Day 1093: Pomfret Towers

Cover for Pomfret TowersSomeone once remarked to me that the Angela Thirkell novels set before or during World War II are the best, and so it seems to me, reading this one. Pomfret Towers is set before the war.

Timid young Alice Barton is terrified when she learns she must accept an invitation for a weekend at Pomfret Towers along with her brother, Guy. Lady Pomfret is home on one of her infrequent visits from Italy, and Lord Pomfret wants some young people around to entertain her.

But she needn’t have worried: almost everyone is kind to Alice. Phoebe Rivers, a cousin of the family, has made sure Alice’s room is next to hers and helps her pick out her outfits for dinner. Alice’s good friends, Roddy and Sally Wicklow, are there, Roddy being the junior estate manager. Gillie Foster, Lord Pomfret’s heir, is extremely kind and fetches her shoes for her from the servants. Even Lord Pomfret, who is known for his rudeness, is kind.

One figure who continues to be terrifying is Mrs. Rivers, a best-selling author. Although Alice’s mother is also an author (a better one, we suspect), she is modest about it, unlike Mrs. Rivers, who constantly talks about herself and tries to arrange things for everyone, as if she were the hostess.

Another egoist is Julian Rivers, but Alice only sees how handsome he is and how wonderful he seems to be. His behavior is sometimes unusual, but he is an artist.

One of the things Mrs. Rivers is trying to manage is a marriage between her daughter Phoebe and Gillie Foster, but Gillie seems to prefer talking to Alice or working in the office with Sally. And Phoebe keeps running off with Guy to look at buildings he and his father are restoring.

Pomfret Towers is another romance by Angela Thirkell, full of delightful characters and slightly winking at society. This novel is one I particularly enjoyed. Alice is a little silly, but she is young and lovable, and we are sure everything will come out all right.

Related Posts

Wild Strawberries

Miss Bunting

Vittoria Cottage

Day 997: Doctor Thorne

Cover for Doctor ThorneBest Book of the Week!
In this third of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles, the main character, Doctor Thorne, is presented with a dilemma. The outcome of the novel is fairly easy to predict, but the pleasure is in getting there.

Trollope begins the novel by explaining the situation of the Greshams of Greshambury, a proud but declining family. Squire Gresham has done his best to waste the family fortune, aided by his wife, Lady Arabella. When the novel begins, it is an acknowledged fact among Lady Arabella and her de Courcy relatives that young Frank Gresham, just of age, must marry money. Unfortunately for their plans, Frank has just declared himself to Mary Thorne, Doctor Thorne’s niece, who hasn’t a penny.

Mary has not encouraged Frank. In fact, she believes he is too young and injudicious to make such a decision. She refuses to listen to him, but she does begin to wonder about her own position, for she knows nothing about her own parentage. She has been brought up by Doctor Thorne to have a pride in breeding without understanding her own.

In truth, the story is not a good one. Her mother was the respectable sister of a stone mason until Doctor Thorne’s disreputable brother seduced her with promises of marriage. When Mary Scatcherd got an opportunity to marry and leave the country—only without her daughter—Doctor Thorne promised to raise the child as his own. This he has done without the knowledge of Roger Scatcherd, the child’s other uncle, who is now a wealthy member of parliament.

Doctor Thorne has continued to treat Roger Scatcherd, but he fears the man’s dedication to drink will soon put him in his grave. Since Scatcherd’s son Louis looks to follow in his footsteps, Doctor Thorne thinks that neither of them will live long. So, he is taken aback when Scatcherd confides that he will put his money in trust for Louis until he is 25, but if both of them die, he leaves his fortune to his sister Mary’s oldest child. Doctor Thorne urges Scatcherd to be more particular, because of course Mary’s oldest child is his own girl, Mary Thorne, whom Scatcherd thinks died as a child.

In any case, the Greshams find that Frank cannot be dissuaded from Mary Thorne. Although Mary has been raised with their daughter and is the best friend of Beatrice Gresham, Arabella banishes her from the house and eventually asks Beatrice not to see her. When Doctor Thorne, already sore because Mary is being punished for something she didn’t encourage, realizes that Mary actually does love Frank, he thinks it will all come right but is unable to tell anyone so because perhaps it will not.

