Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #12 Growing Up + #11 Marling Hall Wrap-Up

Thanks to everyone who participated in or commented on this month’s reading of Marling Hall, in which we caught up on some familiar characters and met some new ones. Participants were

The book for May is Growing Up, for which I will be posting my review on Tuesday, May 31. This is another new one for me, so I’m excited. I believe it features the return of one of my favorite characters, Lydia Merton.

And here’s our badge.

Review 1847: #ThirkellBar! Marling Hall

Lettice Watson, the Marling’s older daughter, has moved back home with her two little daughters after the death of her husband at Dunkirk more than a year ago. The younger Miss Marling, Lucy, is one of those bouncing, hearty girls that Thirkell depicts so well. Brother Oliver, whose poor eyes don’t allow him to serve, has a job in the regional government offices. Mr. Marling is aggressively deaf and likes to play what his children call “the olde squire.” Mrs. Marling is a bit silly.

From the beginning of Marling Hall, we realize we’re going to encounter some familiar characters. The Marlings, along with Miss Bunting, their former governess (who gets her own book later in the series), go to call on the Leslies at Rushwater. It was David and John Leslie who made up two thirds of a love triangle in Wild Strawberries, and David very soon is trying his charm on Lettice. Soon after, Lucy brings home Captain Tom Barclay, a much steadier young man, who is also attracted to Lettice.

Because of this visit, we meet again the charming but disorganized Lady Emily as well as her daughter Agnes, so besotted with her own children that she can talk of nothing else. And we continue not to meet Agnes’s husband Robert. The efficient Miss Merriman also reappears on the scene. We hear about characters from Pomfret Towers and other books in the series.

Some newcomers to the area are the Harveys, who both work in Oliver’s office. Geoffrey Harvey is one of the artistic types that Thirkell likes to make fun of. His sister Frances is Oliver’s very organized assistant. The Harveys have been living with the Nortons and wish to find a house for themselves, but housing, along with everything else, is difficult to find during these days of war. They find the Red House, a repulsively decorated place owned by Mrs. Smith. A lot of the comedy of this novel comes from their encounters with Mrs. Smith, who, after she leases them the house, continues to return to it to remove one object after another, including the beans from the garden and the eggs from the chickens the Harveys purchased, and eventually the chickens themselves.

Unfortunately for me, more humor is derived from the visits of Harvey’s old French teacher and later her nephew. Although Thirkell has poked fun at the French before, she hasn’t actually included so much dialogue in French, which I don’t really know. Last time, it was little enough for me to type into my iPad and get a translation or simple enough for me to muddle out myself, but this time there was a lot more, also, I think, including some mocking of the quality of one character’s French. The part with the nephew was funnier because of being told the gist of what he was saying rather than the exact words.

In this novel, the difficulties of life during the war become more apparent, especially in regard to food and clothing shortages. However, it continues on in the Thirkell vein—funny, with its little side comments directed at the reader, insightful, touching, and certainly snobbish, but more as if she is laughing at her own and her characters’ snobbery. Another good one.

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Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #11 Marling Hall + #10 Northbridge Rectory Wrap-Up

Looks like hardly anyone had time to read along or comment on Northbridge Rectory last month, a bittersweet little novel, and well worth reading. I hope I’ll get some more participation this month. (I got more after posting this the first time.) My steadfast commenters were

Our book for April is Marling Hall. I hope some of you will join me in reading along. I’ll be posting my review on Friday, April 29.

And here’s our little badge.

Review 1828: #ThirkellBar! Northbridge Rectory

Cover for Northbridge Rectory

Northbridge Rectory is the tenth book in Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series and another reread for me, so I won’t repeat my review but simply provide the link to it. Instead I’ll comment on what I noticed this time through.

Everyone is much more actively involved in the war in this one, so it seems closer. Yet it seems far away, too, as we busy ourselves with the emotional lives of several characters.

I’m starting to notice Thirkell’s tropes, and one is for the infatuation of a young man for an older woman. In this case, it’s the young officer Mr. Holden for Mrs. Villars, the rector’s wife. Sometimes, these infatuations are handled sympathetically and in one case a few books ago, it was a mutual regard that added a bit of pathos to the plot. In this case, it is more comic, with Mrs. Villars not noticing at first or making herself respond in a practical way after feeling in herself a tendency to want to imitate the fragile flower that he thinks he worships. However, his comments about how tired she looks make her more and more irritated.

