Review 2074: #ThirkellBar! The Old Bank House

Although I keep hearing that Thirkell’s post-war Barsetshire novels are not considered her best, I am still enjoying them and look forward to seeing what happens to the characters. In particular, The Old Bank House brought me to tears over one event, although I won’t say what it was.

The novel begins with wealthy industrialist Sam Adams’ purchase of the Old Bank House, but it deals mostly with the Grantlys, a family referred to in the series (and, of course, a major family in Trollope’s Barsetshire series) but not before met. The Grantlys are Adams’ new neighbors at the rectory. The oldest son, Tom, has just come down from Oxford where he has been studying Greats but feeling out-of-place because his war years make him older than the others (although that must have been common, as it was here in the States). In any case, he has decided he wants to work on the land, but he doesn’t want to return to college, even agricultural college, to do so. (Ironically, in his chafing, Tom seems younger than he is, not older.) The youngest son, Henry, has applied for the army and goes down to the post office at least once a day to see if his orders have arrived.

The novel is more concerned with the daughter, Eleanor, who has taken Susan Belton’s job at the Red Cross library. She yearns to live in London and has attracted the attention of Colin Keith, now a successful barrister. However, on a visit to Pomfret Towers, she gets a romantic crush on tired Lord Pomfret.

After Tom Grantly applies at a few places, he is taken on by Lucy Marling as an ordinary laborer in the market garden she runs for Sam Adams, but Martin and Emmy Leslie are also evaluating his capabilities for Rushwater. Lucy Marling is making the garden a success and has seriously impressed Mr. Adams.

Again, I found this novel deeply touching at times. It also serves as a record for the difficult living conditions that still prevailed in England four years after the end of the war and for everyday life at that time. Unfortunately for me, I got this book mixed up with the next one and read enough of the succeeding one that I knew from the start how a few of the surprises would work out, but I still enjoyed this one. In fact, it’s one of my favorites.

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Review 2055: #ThirkellBar! Love Among the Ruins

We meet many of the characters we’ve come to love in Love Among the Ruins, but principally the Marlings, the Beltons, the Deans, and the Leslies.

With a short stop-off to the Warings, where Mr. and Mrs. Waring have given over most of their mansion to their son-in-law, Philip Winter, for a boys’ school, the novel begins with the Leslie/Marling family, who are planning a birthday party for their beloved Lady Emily. Lady Emily tires easily and is sometimes confused, but still presents her overwhelming and charming personality. She is being capably cared for by her daughter, Agnes Graham, and Miss Merriman.

Lucy Marling has been manfully trying to keep her father’s estate running as neither of her brothers seem interested. They have no money, but she thinks if she can convince her father to sell some land, she can keep the rest going. But he is unwilling. Desperate to cultivate some wasteland, she looks to Mr. Adams for advice.

Oliver Marling is worried about Lucy, as she doesn’t seem to be marrying anyone and is depressed about her struggles with the estate. But Lucy is in love with Captain Freddie Belton and knows he doesn’t return her feelings. Oliver himself is spending a lot of time with Jessica Dean, the actress.

Jessica’s older sister Sue, a Red Cross librarian, has earned everyone’s respect with her quiet capability, and she has earned more than that from Freddie Belton. But a misunderstanding is keeping them apart. In the meantime, young Clarissa Graham is determined to land Freddie. And lest we forget Charles Belton, he has fallen, as do many younger men, for Agnes Graham.

This novel dwells a good deal on the difficult situation the British were in after the war, with limits on food, clothing, and gas, while apparently, I didn’t quite understand it, trying to prevent farmers from raising pigs. There are lots of snarky comments about the government, referred to as They, but I’m happy to say, far less snobbishness than in some of the previous novels. There is in some characters, though, an awareness of who is county and who is not, and it looks like the Deans may shortly be accepted as county.

The activities of this novel are centered around the fates of several characters, the Conservative Party Convention, and the Barsetshire Pig Show, so there’s a lot going on. I know Thirkell’s post-war novels were not considered her best, but I enjoyed this one about the same as the others, so so far, for me at least, they are not decreasing in enjoyment.

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Review 2037: #ThirkellBar! Private Enterprise

Private Enterprise is Thirkell’s first wholly post-war Barsetshire novel. It reflects the confusion and discomfort caused by government measures that make things seem more difficult even than during the war.

The novel begins with Noel and Lydia Merton. Noel is back at his law firm, and they are now parents of two small children. To them for part of the summer holidays comes Colin Keith, Lydia’s brother, whom we first met in Summer Half. It is immediately apparent that he has fallen in love, with Mrs. Arbuthnot, a young widow. He is trying to find a house for her and her sister-in-law, Miss Arbuthnot, near Barsetshire.

Colin makes a fool of himself over Mrs. Arbuthnot but manages to find the two women a house. They move in and are quickly welcomed into the community. Again, we meet or hear about quite a few of the characters from previous books, including Mrs. Brandon and Francis Brandon, her son. Mrs. Brandon has gotten older, but we remember how young men used to fall in love with her and Noel Merton enjoyed flirting with her. We’re told several times that Mrs. Arbuthnot resembles her.

Unfortunately, Colin is not the only person who makes a fool of himself over Mrs. Arbuthnot. In the meantime, Miss Arbuthnot, older and less expectant, has her own quiet romance.