Doctor Thorne is written in a different vein from the first two Barsetshire novels. For one, it is looking at a different strata of people. Some of the characters from the other novels are mentioned but do not appear. To be frank, I missed the delicacy of good old Mr. Harding. Dr. Thorne is rougher but no less principled, though. I did not enjoy as much the descriptions of Scatcherd’s doings, but after a while, I got to like Dr. Thorne and be interested in the outcome.

Related Posts

The Warden

Barchester Towers

The Rector and The Doctor’s Family

Day 892: Wild Strawberries

Cover for Wild StrawberriesThis title does not refer to the Ingmar Bergman film but to the second (or third, depending on where you look) Barsetshire novel by Angela Thirkell. Unlike the others I’ve reviewed lately, Wild Strawberries was written before World War II. It is a delightful and gentle comedy with a romantic triangle.

Wild Strawberries is about a summer with the Leslies. Lady Emily is universally adored, a vague woman always leaving a trail of her possessions behind. She is also a managing type whose attempts to arrange things that are already decided repeatedly throw the family into chaos. The novel opens with a hilarious scene in which the family is late for service and disrupts the sermon while Lady Emily tries to tell everyone where to sit. Lady Emily is the mother whose passing is much lamented in Enter Sir Robert, which I reviewed a few months ago.

And if I am not mistaken, Agnes, a daughter of the house, is the same Lady Graham who is a major character in Enter Sir Robert, and as in that novel, Robert is continually referred to but not present. Agnes is a young mother with three children, kind but silly, and entirely obsessed with the children.

Other members of the household are Mr. Leslie, gruff but kind, sons John and David, and grandson Martin. Martin is the son of the Leslies’ deceased oldest son. John is a widower who has been mourning his wife Gay. David is a charming but selfish playboy.

The Leslies have invited Mary Preston to spend the summer with them while her mother recuperates at a spa on the Continent. Mary is Agnes’s niece by marriage, and her affections play a major part in the plot. She is a young, naive girl who is immediately charmed by David. John, on the other hand, falls in love with her when he hears her singing. We find ourselves rooting for John, but in Thirkell’s novels, the characters we like best are not always successful in love.

Providing humor are a visit from Mr. Holt, a toady to the upper class and expert on gardens, who invites himself to visit the Leslies, and the establishment at the vicarage of a French family. Seventeen-year-old Martin gets himself embroiled in a demonstration to restore the French monarchy, and Mr. Holt finds himself rewarded for his gate-crashing by being entertained by Agnes and her children.

This is a delightful novel with sympathetic and engaging characters and a great deal of humor. I enjoyed it very much.

I have to say that my Moyer Bell edition (not the one pictured above) was riddled with typographical errors, including a chapter that literally ended in the middle of a word, to be completed after the next chapter title. I just picked this up at a used bookstore, but next time I buy Thirkell, I will look for a Virago edition.

Related Posts

Enter Sir Robert

Miss Bunting

Happy Returns

Day 820: Enter Sir Robert

Cover of Enter Sir RobertLady Graham and her youngest daughter Edith are the main characters of Enter Sir Robert, set in post-World War II Barsetshire. Thirkell relates her novels as if she’s personally telling you a story, and although all the novels are set in Barsetshire, this one seems a little more rural than the others I’ve read recently. People are always running off to look at the pigs.

Lady Graham is a charming woman whom everyone loves, although she is a little scatter-brained. With most of her children married and her husband, Sir Robert, almost always away on some vital service to the nation, she has only Edith, who is 18, left at home.

Mrs. Halliday has an invitation for Edith. Her daughter Sylvia, who is expecting, is coming for a visit. Mrs. Halliday would like Edith to stay for a while to be company for Sylvia. Mrs. Halliday is taken up with Mr. Halliday, who is not well, and her son George has been working the farm as best he can alone. Meanwhile, Lady Graham is preparing a small memorial service for the anniversary of her own mother’s death.

