ANGELA THIRKELL’S WORLD – and the times she wrote about
Angela Thirkell’s fiction is intensely personal, finely observed from the people and society around her. The books on this list are associated with Angela Thirkell’s world, many of them recommended by Angela Thirkell Society subscribers as of interest to other readers.
Angela Thirkell borrowed widely from her family and friends and, on occasion, caused actual offense when her characterizations were unmistakably people she had met. Information about Angela Thirkell and her immediate circle can be found on the “About Angela Thirkell” tab in the menu bar, with critical and other works about her books and herself listed on the Secondary Sources page, via the “Odds and Ends” dropdown menu.
Novel writing continued to be prolific during the war years, with around 1,000 new titles each year. Women’s writing, however, was often disparaged as unimportant or domestic. This, in combination with short print runs and unattractive and rather flimsy, if economical, editions, means that many novels of the time quickly disappeared. Publishers such as Persephone Books, Dean Street Press, Handheld Books, Virago Modern Classics, and Slightly Foxed are doing excellent work in republishing books by twentieth-century women writers. Their websites are worth checking regularly as they add new titles to their lists. Most of the following books, however, can be found without difficulty.
All the following books are in print or at least have several editions easily available.
ALLINGHAM, Margery: The Oaken Heart (Golden Duck (UK) Ltd 2011)
ASQUITH, Lady Cynthia: Diaries 1915 – 1918 (Hutchinson 1968)
BENSON, E F: Mapp and Lucia series (collected edition e-artnow 2020) humorous stories of British upper-middle-class life in the 1920s and 1930s
BRITTAIN, Vera: Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925 (Virago Classic 2004); England’s Hour: An Autobiography 1939-1941 (Continuum 2005);Testament of Experience: An Autobiographical Story of the Years 1925-1950 (Macmillan Co 1957)
BROKAW, Tom: The Greatest Generation (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group 2001) profiles of US military heroes and ordinary Americans who served their country in WW2 and their lives after
CHESTERTON, G K: The Everlasting Man (First published 1925 with later independently published editions)
MARTIN, Ralph G: Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill Volumes 1 & 2 (Prentice Hall 1969)
CHURCHILL, Winston: Memoirs of the Second World War (abridged single volume Houghton Mifflin 1991)
CHRISTIE, Agatha: Come Tell Me How You Live (Harper Collins 2015) the author’s archaeological expeditions during the 1930s
CLOUD, Stanley and OLSON, Lynn: A Question of Honor (Alfred A Knopf 2003) the story of refugee Polish pilots who joined the RAF
COLVILLE, John: The Fringes of Power (revised reprint Phoenix 2005) diaries of a Downing Street private secretary 1939-1955
CONWAY, Jill Ker: The Road from Coorain (William Heinemann Ltd 1989) author’s childhood in the Australian outback during the 1940s and 50s
DAKERS, Caroline: Clouds: The Biography of A Country House (Yale University Press 1993) Clouds was home to the Wyndhams, friends of Edward and Georgiana Burne-Jones
DELAFIELD, E M: The “Provincial Lady” series (collected edition Read & Co Classics 2020)
DENNYS, Joyce: Henrietta’s War: News From The Homefront 1934-1942 (HarperCollins Distribution Services 1985); Henrietta Sees it Through: More News from the Home Front, 1942-45 (HarperCollins Distribution 1986)
FAIRBROTHER, Nan: Children in the House (The Hogarth Press 1954) living in Buckinghamshire during WW2 while her husband served with the RAF
FAVIELL, Frances: A Chelsea Concerto (Dean Street Press 2016) the author’s wartime memoir
FERGUSON, Rachel: Passionate Kensington (Jonathan Cape 1939), and Royal Borough (Jonathan Cape 1950) the author’s reminiscences of life in Kensington before, during and after WW2
FITZGERALD, Penelope: The Knox Brothers (Fourth Estate 2013)
FITZPATRICK, Sir Percy: Jock of the Bushveld (CreateSpace Independent Publishing 2015) story of a dog set in the Bushveld of South Africa’s gold mining era
FOREMAN, Michael: Memories of Childhood: War Boy and After The War Was Over (Pavilion Books Ltd 2000) author’s childhood in Suffolk during WW2
FRASER, Antonia: The Lives Of The Kings and Queens of England (Weidenfeld Nicolson, London revised 1998)
FRASER, Flora: Maud: The Illustrated Diary of a Victorian Woman (Chronicle Books 1989)
GARNETT, David: The Golden Echo (Volume 1 Chatto & Windus 1953; Vol 2 Chatto & Windus 1955; Vol 3 Chatto & Windus 1963)
