This postwar Thirkell novel, as ever featuring the inhabitants of Barsetshire, revels in its interconnectedness. Though it could be read as a standalone, mainly concerning the Grantly family, a vicarage family shown in that difficult period immediately after the Second World War, the surrounding characters and the character of the eponymous House are so interconnected with the previous seventeen novels that it will be better appreciated as part of that long series. Grantlys, Marlings, Leslies, and Adams to name but a few families all have their contribution to make in this 1949 novel. While not the most easy to acquire book by Angela Thirkell, this is a novel of country life and people that will be enjoyed by long standing fans of the series, and provide gentle treats for the newer reader.
The story opens in Edgewood Rectory, set in its ancient landscape, but with a family of the time. Mrs Grantly has some vague notions, but loves her brood of four children who have all grown up with the challenges presented by war. Tom, a major in the Army who has returned to Oxford at his demobilisation, is feeling the confusion of a soon to be older graduate about what he can do with his considerable life experience. Eleanor has found a job well known to readers of Barsetshire, in the Red Cross library, but yearns to find a different employment with a family who will come to seem fond of her. Henry is annoyingly and ceaselessly looking for his call up papers for the peacetime army. Grace is at the annoying stage, literally latching onto various individuals. The Rector, Mr Grantly, is bewildered by his family, but accompanies his wife to see the elderly Miss Sowerby who is regretfully leaving the Old Bank House, an ancient and sympathetically described dwelling which has been bought by the blustering but good hearted Mr Adams. Much comedy ensues around a rare plant, taken care of by a boy in the kitchen away from those who would seek its seeds. This is a book in which romance is found, a gentle departure occurs, and some confusion over resulting employment all contributes to a satisfying end. There is the usual element of kindly farce as misunderstandings and personalities combine to work out in the end. With some splendid set pieces concerning a handsome bull, a well, and some interesting children, this is a delightful book dealing with characters who have become like friends to the long term reader.
While this is not one of the most significant books in the Barsetshire series, it does resolve the difficulties of several characters, even if the ages and generations involved are beginning to get a little hazy. This book represents the post war rationing, and the decline of some of the families who once lived in the large houses they now inhabit part of while still having many civic duties. There are still the class concerns of servants who are unmarried yet mother to several, there are still days in which the Nurses bring up children in nurseries. A man who owns factories and successful businesses can still struggle with social conventions, while a matriarch wonders aloud how to say thank you to American friends who still send food parcels. This is a book for those who know something of Barsetshire, but also those who are beginning to discover its joys. If you are able to locate this gentle, humourous book, I recommend it as a good read, wallowing in its perpetual summer.
As the clocks go back, I believe I managed to squeeze an extra hour of reading in, which was fortunate as have a lot of books to finish and posts to write. Last night was a Variety concert in the church Hall – I read an extract from “Bed Among the Lentils”, one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues. This one features a Vicar’s Wife with alcohol problems….It all went very well, and there was some lovely music played. Meanwhile the temperature has definitely dropped here, and it is dark. More than time to read many books!