I noticed Thirkell’s snobbishness more in this novel than the previous ones, maybe because the others were more fun. It is clear that things are changing for the entitled classes and they don’t like it. Still, this novel seems an accurate record of life for these families (and to some extent of those of the less privileged) in post-World War II England, and I am still enjoying hearing about my favorite characters.

A comment about my edition. In the series up to this book, I have been reading the Virago editions, but Virago chose not to issue the post-war books, so I will have to finish the series reading Moyer Bell editions. As always with Moyer Bell, I am spotting lots of typos that seem to result from machine-reading a word wrong and substituting one that doesn’t make sense. Those are trivial, though, compared to the odd selection of the cover design and pictures at the beginning of each chapter. They are all by John Everett Millais, a Pre-Raphaelite artist. I have nothing against the Pre-Raphaelites, but they were a Victorian movement, and Millais was dead by the beginning of the 20th century. The women depicted in his paintings are dressed completely wrong for post-World War II England, of course, which makes me wonder why these paintings were selected for this novel. It’s a very odd choice. Perhaps the editors thought the novel took place after the Boer War?

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Review 2020: #ThirkellBar! Peace Breaks Out

Although Peace Breaks Out begins by returning to Anne Fielding, now almost 19, who was Miss Bunting’s student in the last book, it spends a lot of time with the Leslie family, whom we have encountered in several of the books. Anne has just met Sylvia Halliday, a beautiful, golden girl a few years older, and shortly thereafter, both girls come to the attention of David Leslie.

At 37, David should have toned down his tricks, but he hasn’t, so Anne is smitten while the older Sylvia’s reaction is a bit harder to ascertain. Anne’s being smitten puts her friend Robin Dale in a funk, which is good because he was tending to take her for granted. And David seems to be almost seriously considering her as a wife.

For the first time, we get a true sense of how tired the British are with the living conditions of the war. This is expressed by being upset about the peace, which makes conditions even worse.

In this novel, readers meet or hear of almost all of the main characters from the previous novels. Rose Fairweather, in all her beautiful idiocy, reappears from America, and more importantly, Rose Bingham, a Leslie cousin who we saw a bit of on the occasion of the other Rose’s wedding, returns from the continent.

It’s really been useful for me to have begun reading these novels in order. I only wish I had started out making charts of characters’ relationships, what books they appeared in, and some notes about each one.

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Review 2000: #ThirkellBar! Miss Bunting

Miss Bunting is another re-read for me. I’ve looked over my original review, which seems fine, so use the link for the plot synopsis. One thing I notice is that because of reading the books in order and thereby getting to know the characters better, I found the ending of this novel more affecting than I did the first time.

So, here are my observations from this time through. First, I noticed the subtleties of the class distinctions. Although I mentioned in my first review that Thirkell’s usual upper-class characters are flustered at having the wealthy and vulgar Mr. Hill thrust his way in amongst them (and thrust he does, appearing several times uninvited), Jane Gresham is shocked when he implies that he considers himself better than his landlady Mrs. Merivale, who is educated and middle class and whose daughters have better marriage prospects than Heather Hill does. Of course, Heather’s ambitions are different than Mrs. Merivale’s. I myself was surprised to find the Middletons, who seemed fully accepted in Before Lunch, being considered socially inferior (mostly by Lady Fielding, who’s a real snob). Toward the end of the novel, Lady Fielding reflects that men like Mr. Hill have taken over, and there won’t be room for people like them. Lord Fielding reassures her, but she’s not far wrong.

This novel is sad in more ways than one, but particularly affecting is Jane’s situation, not knowing whether her husband is dead or alive. I won’t give the other reason away.

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Review 1864: #ThirkellBar! Growing Up

Growing Up takes us to Beliera Priory, the home of Sir Harry and Lady Waring. The Warings have moved to the servants’ quarters, because the Priory has been taken over as a convalescent hospital. Nearby is a secret base, and the Warings receive a request to house an officer who is stationed there along with his wife. Although they are expecting their niece Leslie on a convalescent leave, they agree to billet the couple in their larger extra room.

To our delight, the couple turns out to be Noel and Lydia Merton, and in their exchanges of news with the Warings, we get to hear about almost everyone from the previous books. The Warings have been busy during the war, but the Mertons bring a little extra interest to their lives.

Leslie’s arrival is marked by a stranger carrying her case from the station. In the dark, she can barely see him, but he turns out to be Philip White, now a Colonel, whose disastrous romance with Rose Birkett was a feature of Summer Half. Leslie finds herself immediately interested in Philip.

In this novel, we are treated to the courtship of Selina, the Warings’ maid, by three men (a private young enough to be her son, a sergeant with eye trouble who is a greengrocer by trade, and Jasper, the Warings’s mysterious half-gypsy gamekeeper); the return of Tommy Needham, the fiancĂ© of Lydia’s best friend Octavia Birkett, missing an arm; the goings-on at the Winter Overcotes (which you will be delighted to know is near Summer Underclose) railway station; as well as, of course, the progress of Leslie’s romance. Tony and Mrs. Morland make a brief appearance as do other old friends. Another delightful novel by Thirkell.

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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.

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