Landscape in Sunlight by Elizabeth Fair – a Furrowed Middlebrow slice of 1950s British life

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Village fetes, cars stuck in country lanes, eccentric retired artists; so much in this book suggests a harmless book of country memories, shaped into novel form. To a certain extent that is true, but this is more. The characters that make up a community are fascinating, with all their foibles and faults, but this is a writer who goes beyond a surface description, these are real people whose effect on others they realise, and the setting which is just very funny. Elizabeth Fair produced a novel full of characters that would have been familiar in 1953, when this novel was first published, and now it has been reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow, and I am very grateful for this review copy. These characters remind us of people we may meet now; dreamy impractical academics, determined people realising they must wait for others, the spoilt and the pretentious. Fair handles them all well, setting them in situations which test them, but also allow them the small victories that make up life in anything but tragic circumstances.

“Landscape in Summer” begins as plans begin to evolve for the annual fete in aid of church funds. This is of great concern to Amy Custance, always called Mrs Custance, wife of the abstracted Vicar who spends more time thinking about the ancient Greeks than his family or parishioners. Their daughter, Cassandra, is governess to Leonard, youngest child of the Templer household, an interesting combination of adults with their own agenda, and two preoccupied teenagers, Lily and Felix. Eustace is a vastly eccentric but actually good natured   retired artist, whose obsessions include mythical scorpions and getting rid of his tenants, Mrs. Midge and her difficult son, Lukin. He is keen to get his hands on the cottage so that his brother Henry will move out, before his morose view of life and passion for his car proves too much to bear. Miss Templer is artistic and delightfully vague, while Lily is trying to save Lukin from his severe introspection. All these characters clash over daily life and their ambitions, but there are mild disagreements over fallen fences and tennis matches rather than deeply wounded feelings. Genuine emotions are felt and indeed examined by Cassandra and George, as the latter’s father Sir James is alternately generous and helpless in the face of those around him, including his own servants. George and Cassandra spend the novel trying to sort out those around them, while trying to discover the truth about their own feelings.

As with Angela Thirkell’s novels, this is not a hysterically funny book, but full of slyly amusing scenes where the incidents of daily village life take on importance. Cricketing whites hang out of windows, beloved cars get stuck in fords, and no one quite dares to tell anyone what they really thing. There is romance, but also friendships, lively young women and strange young men, and a repair man who rarely finishes anything. This is gentle English humour, comforting and non challenging. Today we may condemn the class attitudes and the servant problems, but acknowledge that we are quietly attracted to a way of life with such people. Perhaps not great literature, but an undeniably enjoyable novel, comforting and funny in its descriptions of life which has mostly disappeared but with people who still exist.

This is a very suitable book for this lengthy period of sunny and dry weather, with dry fields and burnt verges.  We have just returned from Norfolk,m which was very dry and sunny. We had some good visits, including to “Norfolk Lavender”, a place with fields full of hardy lavender and where they distill oil for many uses. Many purple things were bought….

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4 thoughts on “Landscape in Sunlight by Elizabeth Fair – a Furrowed Middlebrow slice of 1950s British life

  1. I’ve really enjoyed the Elizabeth Fair novels I’ve read so far, and look forward to picking this up in the future. It sounds like a perfect summer read. Lovely review!

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