The other very touching story is the restrained love triangle of the two penniless scholars, the terrifying Miss Pemberton and the timid Mr. Downing, and the comfortable and warm Mrs. Turner. Miss Pemberton, who seems at first a grim bully with Mr. Downing under her thumb, turns out to have a much more sympathetic side.

I loved the depiction of Mrs. Turner’s nieces, Betty and “the other girl,” and their swains, Captain Topham and Mr. Grieves. And I don’t know how Thirkell does it, but even though Betty has as many verbal tics as the voluble Mrs. Spender, Betty seems delightful while Mrs. Spender is just plain irritating.

Not only am I finding these novels just as delightful as I go on, but I’m also finding them deeper (in a light way) and more touching. We get just a sentence about the (backwards spoiler for Cheerfulness Breaks In) survival of Lydia Merton’s husband at Dunkirk, since Thirkell with this book is dealing with other characters, but it cheered me right up.

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Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #10 Northbridge Rectory + #9 Cheerfulness Breaks In Wrap-Up

Cover for Northbridge Rectory

It was a short month, so we didn’t get much participation this time. However, thanks to those who participated in reading or commented on Cheerfulness Breaks In, which was a real joy! Those contributors are:

The book for March is Northbridge Rectory, another re-read for me. I’ll be posting my review on Thursday, March 31. I hope more of you will be able to read along.

And here’s our little badge.

Review 1810: #ThirkellBar! Cheerfulness Breaks In

It’s been so long since I read Cheerfulness Breaks In that it wasn’t as I remembered. Still, it was funny and affecting. It is also the first of Thirkell’s Barsetshire series to be set during the war.

The novel begins with the wedding of Rose Birkett, whose shenanigans occupied Summer Half, set three years earlier. Rose is still as selfish and stupid as she is beautiful, and her parents are terrified until the last minute that the wedding won’t go off. Thankfully, it does, due to the efforts of the groom, Lieutenant Fairweather. During the wedding, we encounter many of the characters who have appeared before in the series, particularly Lydia Keith.

No longer a bouncing 16-year-old, Lydia at 20 has stayed at home to help her father run his estate and to care for her mother, who is in poor health. As the novel begins in the summer of 1939, she is soon also involved in other activities related to the war. However, unlike her friends Geraldine and Octavia, she is too bound by her home situation to join the nursing profession.

Many of her friends, including her good friend Noel Merton, view her efforts with sympathy and concern. He notices how she has worked to become kinder and not quite so utterly frank, but appears not have noticed that she is in love with him.

This novel is full of the many activites that evolve from the war, but the amusing conversations and other events continue, as the full brunt of the war does not seem to have hit the community yet. Other couples get engaged, but in the romance department, the novel is mainly concerned with Lydia and Noel, each of whom thinks the gap in their ages is making the other uninterested.

I remembered Cheerfulness Breaks In as one of my favorite of this series, and although its plot is somewhat different than I remembered, it is lovely, funny, and touching. As an homage to Trollope’s series set in the same fictional county, I have been noticing more and more last names from the older series as I read along.

Summer Half

The Brandons

Pomfret Towers

Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #9 Cheerfulness Breaks In + #8 Before Lunch Wrap-Up

Reading Before Lunch last month was lots of fun. Here are the people who participated or made comments:

  • Liz Dexter
  • Penelope Gough
  • Historical Fiction Is Fiction

This month’s book will be Cheerfulness Breaks In, which I remember as a favorite book, although I have not read it in a long time. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope I’ll get some company reading it. I’ll be posting my review on Monday, February 28, and look forward to your comments.

And here’s our little badge, if you want to post it on your review.

Review 1792: #ThirkellBar! Before Lunch

Before Lunch is one of Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series that I have not read before. It possesses both the charm and slightly acid humor of the previous novels and a new sense of sadness.

