Johnny Pate wrote these summaries in a highly individual and charming manner for his own enjoyment but he kindly agreed to allow the Society to post them on our website for everyone’s benefit.
There are spoilers!
High Rising. In this book, as in most of AT’s first six or seven books, the cast of characters is still manageable in size and the stories are not filled with digressions, as are the later ones. This book introduces one of the two or three characters that probably most closely reveal Thirkell’s representation of herself – Laura Morland, a widow with four sons, including the endearing but irritating Tony. In this book his one-track mind is obsessed with model trains. There are the usually mildly romantic complications – Laura receives a proposal from her publisher Adrian Coates (although he really loves Sibyl Knox, daughter of neighbor George Knox.) Dr. Ford is fond of Laura’s part-time secretary Anne Todd, who is saddled with her dotty and ailing mother. The major plot complication is caused by neurotic but attractive Una Grey, George Knox’s secretary, who is out to marry her employer. George’s friends recognize Una as the jealousy-ridden, fiery-tempered harridan that she is, and rescue him from her wiles with the help of the Birketts of Southbridge School. Thirkell uses the relations between her characters as a vehicle with which to express her opinions, comic scenes, observations on life and human nature, and character insights. The action takes place in the little villages of High Rising and Low Rising, where not much really happens. Adrian wins Sibyl, and George wins Anne. Not her best, but a good beginning that leads to better things!
Wild Strawberries. Introduces the Leslie family, some of the most important characters in the novels. Mary Preston, Lady Agnes (Leslie) Graham’s niece, is infatuated with David Leslie, who flirts with her in his thoughtless and self-centered way. Widowed John Leslie falls in love with Mary but is discouraged by a remark she makes about John Milton’s second marriage. A French family, the Boulles, have leased the vicarage for the summer. Some of the plot highlights: David and Martin show off while driving; a visit to Rushmere Abbey; a visit from the toadying and freeloading garden expert, Mr. Holt; David breaks his promise to bring Mary wild strawberries from London; Mary is jealous of Joan Stevenson of the BBC; a Sunday church service where Lady Emily tries to manage everything; the servants’ concert; Pierre Boulle’s “heroic rescue” of Emmy Graham from a shallow pool; Martin’s eventful 17th birthday party, including an abortive French Royalist demonstration. John wins Mary. Some of the most pleasant and memorable characters in any of Thirkell’s novels.
The Demon in the House. A group of short stories featuring the vain, egocentric, boastful schoolboy, Tony Morland. Includes visits with Tony’s schoolmate Robert Wesendonk (Donkey), George and Anne Knox, Stoker, Adrian and Sibyl Coates and their new baby Laura. Marvelously captures the persistent pestiferousness of small boys, as well as their complete insensitivity to the feelings of anyone else. Amusing, though one could often cheerfully murder Tony – makes one feel that Herod might have had the right idea!
Mrs. Morland and Son. Four brief stories (probably taken from magazines of the 1930’s.) Republished by the Angela Thirkell Society. Features Laura Morland and her youngest son Tony. Includes a trip to the Pantomime with George Knox, bicycle riding with the Gould girls, an ice-skating party, and some adventures related to electricity. A charming but all-too-brief visit to Barsetshire.
August Folly. Takes place in Worsted in East Barsetshire. Most of the plot centers around the rehearsing and production of Euripides’ Hippolytus, directed by Mrs. Palmer and involving the Deans, Tebbens, and many of the villagers. Highlights: Richard Tebben is infatuated with Rachel Dean, in addition to pouting about his poor showing at Oxford; Betty Dean, Oxford-bound, drives everyone crazy with her know-it-all attitude; Helen Dean is jealous of her favorite brother Laurence’s attentions to Margaret Tebben; Rachel Dean worries about her heart murmur; Charles Fanshawe fears he is too old for Helen Dean; Mrs. Tebben remembers her long-ago and never-expressed fondness for Mr. Fanshawe, who was her tutor; Jessica Dean is rescued from a bull by Richard Tebben. Richard gets a job with Mr. Dean, Laurence wins Margaret, Charles wins Helen. Outstanding light entertainment, ideal for reading on a shady porch on a hot afternoon in July with strawberry ice cream and tea – which is how I read it!
