Marling Hall by Angela Thirkell – A Character Classic


In short, a Thirkell to savour where she develops and shows her mastery of her characters.

After much waiting, this is another reprint of an Angela Thirkell wartime novel set in the fictional Barsetshire. This means that it is easy to get hold of this Thirkell classic which builds on her familiar themes and her varied characters. It is of its time, and it is worth remembering that when this book was originally written and published in 1942 no one knew how the war would end. This is an entertainment for Thirkell fans who were coping with rationing and loss; the fact that it is partly a comedy, partly a romance is a gain in the twenty first century.

Lettice Watson is a widow with two small girls who lives next to her family and can therefore join with family events and visits. Her sister, Lucy Marling, runs house, estate and everyone else’s life with her catch phrase “I’ll tell you what” but emerges as a truly sympathetic character. Geoffrey Harvey and his sister Frances are persuaded to take a house for the duration and have to deal with a landlady who visits and departs with those sentimental items she cannot continue without, much to their despair and our entertainment. Hens are obtained and housed, but not without a gathering of the characters who may only have a walk on part in this novel, but are well known to those who have encountered the Barsetshire saga. David causes trouble, Captain Barclay needs a shove, and Miss Bunting exercises her usual calm supervision.

Overall Thirkell is at the top of her form as she brings out her stock of characters and causes them to react to rationing and romance.  It is a tribute to her writing that some of her favourite characters are only fleetingly mentioned in this book but that it is still marvelously populated. There are the usual issues with Thirkell’s writing in that some of her female characters are sometimes shown as weak and ineffective, but others take the lead and celebrate their diversity; just like real life in fact. There is the usual suspicion of non –British characters and some class bound observations which may jar, but when compared to Nancy Mitford for example this is a gentle comedy of manners. Thirkell is not for everyone, but those who enjoy her books will really enjoy this novel. If you have not discovered Thirkell yet this story would be a good place to start, but a warning, you may become addicted…

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