Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Angela Thirkell

I have been reading some delightful books by an English author, Angela Thirkell. Can't tell you where I first heard of her but her books (some 35 titles) are such a pleasure. She makes you want to sit down with a glass of sherry and immerse yourself in the lives of the upper and middle class of this small county on England. The first of her novels set in Anthony Trollope's mythical county of Barsetshire was Demon in the House, followed by 28 others, one each year.

You may or may not be familiar with the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope. I also highly recommend them as funny, charming books about the ecclesiastical life of the the early Victorians again taking place in this fictional county of Barsetshire and in London as some of them have some politics in them as well.

I have read:

Jutland Cottage (1953)

Margot the fortyish, dutiful daughter of the ailing Admiral and Mrs. Phelps is taken in hand by the combined communities of Greshambury and Southbridge. Spearheaded, to the amazement of all, by Rose Fairweather (ne Birkett), the group plans outings and treats ranging from wardrobe items to beauty treatments to Holman's Phospho-Manuro. The last, a gift from Mr. Macfayden, a landscape gardener tycoon, followed shortly by a proposal and acceptance of marriage. Old friends reappear: Mrs. Morland shedding hairpins; Misses Hampton and Bent shedding ambiguities; and the bickering Vicar Horton and his aunt (whose mere presence 'saps the Admiral's Vitality'). Rose splendidly routs the Hortons' but, not to worry, her immunity to literacy remains firm as she confuses Dickens with his works.

Plus Margot is very interested in keeping chickens! I can't recommend this too highly!

Now I am reading:

Happy Return (1952)

The action takes place at a succession of social gatherings, dinner parties, teas, sherry hours, and a dance in the local pub reminiscent of the one in Austen's Emma. The retreat of the gentry continues, now however, buoyed up by the return of Mr. Churchill and "Us" to the government. Despite this, it gradually dawns that hard times do not disappear and an uneasy feeling that the past cannot be recaptured lurks in the background. We have our usual complement of requited and unrequited love. The marriage of Charles Belton and Clarissa Graham is finally brought about by the efforts of friends and relatives to the vast relief of the whole county. Grace Grantly (of Trollope's Grantlys) brings a much appreciated dowry to Lord Ludovic Lufton leaving Eric Swan mildly heartbroken. Minor characters of the whole "downstairs" portion of society continue to re-appear--take note of Edna and Doris Thatcher and their "children of shame", a delightfully un-PC characterization.
I wish I could convince you all to give her a try. To the modern reader they are increasingly of interest as an astonishingly accurate record of English country life from the mid-1930s, through the War, and in the years of austerity afterwards. She wrote at the rate of a book a year, portraying village and small town life exactly as the events of the day affected not just the county families but the doctors, lawyers and architects, agricultural and domestic workers with whom their lives were associated.
Her often caustic wit, her accurate and wickedly funny realisation of unforgettable characters, and her interpolation of an extraordinary range of references and allusions, ranging from Homeric similes through English literature from Shakespeare through Dickens (and of course Trollope) to her cousin Rudyard Kipling, historical episodes, nursery rhymes, laced with a sound knowledge of what everyday life was like, mean that one can read and re-read her books and find something new to enjoy every time.
I have about three more coming from the library and I can't wait.
Talk to you later,
The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease. - Voltaire

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