Summer Half. Young Colin Keith decides to become a schoolmaster at Southbridge for the summer half term in order to support himself, rather than follow his father into the law. This is the introduction to Southbridge School, which is prominent in many of AT’s novels. Highlights: Philip Winter is disastrously engaged to Rose Birkett; Everard Carter feels “love at first sight” for Kate Keith; the beginning of Noel Merton’s delighted friendship with boisterous Lydia Keith; scenes of life at prep school (cricket matches, chameleons, floods, tea parties, Matron); a rainy picnic on the river. Philip is rescued from Rose, Colin is rescued from schoolmastering, Everard wins Kate. No earth-shaking events, but a great book.
Pomfret Towers. Painfully shy Alice Barton must go to a house party at Pomfret Towers. Other participants are her brother Guy, Sally and Roddy Wicklow, and Hermione, Phoebe and Julian Rivers. Hosts are crotchety Old Lord Pomfret and the frail Lady Pomfret. Present also are Giles (Gillie) Foster, heir to the earldom, and Miss Merriman, Lady Pomfret’s secretary. Miss Merriman is fond of Gillie, but he falls in love with Sally Wicklow, whose strength gives him courage to face his heavy burden in the future. Highlights: Hermione tries to throw Phoebe at Gillie’s head; Sally helps with estate business and impresses Lord Pomfret; whose domineering ways hide a soft heart; Phoebe and Guy become engaged and unengaged; Roddy Wicklow protects and defends Alice from selfish Julian; Gillie rescues her from supercilious servants, and she finds she really enjoyed the party. Gillie wins Sally, Roddy wins Alice. Thirkell at her best; an excellent look at the pomp and ceremony of a pre-WWII house party given by a wealthy host.
The Brandons. Takes place in Pomfret Madrigal. Introduces Lavinia Brandon and her children Francis and Delia, their cousin Hilary Grant, and their tyrannical Aunt Sissie Brandon. Plot involves Aunt Sissie’s enjoyment of a lingering death, during which she taunts her relatives about who will inherit her considerable fortune. Highlights: Picnic at the Wishing Well (attended by Laura and Tony Morland); infatuation of both Hilary Grant and Mr. Miller (the vicar) with Mrs. Brandon, and their attempts to read aloud to her from their writings; the village fete at which Lydia Keith and Tony Morland ride the roundabout and Jimmy Thatcher collapses with appendicitis; the “prickly” reunion of Miss Morris (Aunt Sissie’s companion) with Mr. Miller, after many years of separation because of his theological differences with her father; a visit from Hilary’s annoying and embarrassing mother. Mr. Miller wins Miss Morris, Hilary wins Delia. A pleasant pre-war interlude.
Before Lunch. This was the first Thirkell book I read, having found it mistakenly placed among the mysteries in the bookstore. Here we return to East Barsetshire to meet John and Catherine Middleton, neighbors of the August Folly characters. Mr. Middleton’s widowed sister, Lillian Stonor, is visiting with her stepchildren Denis and Daphne. Highlights: Lord and Lady Bond organize resistance to Sir Ogilvy Hibberd’s plan to buy and develop Pooker’s Piece; Denis amuses the hen-pecked (by both his wife and the butler) Lord Bond by playing Gilbert and Sullivan for him; Mr. Middleton plays the country squire with exaggeration worthy of George Knox, and talks everyone’s ears off; a great meeting to decide how to protect Pooker’s Piece (at which nothing is accomplished); the Skeynes Agricultural Show; Daphne becomes engaged and unengaged to Alistair Cameron (who really loves Lillian Stonor); C.W. Bond wins Daphne, Alistair wins Lillian. This is probably the most serious and introspective of her books, and, while rating as one of the very best, is not entirely typical.
