Review 2093: #ThirkellBar! County Chronicle

In introducing County Chronicle, I find it impossible to avoid spoilers for those who have not read the previous book, The Old Bank House. So, beware.

The novel begins where the previous one left off, if not slightly before that, with Lucy Marling wondering how her parents are going to take her engagement to Sam Adams, the wealthy older ironmonger who is not from her class. They take it comparatively well. It is her beloved brother Oliver who tries to flatten her excitement with his disapproval, so that Lucy realizes for the first time how selfish he is.

Speaking of selfish men, Francis Brandon is now happily married, but he’s been taking his mother for granted and is even rude to her. His mild-mannered wife Peggy is distressed by it but doesn’t have the courage to say anything. Others are beginning to notice, and Mrs. Brandon realizes it was a mistake for them all to live together.

Isabel Dale, a cousin of Robin Dale, takes a job with Mrs. Marling to help her with Lucy’s wedding and stays on to help her with her correspondence. She also sometimes helps Oliver with his book.

Although the Barsetshire set have tended to stay away from the Omnium Castle crowd, Francis and Peggy Brandon have been spending time there doing amateur theatrics with Lady Cora and Lord Silverbridge, the Duke’s heir. We find the ducal family impoverished but very nice. Eventually, Isabel and Oliver are introduced to the family by Roddy Wickham.

Although I didn’t like this one quite so much as The Old Bank House, it was still good. Several characters’ problems are resolved in a satisfying way, and the two romances are as sweet as they are understated.

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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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Peace Breaks Out

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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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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The Brandons

Pomfret Towers

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

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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 1715: #ThirkellBar! The Demon in the House

This third book of Thirkell’s Barsetshire series returns to the village of High Rising and Laura Morland and her young son Tony. Tony is now thirteen, and he is of course the demon in the house.

The novel is set during four holiday seasons that make up most of the year, during which Tony creates as much havoc as is humanly possible. During the Easter holidays in the first section, Tony talks his mother into getting him a new bike. He has grown out of his old one but is not yet tall enough for an adult bike, so she compromises by renting one from Mr. Brown. Then, knowing his talent for falling into trouble, she waits, agonized, to hear about his lifeless body being picked up from the road.

During the course of the novel, several of the old friends from High Rising are on the scene. We also meet new ones, though, in particular Master Wesendonck, Tony’s friend from school, who manages to be silent throughout the novel while proving himself to be loyal and sweet.

Lest we be afraid that there will be no romance in this novel, there is one, but it is very understated. The novel is mostly about Tony’s hijinks. Tony is the same ebulliant, know-it-all motormouth, but some of his adventures seem a little young for thirteen. Still, times have changed, and children now are probably a lot more sophisticated. In any case, this is another charming and funny entry in the series. I hope that the readers who are not on Team Tony will still want to continue with the series.

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