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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Peace Breaks Out

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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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Before Lunch

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 fiancé 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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Cheerfulness Breaks In

High Rising

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 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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The Demon in the House

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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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Review 1644: The 1936 Club! August Folly

This week it’s time for the 1936 Club, hosted by Stuck in a Book. For my first book published in 1936, I am delighted to review August Folly by Angela Thirkell. As usual with my first posting for the club, I am also listing the links for the books published in 1936 that I have reviewed previously:

__________________________________

Louise Palmer, who likes to manage things, has decided to put on a Greek play. This endeavor will involve the participation of most of the young people around the village of Worsted, including her summer guests, the Deans. Richard Tebbins, just up from Oxford with a poor third, is at the age when everything his parents do irritates him (although that’s usually earlier, in my experience). However, when he sets eyes on Mrs. Dean, his parents’ contemporary, he falls into puppy love. Mr. Fanshawe, the Deans’ guest, seems to be a confirmed bachelor, but he has always only loved young Helen Dean. However, he fears he is too old for her. These are just a few of the characters and subplots of Angela Thirkell’s fourth Barsetshire novel.

Sometime, I would like to read these novels in order, because although each one concentrates on different characters, they have characters that reappear in different books—presumably also plot lines. However, I used to randomly encounter the novels in bookstores and just picked up whatever I found.

August Folly is one of the more fun books, featuring eccentric academics, delightful children, realistic but absurd romances, and a cat, a donkey, and a bull. It is froth at its best. I was happy to revisit it for the 1936 Club and my Classics Club list.

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Northbridge Rectory

Day 1119: Northbridge Rectory

Cover for Northbridge RectoryEclipse day! We are not in the path of totality here,
but we are at about 97%. We thought about driving down into Oregon, but since the state is supposed to have more than a million extra people coming for the eclipse, we decided to stay home. I hope you have a nice view!

* * *

Northbridge Rectory is another of Angela Thirkell’s delightful Barsetshire books. I have been making no effort to read them in order, and this one is set during World War II.

The Villarses moved to Barsetshire only a year ago when Mr. Villars was appointed Rector. Mr. Villars formerly had a career as a headmaster of a boys’ school, and Mrs. Villars feels somewhat inadequate in her new role as rector’s wife.

The Villarses expected the rectory to receive its quota of refugees from London, but instead eight officers of the Barsetshire regiment have been quartered there. The Villarses particularly enjoy the company of Mr. Holden, who is managing some of his work as a publisher’s associate along with his military duties. Mr. Holden has become attached to Mrs. Villars and is constantly wearing her out by telling her she looks tired.

Although Northbridge Rectory is mostly from Mrs. Villars’s point of view, it also deals with two poverty-stricken scholars who share a house. Mr. Downing is a middle-aged man working on an abstruse book about medieval Provençal literature. His hostess, Miss Pemberton, is an older lady working on a monograph about the work of an Italian Renaissance artist. Miss Pemberton spends a lot of time keeping spinsters away from Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing, however, soon begins to feel very comfortable visiting the widowed Mrs. Turner and her bouncing teenage nieces.

Wartime brings everyone among unaccustomed people and activities, as when a watch from the church tower is proposed to look for parachutists. The Villarses spend an excruciating weekend entertaining an unexpected guest who will not stop talking, Mrs. Spender, the wife of Major Spender. Other entertaining characters include the couple of spinsters who so loved living in France that they throw mispronounced and misused French into every conversation.

Thirkell’s books are always funny, with a gentle humor that pokes fun without making anyone entirely unlikable. She has an unusual style of narration that breaks out to address readers directly, as if she is having a private conversation with us, usually just before a zinger.

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