Cheerfulness Breaks In. This book is not quite up to the standard of the earlier ones, and may have been rushed into publication as the war broke out. It begins to show some of the weaknesses of the later novels, in that its number of characters is unmanageably large, and much of it consists of brief glimpses of people from previous books. Highlights: Rose Birkett’s wedding; the evacuation of the Hosiers’ Boys’ School from London to Southbridge; introduction of the Mixo-Lydian refugees the Brownscus; the Christmas treat for evacuee children; Geraldine Birkett’s infatuation with the dreadful Fritz Gissing; Noel Merton marries Lydia Keith just before leaving for the war, and at the end may be missing after Dunkirk. Other romances: Geraldine and Geoff Fairweather, Octavia Crawley and Tommy Needham. This book has some memorable scenes and is hardly less entertaining than earlier ones, but is simply too full of character and incident.
Northbridge Rectory. Almost of the same excellence as the earlier novels, and in spite of the plethora of characters it is the best of her “war” novels, giving the flavor of wartime England in a small village. The plot revolves around Mr. Villars, vicar of Northbridge, his wife, and several officers billeted on them. Other war workers include Miss Pemberton and Mr. Downing, Poppy Turner and her nieces, Miss Hopgood and Miss Crowder, Miss Hopgood’s aunt, and Father Tubby Fewling. Highlights: birdwatching expeditions; watching for paratroop assaults from the church tower; a dinner party interrupted by an air raid; a visit from the garrulous Mrs. Spender; a disquisition on the trials of the Christmas season; Miss Pemberton tries to hide poverty and poor health while keeping Mr. Downing under her thumb; Mr. Downing’s occasional mild rebellion; many vignettes of the English people coping with wartime conditions with cheerfulness and ingenuity. The plot is rather slender and is used mainly to hang assorted incidents upon. The cast of characters is numerous but manageable and the number of memorable eccentrics is large.
Marling Hall. Set in the quiet countryside in the middle of WWII. Centers around three of the Marling children: widowed Lettice living at home again with her 2 daughters; Lucy, hardworking mainstay of the farming operations; Oliver, kept out of the army by poor eyesight. Highlights: David Leslie flirts both with Lettice and with Frances Harvey, a transplanted London bureaucrat who tries to marry Oliver Marling; Lucy thinks she loves Capt. Tom Barclay but “gives him up” to her sister; Miss Bunting lives at Marling to help with the war committees, cuts David Leslie’s ego down to size; Geoffrey and Frances Harvey struggle with village life; a visit from the Harveys’ French former governess, no match for Miss Bunting. Tom wins Lettice. Not her best, but some excellent comic scenes, and an entertaining wartime narrative.
Growing Up. Set at Beliers Priory near the villages of Lambton, Worsted and Winter Overcotes. The Priory has been taken over for use as a convalescent hospital, and the owners, Sir Harry and Lady Harriet Waring, live in one wing. Their niece Leslie is staying with them to recover from a breakdown which happened after she was torpedoed and adrift at sea for several days. Noel and Lydia Merton are also there as paying guests. The primary theme of the book is the romance between Leslie Waring and Philip Winter, but as usual the book is entertaining for its view of everyday wartime English life. Highlights: The Warings settle difficulties caused by hospital patient Pvt. Jenks’ shooting Matron’s cat; Mrs. Morland gives a talk to the soldiers (one of the funniest scenes in all AT’s novels); Mr. Beedle copes with running his railroad station with female porters, and catches the thief who stole the “best depot” trophy from its display case; Lydia sees her beloved brother Colin off to the front; Leslie worries about her beloved brother Cecil, a naval officer; Selina Crockett is courted by Sgt. Hopkins (and Jasper Margett); Nanny Allen takes in Tommy Needham while he recuperates after losing an arm. Philip wins Leslie.