In this novel we meet the Middletons. Jack is a trying man who often has to be soothed by his wife, Catherine. Jack’s sister Lilian Stoner, a young widow, is coming to stay in an adjacent house with her stepchildren, Denis and Daphne, who are almost as old as she is. The three have a loving relationship, all understanding that Lilian’s marriage was a difficult one.

The major focus of the plot in this novel is who will Daphne marry, for she meets two men she likes very much. Mr. Cameron is the partner of Lord Bond in their architectural firm. Although he is in his forties, Daphne thinks he’s the nicest man she knows. Cedric Bond, Lord Bond’s son and heir, also gets along with Daphne very well, but Daphne keeps hearing about another young lady named Betty in connection with him. Both men are smitten by Daphne.

Along with this plot, a lot is going on. The overbearing Lady Bond is leading a protest against the unwitting purchaser of a parcel of land called Pooker’s Piece (I love the place names in this series, particularly the oft-mentioned “Winter Overcotes”), where he plans to erect a tea shop and a garage (which rumor eventually converts to a road house). The countryside is outraged, as it is a favorite place for rambling.

The entire county is also preparing for the Agricultural Show, and Daphne talks cows with the best of them. She also takes a secretarial job with Lady Bond.

Denis takes a liking to Lord Bond, who is as kind as he is long-winded. Denis has been an invalid, but in the summer country air he begins to improve, and he is looking for backing for a ballet for which he is composing the music. He treats Lord Bond to Gilbert and Sullivan evenings when Lady Bond is away. He also has a secret of the heart.

Catherine and Lilian begin a friendship that is comforting for them both. We also briefly meet some of the characters from previous books, including Lord Pomfret, now a grieving widower, the Leslies, and Roddy Wicklow. And Thirkell does not fail to provide another irritating character (besides Lady Bond), Miss Starter, an ex-royal attendant who fusses constantly about her diet.

I think I liked this novel best so far, but I know one of my favorites, Cheerfulness Breaks In, is coming up.

The Brandons

Pomfret Towers

Summer Half

Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #8 Before Lunch + #7 The Brandons Wrap-Up

I know it was tough to participate this month with the holidays and read The Brandons. Thanks, then for the comments by

  • Christine of All the Vintage Ladies
  • Liz Dexter of Adventures in Reading
  • Penelope Gough (a real trooper!)
  • Historical Fiction Is Fiction
  • Yvonne of A Darn Good Read

The next book in the series is Before Lunch, which I will be reviewing on Monday, January 31, 2022. I hope some more people will jump on board for this one.

And here’s our little badge.

Review 1778: #ThirkellBar! The Brandons

Although I know the season is busy, I hope some others of you joined me in reading The Brandons for Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order.

Mrs. Brandon attributes her good temper and blooming if languid looks to having been many years a widow. She also likes to imply that she was unhappily married even though she had just started to be bored by her husband when he died. Whatever the reason, she is charming and captivating enough to make men fall devotedly in love with her, including the vicar, Mr. Miller, and his pupil, Mr. Grant, who is the same age as her son Francis.

Mrs. Brandon’s elderly aunt by marriage, Miss Brandon, has been holding the bequest of her money and hideous house over Francis’s head for years, hinting when she is displeased—which is almost always—that she will leave it to someone else. Francis doesn’t want it, but when she summons them all to her house, Mrs. Brandon feels that they must go. There she finds that Miss Brandon has been ill and is actively mistreating her companion, Miss Morris.

At her house they also find Mr. Grant, who it turns out is a cousin in the same situation as Francis, alternately promised and denied a legacy that he doesn’t want. Part of the novel deals with what happens when Miss Brandon dies.

Thirkell is brilliant at describing the silliness of infatuations, and here she does not spare Mrs. Brandon’s admirers. A delight of this book is its conversations, especially those involving such eccentric characters as Mrs. Grant, Mr. Grant’s mother, who patronizes others about her life in Italy and constantly embarrasses her son with her lack of manners and clanking jewelry. Some favorites reappear in this novel, including Mrs. Morland and Tony, Lydia Keith, and Noel Morton.

Thirkell continues to entertain us with her witty and charming novels.

Pomfret Towers

Summer Half

August Folly