GODDEN, Rumer: A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep; A House With Four Rooms (autobiographies)
GRAVES, Robert and Hodge, Alan: The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939
HALL, Anne: Angela Thirkell: A Writer’s Life (Unicorn 2021)
HANFF, Helene: 84, Charing Cross Road (correspondence between a New York writer and a London antiquarian bookseller from 1949 to 1969)
HODGSON, Vere: Few Eggs and No Oranges: A diary showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-1945 (Dennis Dobson 1976)
HUGHES, Molly: A London Family Between Wars (Oxford University Press USA 1979) a sequel to Hughes’ autobiographical trilogy, A London Child of the 1870s
KEITH, Agnes Newton: Three Came Home (Opus Publications 2008) memories of a Japanese POW camp in Borneo during WW2
KINROSS, Lord: The Ottoman Empire (The Folio Society 2003)
LAMBERT, Angela: 1939: The Last Season of Peace (Bloomsbury Reader 2012) an account of the last of the London Seasons before the outbreak of WW2
LAMBERT, Angela: Unquiet Souls (Macmillan 1984) a social history of the group of Edwardian British aristocrats known as “the Souls”
LAST, Nella: Nella Last’s War (Profile Books 2006); Nella Last’s Peace (Profile Books 2009) (extracts from the diaries of a housewife, kept as part of the UK’s Mass Observation project
LEWIS, C S: The Great Divorce (Collins 2012)
LOVELL, Mary S: The Sisters: (W. W. Norton & Co 2002) the saga of the Mitford family
MASSIE, Robert: Nicholas and Alexandra (Random House 1967) the last Tsar of Russia and his family
MERTON, Thomas: The journals of Thomas Merton (HarperSanFrancisco 1995) the diaries of a Trappist monk, from 1939 to 1968
MILNER, Lady Violet: My Picture Gallery 1886-1901 (J. Murray, 1951)
MITFORD, Jessica: Daughters and Rebels (autobiography) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2016)
MORRIS, Jan: Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire (part two of the Pax Britannica Trilogy) (Faber & Faber 2010)
MOSLEY, Charlotte: The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters (Fourth Estate 2007)
MURPHY, Charles J. V. & BRYAN III, J: The Windsor Story (William Morrow 1979) biography of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, written by two journalists who worked with the couple
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY: This England (published in 1966 and unrevised since)
NEWBY, Eric: Something Wholesale: My Life in the Rag Trade (Secker & Warburg 1962)
NICHOLS, Beverly: Down The Garden Path (an account of the creation of a garden in Huntingdonshire in the 1930s, and part of the “Allways Trilogy”)
NICOLSON, Nigel: Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001)
PANTER-DOWNES, Mollie: One Fine Day (Virago 1985); Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes (Persephone 2008); non-fiction London War Notes 1939-1945 (Persephone 2015)
PECK, Winifred: House-Bound (Persephone 2007); Bewildering Cares (Dean Street Press 2016)
PLAYFAIR, Jocelyn: A House in the Country (Persephone Books 2002) 1944 novel about living in the country during WW2
RAVERAT, Gwen: Period Piece (Faber & Faber 2018) a childhood in Cambridge, written by Charles Darwin’s granddaughter
ROYDE SMITH, Naomi: Outside Information: Being a diary of rumours collected during the months of September and October 1940 (Macmillan & Co 1941)
SHUTE, Neville: A Town Like Alice (Vintage Classics 2009)
STRICKLAND, Margot: Angela Thirkell: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 1977)
TODD, Pamela: Pre-Raphaelites at Home (Pavilion Books 2003)
TORR, Cecil: Small Talk at Wreyland (first published 1918, rural and social history through a family archive)
TOWNSEND WARNER, Sylvia: English Climate: Wartime Stories (Persephone 2020)
TUCHMAN, Barbara, Proud Tower (Random House 1996) non-fiction, exploring the 25 years before the outbreak of WW1
TWEEDSMUIR, Susan: The Edwardian Lady (Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 1966)
WOOLF, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own (Penguin Classics 2014) Woolf’s powerful feminist essay
YATES, Dornford: As Berry and I Were Saying (House of Stratus new edition 2008) semi-autobiographical humorous novel about hazardous experiences in France, at the end of WW2
ZIEGLER, Philip: London at War 1939-1945 (Alfred A Knopf Inc 1995)
(Book list originally compiled by Carol Haskell)
ANGELA THIRKELL’S FAMILY, FRIENDS
The Internet has many easy-to-find links; most of the people referred to have Wikipedia sites. The links provided below are either not so easy to find or link to a more literary site.
