Love among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell; Barsetshire with all its characters in full detail.

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This 1948 novel is a late, and relatively difficult to get hold of, entry into the Barsetshire series. Covering a reasonably large number of characters introduced in previous novels, it is perhaps not the place to start with Thirkell’s books, but would work out of sequence, which is the way I have read it first time round. Having read the vast majority of Thirkell’s books at least once, I recognised most of the characters, even if they did cause me some confusion at times. Fortunately, even if the names are sometimes a little too similar, (Lucy and Lydia, Brandons and Beltons) Thirkell was such an able and experienced writer that she makes her characters real individuals, with quirks both attractive and difficult. That is one of the most fascinating skills that Thirkell had, and she exploited to the full even in her less popular books; her characters are annoying, exasperating, and sometimes tiresome. They are not always young, beautiful and attractive; they are perhaps older, negative about many things, and tough to like. They are always memorable, different from each other, though some may share some characteristics (Mr. Middleton’s monologues compared with George Knox’s, anyone?).

This book shows those who have survived the problems of the Second World War, mainly on the Home Front, in various situations. Some lives have changed forever, whereas others have largely continued in a similar way, though perhaps with sad losses. A school has been established in one of the big houses, and the usual complicated links between the staff, parents and the general naughtiness of the children is fully described. The great sadness of Freddy Belton seems to be hampering his relationships with other women; his mother watches on with sadness as more than one women, or girl, is showing an interest. Lady Graham is an older woman still gathering attention from impressionable young men, even if Richard Tebben is more interested in a new love. Jessica Dean is still artistically ensnaring one and all, but her sister Susan is discovering that a new love is disturbingly powerful.  A less important character, Mrs Updike, is still having minor accidents, while the servants and gardeners often know exactly what is going on and wield the real power. The distinction between children and adolescents is a grey one; while Clarissa tries to be mature, the Leslie boys are still climbing buildings. At least two aristocratic men are being saved from undue pressure by their noble and able wives, while Miss Merriman hides her secret feelings under the pressures of looking after lovely Lady Emily and her portable property, especially at her birthday celebrations. Will this book, as so many of the Barsetshire novels, end with an engagement, or will there merely be stirrings of affection between those who have given upon marriage?

There is therefore much for Thirkell fans to enjoy in this novel, as people carry on being themselves under a warm sun, friendships changed by war remerge, and even the lively David Leslie seems tamed by marriage and fatherhood. Many of the favourite characters are present; while there is no great drama this is still a comforting slice of mainly rural life of immediate postwar Britain. Class and politics are still discussed, but only as it affects life and supplies. There are passing references to the standard foreign characters, and there is still a servant class, perhaps including the huge family of Ed the mechanic. This may be upsetting to some, but it is probably an authentic view of how certain people reacted to the daily difficulties of life. As always, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat longer book, and recommend it if you can get sight of a copy.

I am actually fortunate enough to have two copies of this book, one a first edition found at the Astley Book Barn. I have discovered that the most unlikely places sometimes hide wonderful books, but they need some tracking down (and to be resistant to dust and cobwebs). I’m still fighting with that big university essay, but I have some wonderful books to read so it is a tough life. Meanwhile, the tortoises are home but the kittens are coming….Here is hoping that Selwyn the Vicarage cat will not attempt to lead an escape attempt again!


9 thoughts on “Love among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell; Barsetshire with all its characters in full detail.

    1. It’s quite rare, isn’t it? I am still blowing the dust off one I found a week or so ago by nearly falling off my chair reaching one (all Thirkell’s are either on the top or very bottom shelf)

  1. I own a complete but very mismatched set (I just alphabetized to make sure I owned a copy of this one which I don’t remember – I do – and found I have duplicates of Love at All Ages and August Folly. I need to do a reread in order. I don’t remember them very well but definitely had favorite and unfavorite characters.

  2. Oh, a reread in order would be fun! I started to read Thirkell in the order I found them, either at the library (Ordering them to the branch) or finding them in secondhand shops or Oxfam online. I also bought them as Virago brought them out in their rather nice paperbacks. One way and another I have read nearly all of them at least once, but in a very haphazard way. Hence my reviews all being on this blog, but not in order. My ambition is to read at least one a month and review it; I think I have some more to do!

  3. I enjoy this one: it gets off at a brisk canter – ‘a very large and unmitigatedly hideous house …the blight of peace descended …as his professional life was spent at sea he naturally counted every moment of leave wasted that was not spent at a very uncomfortable angle in a small sailing boat, or cooking sausages and coffee on an oil stove with waves bursting over it.’ We drink it all in (not the sea-water) and relax confident in the knowledge that a number of nice things will happen to the various characters. There is even a hint of plot in the misunderstanding between Susan Dean and Freddy Belton. As for the names being similar, Jules, I once listed the number of actual duplicates there are in the novels (I know, I know – but it was for our Journal) – and it is exactly like real life! Having two Ludovics was a genuine oversight that had to be rationalised after the event, I believe, but the rest must be deliberate. And the infuriatingness of little boys comes, you can tell, from experience.
    Philip: ‘You know you are not allowed in the kitchen garden,’
    ‘Kitchen garden, sir?’ said Dean, turning upon him a face blank of all expression except regret that the headmaster appeared to be losing his wits. ‘Yes, kitchen garden.’
    ‘Oh, the kitchen garden, sir,’ said Dean as though a great light had burst upon him. ‘I wasn’t exactly in the kitchen garden, sir, but I was just looking in to see it and then there was a hedgehog in the net, so I thought I ought to take it out.’

    1. What lovely quotes! Yes, minimal plot in this one, but still a lot of interest and development for many characters. Even though I have one biography of AT that I read a while ago, I must admit I wonder what notes, family trees and maps she worked from while writing the later books. I have seen some recreated by fans, but the interlinks must be truly awe inspiring. Those boys!

  4. I think the answer is she didn’t even think of it until a nice lady tactfully wrote in after County Chronicle (ie a couple of titles later than this one) and said had she intended to have a couple expecting a baby before they were married. Also there were other errors … So Thirkell began posting her MSS to this Mrs Bird who as well as typing them out checked them for obvious bloopers. Even so, the alert reader (not me) can spot some characters’ ages not moving on as fast as others. I just don’t care!

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