The Headmistress. Set in the village of Harefield. Centers around the Belton family, who have moved for financial reasons from their home at Harefield Park to Arcot House in the village. Also prominent is Madeleine Sparling, headmistress of the Hosiers’ Girls’ School which has leased the Park from the Beltons. This book introduces Sam Adams and his daughter Heather, a student at the school. Highlights: the cast of characters in the village and all their war work committees; Capt. Christopher Hornby comes to make arrangements about Arcot House, on which he holds the lease; Heather Adams falls into icy water and is rescued by Freddy Belton; many discussions and grumblings about rationing, Hitler, the BBC, the government, etc.; growing fondness of both Mr. Oriel the vicar and Mr. Carton for Miss Sparling; Elsa Belton and Christopher Hornby clear out the attic; Charles Belton comes home for embarkation leave. Christopher wins Elsa, Mr. Carton wins Miss Sparling (for the future – after her retirement.) Some memorable scenes and characters.
Miss Bunting. Set in the village of Hallbury. Jane Gresham lives with her father; her husband has been missing in the Far East for several years. The Fieldings have hired a house for their delicate daughter, Anne, to live in and be tutored by Miss Bunting. The vicar is the elderly Mr. Dale, whose son Robin lost a foot at Anzio and now runs a school for small boys. Highlights: the meeting of the Barsetshire Archaeological Society; Mr. Adams hires a place for his daughter to be tutored by Miss Holly, and befriends Jane Gresham (to her discomfort); Anne’s 17th birthday party; the Cottage Hospital Bring and Buy Sale; Miss Bunting’s recurring dream about Hitler finally comes to an end.
Peace Breaks Out. Centers around the Leslie family of Rushwater and the Halliday family of Hatch End. Also featured are Anne Fielding and Robin Dale. Highlights: scenes of village life with such characters as Scatcherd the artist; tea at the Deanery; parliamentary campaign between Sam Adams and Sir Robert Fielding; Sale of Work at the Palace followed by dinner at the Fieldings’; a house party at Rushwater. Martin wins Sylvia, Robin wins Anne, David is conquered by Rose Bingham. Close to the equal of those early books which I think are her best.
Private Enterprise. One of the longest, with some excellent high spots and scenes, but not maintaining that level throughout. Colin Keith has all his friends looking for a small house for pretty young widow Peggy Arbuthnot and her sister-in-law Effie. They settle at Editha Cottage, Wiple Terrace in Southbridge. Highlights: an afternoon when workers and visitors overflow the cottage; dinner parties at Stories and the Deanery; a change of Vicars in Southbridge; birdwatching enthusiasts unite; the Red Cross Bookbinding Fair; Noel Merton joins Peggy’s admirers, to Lydia’s quiet sorrow; performance of an Aubrey Clover play at the Red Cross Fete; Jessica Dean straightens out the men making fools of themselves over Peggy. Francis wins Peggy, Col. Crofts wins Effie, Noel becomes a K.C. and returns to normal, Colin loses both Peggy and Susan Dean.
Love Among the Ruins. A bit of romance and a considerable amount of satire on the failings of post-war English government. Surprising bitterness for this usually gentle author. Charles Belton is now a junior master at Philip Winter’s Priory School; Jessica Dean is much in evidence, with her suitor Oliver Marling. Highlights: dinner parties at the Deanery, the Beltons’ and the Deans’; a Red Cross Fete at Marling; dinner at the White Hart; Parents’ Day at Beliers Priory; family reunion at Rushwater; Conservative Rally and Barsetshire Pig-Breeders’ Agricultural at Staple Park, with a cameo appearance by Sir Winston Churchill. Freddy Belton wins Susan Dean, Charles Belton reaches an understanding with Clarissa Graham. Too filled with characters glimpsed in passing, very episodic, but with memorable scenes which are found even in the weakest of her novels. One also sees the author begin to make more frequent errors in characters’ names, ages, children and relationships, but these are minor irritations in a very entertaining novel.
