela Thirkell.  But the thing is, I found out that Virago Press has reissued a whole bunch of her very earliest novels, from the Wild Strawberries era, which is to say, charming marital problems among rich upper middle class types in 1930’s Britain.  Which, as you know, is my jam.  I bought one - because the cover was so pretty, and ended up reading seven (and one to go!).  And maybe it’s stupid, but reading the new pretty editions made the books seem less stuffy - or maybe it’s just that the earlier books are a little less stuffy.  Regardless, there are some very enjoyable escapist reads herein - though I totally understand if you skip this post entirely. 

78.  High Rising

"The headmaster’s wife twisted herself round in her chair to talk to Mrs. Morland, who was sitting in the row just behind her.”

This, I believe is the very first Barsetshire novel, and it’s quite fun.  We meet Mrs. Morland, the celebrated authoress, for the first time, as well as her handful of a son, Tony.  Mrs. Morland takes Tony off to spend Christmas at her summer home in High Rising, expecting a sleepy Christmas in the country.  But soon she is embroiled in the life of her dear friend and fellow author (and pompous windbag) George Knox.  George has a new secretary who is determined to catch him, and his almost adult daughter and all his dear friends do not want him to be caught - at least not by her (she’s quite dreadful).  So schemes and complications ensure, and in the end all is righted, and it’s entertaining, and silly, and I’d actually recommed trying this one to see if you like Thirkell at all.  George Knox is a bit of an annoying character, but you can just skim his long pretentious speeches.

79. August Folly

“The little village of Worsted, some sixty miles west of London, is still, owing to the very defective railway system whih hardly attempts to serve it, to a great extent unspoilt.”

This one is a little less fun, because the main character, Richard Tebben, is sort of a drip.  He’s back from Oxford for the summer, and having not done as well as he would have liked, is home being a total boor (and bore) to his parents and sister.  It does, however introduce the Dean family, who will play such a large role in so many other Thirkells that I am inclined to look fondly upon it.  And while Richard sucks (sorry), his sister Margaret is charming (and gets her happy ending).

80. Pomfret Towers

“Nutfield is quite the most delightful town in that part of England.”

This is just pure delight.  Shy Alice Barton and her brother Guy are invited to the local great house, Pomfret Towers for a weekend house party (sorry - for Friday to Monday.  What is a “weekend”?).  Alice is petrified, but finds herself embraced by her dear friend Roddy Wicklow, and by the kind heir of the present Lord Pomfret, Mr. Giles Foster.  But when her heart is swept away by the dashing (but frankly awful) artist Julian Wicklow, we all begin to worry that poor Alice will make the wrong choice.  SPOILER - she doesn’t, but how fun it is to watch the machinations as the various pairs of lovers swirl about.  Another one I’d highly recommend to people who like romantic novels of the 30’s.

81.  The Brandons

“'I wonder who this is from,’ said Mrs. Brandon, picking a letter out of a heap that lay by her plate and holding it at arm’s length upside down.”

Another corker.  In fact, this is the one I read first, that sent me back on the early Thirkell spiral.  This introduces us to the delightful Brandon family, and in particular, that fetching widow, Mrs. Brandon who has no intention of remarrying, but enjoys gentle flirtations with the men around her.  There is some hubub about who will inherit a white elephant of an estate owned by an elderly aunt, (no one wants it), a dreadful mother who embarasses her son at every turn, and the sort of romantic and social complications that make these books so lovely.  A very good Thirkell to start with, I think - if you don’t like this one, she is just not for you.

82. Christmas at High Rising

George Knox, the celebrated biographer, who was incapable of doing things by halves, and indeed capable only of overdoing them, suddenly felt that as a grandfather he ought to take a large family party to the theatre.

This is a collection of short stories peopled with the characters we know from Barsetshire.  BUT they are all pretty thin, and I can’t really recommend them unless you are a Thirkell completist.  Pretty cover, though.

83. Northbridge Rectory

“As everyone knows Northbridge High Street there is no need to describe it, so we will proceed to do so.”

This is set slightly later, during the War and concerns Mrs. Villars, the vicar’s wife, who has to deal with a colletion of citizens overeager to participate in the War effort, and a bunch of officers who’ve been billeted at the Rectory.  This one to me, is most interesting as a slice of life of the Homefront, but Mrs. Villars is also a charming character to spend time with.

84. Marling Hall

Marling Hall stands on a little eminence among what would have in more golden days have been called well-wooded parkland.

Finally!  This one, you can see, isn’t in the pretty Virago edition - I bought it a the mega book sale I attended in Maine (#thewaylifeshouldbe).  But it’s pretty good nonetheless.  Lettice Watson is a young widow (her husband died at Dunkirk) who has moved back into her parent’s home (the titular Marling Hall) with her two young daughters. Her family is lovely and kind - but also loud and overbearing, and Lettice finds herself getting lost in the noise.  A flirtation with her cousin David Leslie (of Wild Strawberries fame) helps, but even Lettice knows he’s just having fun and isn’t serious about her at all.  Meanwhile, a harridan from London has her claws into her brother Oliver.  Will the Marlings manage to find happiness.  (p.s. duh, yes).

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017