Barsetshire is recovering from the War in this 1951 novel in the series which delves into the lives of the gentry and minor aristocracy of a mythical English county. For those familiar with the books of Angela Thirkell, this late volume in the set of books featuring a number of families, friends and complicated connections is a welcome round up to many characters’ stories. However, those who are new to the books or have picked up this particular episode will be able to enjoy it for its own merits. I think that it is particularly strong on certain characters’ narrative; certainly Thirkell takes the opportunity to find and develop certain romances that have featured in past books, if only by hints and suggestions. The Duke’s Daughter of the title is Lady Cora, a naturally beautiful and capable young woman who has had to come to terms with her family’s relative poverty: as with several families in the area staying in the large ancestral home is difficult if not impossible, several individuals realise that theirs is the last generation to live in the large house. Moreover, some adult children are discovering that the single life is no longer enough.
The recent War has left its mark on the area. Clothes, houses and gardens are shabby, petrol is still restricted and food is not plentiful in many homes. Despite this, events like the Archeological meeting still draws in the crowds of people having the same conversations as the previous years with the same people. There is much here about a boys’ school run by Phillip and Leslie, the latter being a war widow who has married the Headmaster. Cora herself has had sad losses; a brother and male friends who were possibly very special to her. There is Tom Grantly, whose war was testing and who has found difficulty in settling after returning from University, his time working with Martin and Emmy on one of the estates was abandoned as he moved onto a government job. His hatred of Geoffrey Harvey who is generally unpopular means that Tom is having a hard time, and is struggling with other aspects of his life. Cecil Waring has returned from War to his inheritance of a large house and much else. Clarissa is still missing her beloved grandmother Lady Emily, and is going through a difficult stage. Oliver Marling still admires Jessica Dean, and it is in this book that he discovers there may be other possibilities.
Anthony Trollope readers will notice names from his Barsetshire books of the families which still pop up in these books. This is a wonderful collection of people and their stories as they move together and apart, discover new things about each other and their homes, choose their jobs and occupations, cope with the daily challenges of lives on the land and in some of the schools and businesses. There are children and babies, new generations to discover. I really enjoyed this book, if only because towards the end there is an accounting for many characters. Some issues are resolved after several books, while there are references to characters who do not appear in this volume who have been important before or will be again. I think this book is a good accounting of the fates of many, while cleverly leaving other strands and characters still to be dealt with in later books. I believe this book can be read out of order and still enjoyed, but also works well as places and people are referred to that will please those who have encountered the other books, as even quite minor characters get their moments. It may be a more difficult to obtain book, but would repay the effort handsomely if copies can be tracked down.
The above review is the latest in a series of reviews of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels. I still have about ten to review I believe, so it will keep me going for a while! If you wish to seethe others, just tap on Thirkell’s name in the Categories column. I am still aiming for a review a day over the foreseeable future, though there will be some very different books from the above, I hope to suggest some lighter reads (or at least newer books).