The Old Bank House. The later books are primarily entertaining for those who have read the earlier ones, as there is a constant parade of characters and references to previous stories. This one centers around the village of Edgewood where the Grantly family lives. Sam Adams has bought the Old Bank House from Miss Sowerby, who is happy to see the house restored to its former beauty, but feels that it needs a mistress. Highlights: croquet at the Grantly rectory; Tom and Eleanor Grantly visit Pomfret Towers; a party to open the renovated Old Bank House; the death of Lady Emily Leslie; Percy Bodger cleans out the well at the Old Bank House; Lady Norton is foiled in her attempt to get seeds from Palafox borealis; a punting party on the river at Northbridge. Colin wins Eleanor, Sam Adams wins Lucy Marling.
County Chronicle. A melange of assorted characters and events with little unifying theme, but entertaining nonetheless. Opens with the wedding of Sam Adams and Lucy Marling; is mostly the story of Isabel Dale, who helps Mrs. Marling with the wedding and other duties. Highlights: the christening of Robin and Anne Dale’s twins; a performance of Aubrey Clover’s “Out Goes She” at Gatherum Castle; a lawn party at the Palace; Mr. and Mrs. Miller leave Pomfret Madrigal; the Duke of Omnium shows his wall of “fake” book titles. Lord Silverbridge wins Isabel, Dr. Joram wins Mrs. Brandon. Rambling, and in spots excessively feminine, but entertaining as usual.
The Duke’s Daughter. The books are increasingly episodic and filled with too many characters but are still “balm for hurt minds,” for anyone tired or disillusioned. Sinking deep into Barsetshire, that almost-too-perfect county, can bring smiles and occasional sentimental tears, as in the death of Mr. Macpherson in this novel. Highlights: the birth of Sam and Lucy Adams’ daughter; Tom Grantly leaves Rushwater to work at the Red Tape and Sealing Wax Dept. (and of course regrets it); Eric Swan becomes an assistant master at Beliers Priory; a rush cutting party at Harefield, combined with the Barsetshire Archaeological Society meeting; the Harveys attempt to turn a beautiful old house into an office, and Frances Harvey once again attempts to marry Oliver Marling; Cecil Waring is rushed to Barchester General to have shrapnel removed; the Lufton family joins the cast of characters. Cecil wins Lady Cora, Tom wins Emmy, Charles tames Clarissa, Maria rescues Oliver. Not especially well written in comparison to others, but still highly enjoyable.
Happy Return(s). Episodic, a bit too affectedly feminine, and written with frequent bitterness for the loss of a civilized way of life. Highlights: a party at St. Ewold’s with Mr. and Mrs. Miller; a visit to the Pomfret Madrigal vicarage, where young Ted and Mavis Parkinson rush to the hospital for the unexpectedly early birth of a son, and the county rallies around with practical gifts and assistance to the not-so-well-off couple; a dance at the Nabob Arms in Harefield with the Beltons, Perrys, Updikes, Eric Swan, Ludovic Lufton, and others; the Priory School prepares to move to Harefield; Clarissa Graham and Charles Belton are finally married on short notice and Clarissa’s selfish behavior appears to be at an end; the General Election returns the Conservatives (and Mr. Churchill) to power; Eric Swan falls in love and is disappointed; Ludovic Lufton becomes engaged as a consequence of allowing a young lady to try on his mother’s peeress’s robes; Francis Brandon’s business weathers hard times and he becomes his old self again, to the delight of his mother and wife, on whom he had taken out his frustrations; visits with Lady Lufton and her tenant Mr. Macfadyen of Amalgamated Vedge, who shows some surprising sides to his personality; the Jorams have an 80th birthday party at the Vinery for Sir Edward Pridham; and the story concludes with great interest in the county about the fate of the ship in which the Bishop and his wife are sailing, which is in the middle of a severe storm. Charles (finally) wins Clarissa, Ludo wins Grace. Another pleasant visit to Barsetshire.
