Miss Bunting, an elderly governess, has left her usual home at Marling Hall to live with young Anne Fielding in Hallbury. Anne’s health is considered too delicate for her to live with her parents in Barchester, so Miss Bunting has agreed to take her on, with an eye to improving her health, her poise, and her education.
Miss Bunting is an old-school type of governess, a force in herself, whose presence makes others sit up straight. Still, she is fond of her pupils, too many of whom are being killed in World War II.
Jane Gresham has been having a particularly tough war. Her husband Francis is on an island in the Pacific, and he hasn’t been heard of for three years. She has been living with her father-in-law Admiral Gresham and doing her best to raise her eight-year-old son Frankie.
Robin Dale, son of the rector Dr. Dale, is feeling a bit adrift. He lost his foot in combat. Although his old school has asked him to return to a job as master, he feels he must keep his elderly father company. So, he’s been running a small school for boys preparing for public school.
Jane does a favor for the admiral, going to view housing for Mr. Adams and his daughter. Mr. Adams is a wealthy factory owner looking for a place for the summer, and the admiral is on his board.
This novel is about a disappearing way of life for the British upper class, as personified by Miss Bunting. Class is an important issue in the novel, as the upper levels of Hallbury society are taken aback when Mr. Adams and Heather breach their ranks. Thirkell tells this story with liveliness and wit. Although her tone is sometimes one of asperity, none of her characters are bad, or even ill-meaning, people. Thirkell shows their foibles while still making you like them very much. I’m happy to be rediscovering these novels.