Edith enjoys herself very much at the Halliday’s, visiting with Sylvia, entertaining Mr. Halliday, and viewing the farm with George, who seems to like her company. When the Hallidays all go to view the Old Manor House, which they have been leasing to a bank, they meet Mr. Cross, son of Lord Cross and also a delightful young man.

Like Thirkell’s other novels, Enter Sir Robert depicts the everyday life of the people of a certain social station with wit and humor. Her characters are mostly nice people, with only a few barbs directed at the bishop. The countryside is lovingly described, and there is always a little light romance. They are a pleasure to read. Oh, and if you care to read this one, you’ll find that the title is Thirkell’s little joke.

Related Posts

Happy Returns

Miss Bunting

Barchester Towers

Day 743: Happy Returns

Cover for Happy ReturnsHappy Returns is one of Angela Thirkell’s books set in Barsetshire, the setting also of Anthony Trollope’s novels. Thirkell’s novels were written in the 1930’s-50’s and feature, in large part, pleasant and well-meaning characters, gentle romances, and problems bravely dealt with, particularly during and after the war.

Happy Returns is set in 1951 and 1952, just before and after Winston Churchill’s ascension to the office of Prime Minister. Much of the conversation at the beginning of the novel is about the government, called Them, the depredations its taxes have made to the neighborhood, and the characters’ hope that there will be an election that will bring Churchill into office.

The situation of Lady Lufton is one of the focuses of this novel. Her husband is recently dead at an early age, and she is struggling with grief and apathy. The family fortunes have suffered so from death taxes that she is forced to lease half her house to a tenant, Mr. MacFadyen of Amalgamated Vedge. She is concerned because her son, the young Lord Lufton, can’t afford to rent a better place when he goes up to London for Parliament and has to stay with a miserly relative, who does not feed him well in exchange for his ration card. Frankly, the gentle Lord Lufton fears he is too poor to marry.

Charles Belton is another important character. He has been engaged for a year to Clarissa Graham, but they show no sign of marrying. Clarissa has been behaving petulantly, so that Charles has begun to doubt that she wants to marry him. It takes his friend Eric Swan to notice that Clarissa is actually madly in love with Charles and fears he doesn’t love her back.

Swan, a schoolteacher, doesn’t seem very ambitious, but he is actually considering trying for a place at Oxford. But then he meets Grace Grantly and falls in love with her. At this time, fellows at Oxford couldn’t be married, so he decides to put his plans on hold and see what develops.

The whole neighborhood notices that Francis Brandon hasn’t been treating his nice wife Peggy very well lately. She, along with several other women in the novel, is very pregnant and despite her husband’s behavior keeps her good humor.

As an example of the flavor of this book, Lady Lufton and Lord Lufton are having a conversation when Mr. MacFadyen comes in. Mr. MacFadyen observes sympathetically that some of Lady Lufton’s comments are of the type to make a young man impatient, but Lord Lufton always replies gently and patiently.

Most of the characters in Happy Returns are nice people, except maybe the Bishop, who never actually appears. Throughout the entire novel, Mrs. Joram is planning a party but is waiting for the Bishop and his wife to depart for Madeira so she won’t have to invite them. The Bishop is apparently so disliked by many people that when he finally leaves for Madeira and his ship is overtaken by a storm, almost every character wishes for a shipwreck.

I enjoyed this novel with its depiction of the hardships of post-World War II Britain. My only problem with it was the plethora of characters, for I could not keep track of who they all were and what their relationships were. Probably someone following the series from the beginning would not have this problem. I have read several of the books, but that was a long time ago.

There are also quite a few cultural and literary references I didn’t get—and probably many jokes. For the tone of the novel, although it has touching moments, is one of humor, with many funny asides addressed directly to the reader about what will or will not be further explained. I think a fair comparison for someone who is not familiar with Thirkell’s work would be the novels of Nancy Mitford, although they are more obviously unrealistic and caricatured.

Related Posts

The Warden

The Pursuit of Love

Love in a Cold Climate