For works about Angela Thirkell and her writing, please see Secondary Sources.
See her Sargent Portrait by John Singer Sargent, and more of his work at the John Singer Sargent site.
Comparisons to other writers:
Trollope is her own spiritual antecedent. See The Trollope Society.
She is often compared to Dickens and uses Dickens references liberally in her novels. See The Dickens Fellowship
And, of course, Jane Austen. See The Jane Austen Society
Another close associate of Angela Thirkell was John Buchan. See The John Buchan Society
SIR EDWARD BURNE-JONES – Angela Thirkell’s grandfather
Several books are recommended for those who are interested in his life and works, but there are many more.
The Last Pre-Raphaelite, Fiona MacCarthy (Faber & Faber, 2011)
Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Stephen Wildman and John Christian (Thames & Hudson Ltd 1998)
Burne-Jones, The Life and Work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1833-1898, Christopher Wood (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998)
Edward Burne-Jones, Penelope Fitzgerald (Fourth Estate 2014)
Some interesting facts:
- Burne-Jones was a major influence on Picasso.
- He was the inspiration behind Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience.”
- A quote from Angela Thirkell’s Three Houses (Part One): “There can have been few granddaughters who were so systematically spoiled as I was and it is a legend that the only serious difference of opinion which ever arose between Gladstone and Burne-Jones was as to which of them spoiled an adored grandchild the more.”
JOHN WILLIAM MACKAIL – Angela Thirkell’s father
He was Oxford Professor of Poetry (1906–11) and a civil servant in the Education Department of the Privy Council (later the Board of Education). His books include works on Virgil; the Latin poets; the Icelandic sagas; Shakespeare; and Jesus. A close friend of William Morris, he wrote the official biography: The Life of William Morris (Wentworth Press 2019
DENIS GEORGE MACKAIL – Angela Thirkell’s younger brother
A prolific writer of light popular fiction between 1920 and 1949. Most of his books are now out of print, but copies can be found.
Life With Topsy (Heinemann 1942) reminiscences of the years 1927-1939
Where Am I? (Hutchinson & Co 1948)
Greenery Street (Reprinted Persephone Books 2002)
CLARE MACKAIL – Angela and Denis’s younger sister
Not a writer or an artist, Clare’s life has been the subject of a short but fascinating biography.
Barely Clare – The Little-Known Life of Clare Mackail, Tim McGee (Independently published 2020)
GRAHAM CAMPBELL McINNES
Angela Thirkell’s eldest son, Graham McInnes, her first child with her first husband, James Campbell McInnes, was an author, journalist, broadcaster and diplomat who lived most of his adult life in Canada. Of his mother, Graham explained to his friend, the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies: ‘In spite of everything, I loved her. I couldn’t help it, though she was so awful!’ He wrote three autobiographical books about his life in Australia and Canada.
The Road to Gundagai (Hamish Hamilton 1965)
Humping my Bluey (Hamish Hamilton 1966)
Finding a Father (Hamish Hamilton 1967)
Goodbye Melbourne Town (Hamish Hamilton 1968)
Angela Thirkell’s son, Colin MacInnes, studied art, worked in the British Intelligence Corps during WW2, and was also a writer. Details in The Colin MacInnes Papers provide a list of his papers that have been contributed to the University of Rochester; it also provides a brief biography. One item in the list of the contents is: “In everything she is and does, Remarkable.” Information about Colin MacInnes is available from a variety of sources. Anthony Burgess thought he was a significant author, including Colin in his 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939.
Absolute Beginners (Allison & Busby Classics 2011)
Mr Love and Justice (Allison & Busby Classics 2012)
City of Spades (Allison & Busby Classics 2012)
These books, collectively known as MacInnes’s London Trilogy, are reviewed by Devin McKinney, “The Flesh Failures,” Believer 32 (March 19, 2006). Dennis Potter, a British journalist, wrote a review of the movie version of “Absolute Beginners” (with David Bowie in cast) for the Daily Herald in August of 1961.
