It is the late forties, and Thirkell carries on the story of Barsetshire through her usual themes: families, friends, allies and mild enemies. It is rooted in the countryside, the houses, cottages and great buildings of the town and county. The memories of at least one war runs through conversations and thoughts as people consider the thankfully few losses of loved ones. Families are nonetheless changed, as traditions are upset and houses are no longer remain in the same ownership. New relationships can now be considered as some of the old rules are relaxed. An individual’s wealth is now important as well as their family, and some interesting relationships are created, not least between the new man of money, Sam Adams, and Lucy Marling from an old established but impoverished family. As the local church hierarchy is mentioned, the Bishop’s Palace is gently upset by the restoration of a bell allegedly used by fish asking for food by some mischievous children. This novel, in common with all of the other Barsetshire books, has a gentle reminder of the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope, and the character names of his more famous families. Though not one of my favourite wartime novels, this book succeeds in carrying the story forward into a brave new postwar world, even though it is not universally welcomed.
This is a book where many stories and themes move throughout. Apart from the younger Lucy who discovers love and purpose through her marriage to Mr Adams, there is the mysterious Isabel whose sense of duty to her ailing mother means that even her dependability as a secretary and help must be second in her priorities. Political issues and the near universally deplored Labour government are seen as the reason for reduction in income, but finance is needed to stand as a Member of Parliament, which the older established families do not have. Sorrow is expressed at the departure of the local Vicar, as his replacement will have a different attitude to the local families. Inheritance is still an issue, with depleted lands and daughters of even wealthy households determined to work amidst the farm animals.
Lady Agnes is still vague and concerned with clothes and seemingly unaware of reality, but is always saved by her undoubted affectionate generosity. Those who were children in previous volumes are now grown up and causing their own waves in the traditional community, even if the weak and lovelorn Oliver Marling is still upsetting people. Another young man who is being condemned by many is Francis Brandon whose continued presence in his mother’s home together with his wife and children is seen as a deplorable situation. Lady Cora is a duke’s daughter with a sad past of lost loves in the recent war, but with a lot of drive in every respect. Her independence and determination to keep her family home going seems an old fashioned sort of quest, but the reader is left in no doubt that if anyone can save the farm and ancestral home it will be her. That she feels that there is no chance of finding love for herself is a sad note in a book that is full of romances at many ages.
This later book is sometimes confusing because of similar names such as Belton and Brandon, children and young people whose ages are not always consistent with what has occurred in previous novels, and place names which are not always clear. Thirkell herself admitted that she struggled with consistency in her later books, and it is only relatively recently that her devotees have tried to sort out maps and other questions. This is an excellent book, as comforting as any of her earlier writing, and I recommend it as a lovely read to anyone who enjoys complicated family and community stories.
It is a while since I have posted a review of Angela Thirkell’s books, but I am still trying to cover all of her Barsetshire novels. If you wish to find my earlier posts, just look under her name above on the right. I have lost count how many there are! I am trying to fill in the gaps.