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 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

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

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

Review 1761: #ThirkellBar! Pomfret Towers

Cover for Pomfret Towers

It’s time to talk about the sixth book in Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, Pomfret Towers. Who read it and what did you think?

This novel is another one that I reviewed several years ago, so I will not repeat the plot synopsis and review but simply supply a link to the original review.

What struck me this time around was how sweet a story this is, with Thirkell creating characters we like tremendously but not forgetting a couple we can dislike. Yet, she’s subtle about all of this and shows a little sympathy for one of the most irritating characters.

Little Alice, so young and shy, is both a sympathetic character and one who provides some good-natured comedy. For example, her reaction to being invited to Pomfret Towers for the weekend—a terrifying prospect—is to hope the house burns down overnight before she has to go. She is silly and adolescent in her attachment to the odious Julian Rivers and very brave when she finally sees through him.

On the other side is Mrs. Rivers, so full of herself as a Writer of popular novels that sound dreadful, so managing in a house where she is not the hostess, and so irritating in her attempts to throw together her daughter Phoebe and the mild-mannered Gillie Foster, the heir to the earldom. But when she is humiliated by her son at the end of the novel, Thirkell deftly makes us feel sorry for her (but not for Julian).

I liked practically everyone in this novel, even Lord Pomfret, known for his rudeness. Another charming novel by Thirkell.

Summer Half

August Folly

The Demon in the House

Review 1745: #ThirkellBar! Summer Half

It’s time for Summer Half, the fifth book in Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series. Readers may or may not be excited to learn that this is another book with Tony Morland, now about 14 years old, as a character.

Colin Keith’s father wants him to read law, and Colin likes it, but he feels guilty not earning his own keep at the ripe age of 22. So, he meets with Mr. Birkett, the headmaster of Southbridge school, and arranges to take a job with him. Then he learns that his father has arranged a place for him in the chambers of Noel Merton. The timing is fine, though, for Colin to work the summer half at Southbridge and start in chambers in the fall.

(As a side note, I saw that Colin’s older brother is a young lawyer named Robert who makes a few brief appearances. Is he going to turn into the mysterious figure Sir Robert who is mentioned but does not appear in several novels later on and finally turns up in Enter Sir Robert? I guess only time will tell. My curiosity is piqued.)

Colin’s immediate coworkers are Everard Carter, the master of his house, and Philip Winter, who unfortunately is engaged to Rose Birkett, a beautiful but selfish nitwit. At the last minute, Colin is given a class that Philip wanted to teach, so Philip isn’t disposed to welcome him. Also, he is jealous, and Rose flirts with any man who comes near her.

It is the volatile relationship between Philip and Rose that occupies much of this novel, as well as the hijinks of the boys. However, Carter is also smitten, by Colin’s sister Kate, but he thinks she prefers Noel Merton. Making an appearance for the first time is Colin’s other sister, Lydia, a loud, bouncing 16-year-old, who I believe is a major character in Cheerfulness Breaks In, one of my favorites in this series.

Although some of the school talk went over my head, this is another delightful entrant in the series. It gives us in Rose someone we can heartily dislike only to feel a little more nuanced toward her at the end. Meanwhile, all the other characters are eminently likable.

Who read Summer Half? What did you think?

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Review 1700: #ThirkellBar! Wild Strawberries Recap

Cover for Wild Strawberries

It’s time for our reviews of the second Barsetshire novel, as we read Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series in order! In this case, I had already reviewed Wild Strawberries some time ago.

I looked at my original review of Wild Strawberries to see if I have anything to add for this reread. I don’t, except to point out how vividly Thirkell has depicted her characters. Lady Emily, for example, is equally adorable and frustrating. That first scene in church is a comic masterpiece, enough to make even the reader impatient with her, yet her family shows no sign of frustration, only affection. Most of Thirkell’s characters are funny, even our heroine Mary in her childish infatuation with David, and some of them, like managing Madame Boulle or finagling Mr. Holt, are hilarious. Or Agnes, so infatuated with her children that she heartily bores everyone else. Only John remains as the straight man.

I liked this book even more this time through but found the ridiculous errors in my Moyer Bell edition, which didn’t even employ a spell-checker, even more frustrating. Sadly, the Virago edition was not yet out in paperback when I reread this one (now it is).

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Review 1684: #ThirkellBar! High Rising

I have long been saying I will read Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels in order, but I just keep potting way at them as I encounter them. So finally, I decided to go back and read them all, in order, and I hope some others of you will join me at least part of the way. High Rising is the first one.

Mrs. Morland is a widow who has supported her three sons by writing what she calls “good bad books,” featuring skullduggery in the fashion industry. Her old friend, George Knox, is a widower and also an author, of serious historical works.

It is Laura Morland’s habit to work in London while her young son Tony is in school and come to High Rising when he is on holiday. When she and Tony arrive for the Christmas holidays, she learns there is a disturbing new resident at Low Rising. It is George’s new secretary, Una Grey, who is efficient and sweet to George but behaves officiously as if she were the mistress of the house even to George’s quiet adult daughter, Sybil. It is clear that Miss Grey is aiming at marriage with George, and she immediately treats Mrs. Morland as an enemy and rival.

The plot of High Rising is mostly concerned with this situation, but it also introduces more sympathetic characters. There is Miss Todd, who has been doing all the caretaking of her dying mother and works half-time as a secretary for Mrs. Morland. Dr. Ford is in love with her but thinks the difference in their ages makes him ineligible. Miss Todd herself believes she is the type of woman that men don’t marry.

Adrian Coates is Mrs. Morland’s editor. Although he is a good deal younger than she is, early in the novel he proposes. But Laura has no interest in marrying again and thinks he will make a much better match for Sybil Knox.

There are lots of characters, but one of the funniest is Tony, Laura’s single-minded young son. He is absolutely besotted with railways, and Thirkell does a great job of making him a believable motormouth of a boy.

Most of Thirkell’s books are notable for a subtle wit, but this one is a lot funnier than I remembered. I also felt really invested in the problems of these characters. This novel makes a nice start to the series.

So, who read High Rising along with me, and what did you think?

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