GOULD, Tony: Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (Chatto 1983)
“Two Letters from Colin MacInnes to Angela Thirkell,” ATS North American Branch, 2001.
LANCELOT GEORGE (LANCE) THIRKELL
Lance Thirkell published several works that were intended to improve his mother’s reputation as a mother.
Baby, Mother and Grandmother. Published privately, 1982.
Assassination of an Authoress, or, How the Critics Took My Mother to the Laundry. Privately printed, Text of a talk, December 11, 1983.
Melbourne and London: A Childhood Memoir. London: Angela Thirkell Society (UK), 2000.
And a novel, A Garden Full of Weeds (Hamish Hamilton 1962)
THE MACDONALD SISTERS – GEORGIANA, ALICE, AGNES, AND LOUISA
Georgiana Macdonald was the wife of Edward Burne-Jones; they were the parents of Margaret and Philip, and the grandmother of Angela Mackail (Thirkell). Georgiana’s life, and that of three of her sisters, are usually tied together as they all married, or gave birth to, powerful, well-known men of the day.
TAYLOR, Ina, Victorian Sisters: The Remarkable Macdonald Women
FLANDERS, Judith: A Circle of Sisters
BALDWIN, A W: The Macdonald Sisters
Rudyard Kipling was the son of Alice Macdonald (one of the “remarkable Macdonald women”) and her husband John Lockwood Kipling.
Multiple biographies of Rudyard Kipling are complemented by:
GILMOUR, David: The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (John Murray 2002)
KIPLING, Rudyard: Something of Myself: The Autobiography of Rudyard Kipling (Macmillan & Co 1937)
NICOLSON, Adam: The Hated Wife: Carrie Kipling 1862-1939 (Short Books 2001)
SMITH, Michael: Rudyard Kipling, The Rottingdean Years (Brownleaf 1989)
Rudyard’s sister Alice Macdonald Kipling (later Fleming) was also a writer, sometimes publishing under the name of Beatrice Kipling, and was known by the family as Trix.
LEE, Lorna: Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister (Hawthorns Publications 2003)
Louisa Macdonald married the industrialist Alfred Baldwin, in a double wedding with her sister Agnes (who married the artist Edward Poynter). Alfred and Louisa were the parents of Stanley Baldwin, who was three times prime minister of the U.K. Louisa wrote short stories, poetry, and novels, including A Martyr to Mammon and The Story of a Marriage, sometimes under the name of Mrs Alfred Baldwin.
Stanley Baldwin’s great-niece, Monica Baldwin, joined an enclosed religious order of Augustinian canonesses in 1914, but eventually left. Monica’s memoir, I Leap Over The Wall: A Return to the World after Twenty-eight Years in a Convent, was published in 1949, reprinted by Robert Hale in 2015.
Agnes Macdonald married Edward Poynter, later Sir Edward Poynter 1st Baronet, a painter and designer, and President of London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Edward Poynter’s written works include Ten Lectures on Art (London: Chapman and Hall, 1880), German, Flemish and Dutch Painting (Scribner and Welford 1881 co-author), and Classic and Italian Painting (London: Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington 1890 co-author). Some examples of his work can be seen online at The Tate Gallery and The Met websites.
J. M. BARRIE
Barrie was Angela Thirkell’s godfather, and he provided the funds to allow Angela to return to England after the failure of her marriage to George Thirkell. Famous mainly for his creation of Peter Pan, he wrote many other successful novels and plays.
Herbert Henry Asquith was the Prime Minister at the time of Angela’s first marriage in 1911. His second son, Herbert Asquith, married the writer and anthologist Cynthia Charteris, who was secretary to J M Barrie between 1918 and 1937.
George Eliot was her grandmother’s friend. Virginia Woolf’s essay about George Eliot was first published in The Times Literary Supplement, 20th November 1919 and is available in volume one of her collection The Common Reader, republished in 2003 by Vintage Classics.
The Countess of Wemyss was the model for Lady Emily Leslie. Their family had a huge collection of masterpieces, one of which was donated to the National Gallery. Read a little about them and the painting at The Annunciation and A Procurator of Saint Mark’s.
Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a friend of Angela’s second husband, George Lancelot Thirkell, when he was convalescing in Scotland.