Jutland Cottage. Primarily the story of a county-wide conspiracy to help the impoverished residents of Jutland Cottage in Southbridge – retired Admiral Phelps (“Irons”) and his wife, both elderly and in ill health, and their ugly-duckling daughter Margot, who has spent the war years looking after her parents and tending to the garden and the hens. The family is too proud to accept “charity,” so a “Friends of the Phelpses” club is started by, surprisingly, Rose Fairweather, the lovely but kindly nitwit, now matured and closely resembling a younger Agnes Graham. The “Friends” help out by dropping in to sit with the Admiral while his wife rests, and taking Margot out on drives and visits. Rose and Lady Cora Palliser help Margot improve her appearance and dress, and the “conspiracy” involves many old friends from Southbridge and Northbridge — Col. the Rev. and Mrs. Crofts, Everard and Kate Carter, the Villarses, Miss Hampton and Miss Bent, while from East Barsetshire come Tubby Fewling (recently appointed vicar of Greshamsbury), Mr. and Mrs. John Leslie and boys, the Warings, the Luftons, and others. The transformation of Margot is so successful that she receives two proposals within five minutes, and accepts one, thus unknowingly wounding a third heart. We also hear of the death of King George VI and a romance between Eric Swan and Justinia Lufton, plus the move of the Priory School to Harefield House. Macfadyen wins Margot, Eric wins Justinia.
What Did It Mean? Centers around the preparations (primarily in Northbridge) for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Lydia Merton is chairman of a committee that includes Miss Pemberton, Mrs. Villars, Mrs. Paxon, and others, who plan to perform a pageant of scenes from English history (scenes of the committee meetings and rehearsals are hilarious). Lydia also arranges a performance of a play by Aubrey Clover and Jessica Dean, who, after meeting him at a dinner party, ask the diffident, gangling Lord Mellings to perform with them, giving his self-confidence a much-needed boost. Highlights: a visit to Pomfret Towers, where the family now live in one corner of the huge, inconvenient structure, and Sam Adams makes Lord Pomfret a generous offer to use most of the rest of the main house as office space for his far-flung enterprises; a river party at Northbridge , when Leslie Minor tries to climb the Mertons’ monkey puzzle tree; a party at the Deanery, marred by the presence not only of the Bishop and his wife, but by the arrival of Francis and Geoffrey Harvey; Miss Pemberton’s struggle against illness, and her lodger Mr. Downing’s reunion with Mrs. Turner; the Coronation Pageant, where Aubrey Clover’s grand accompanist condescends to make the production even more than expectedly successful. The whole is loosely held together by a prophetic rhyme recited by old Mr. Nandy, the parts of which come true one by one, sometimes in surprising ways.
Enter Sir Robert. Not particularly eventful, but quite entertaining. Centered around the Halliday family of Hatch End and the Grahams at Holdings in Little Misfit. Leonard Halliday’s health is slowly going downhill; he has had to give up his position as Churchwarden and to allow his son George, home from the war, to run the farm. At Holdings, Sir Robert Graham is about to retire from his high military position (he “enters” on the final page), and Edith, youngest of the large family, is still home at age 18. Both George and John-Arthur Crosse (who manages the bank in the Old Manor House at Hatch End) are attracted to Edith, but the book ends with Edith’s going to America to visit David and Rose Leslie without making up her mind about her admirers. Highlights: a comic scene between David Leslie and Conque (the elderly French maid); visits to Hatch End, Holdings, Crosse Hall (where Peters, formerly at Pomfret Towers, is now butler), and the Old Manor House; discussions of pig-breeding; meetings with many old friends from Barsetshire. Gentle entertainment, with less of a satirical edge than some of her post-war books.
Never Too Late. Continues the two main themes of Enter Sir Robert, the stories of Edith Graham and of the Halliday family. Highlights: Edith’s stay with Mrs. Morland, who takes her to see the George Knoxes and Lord Crosse to watch the Old Boys cricket match at Southbridge School, and to visit Lord Stoke, who gives Edith a pearl necklace because she reminds him of another Edith, who returned the pearls to him because she was going to marry Lord Pomfret; the friendly competition for Edith’s attention between George Halliday, JohnArthur Crosse, and Ludovic Mellings, which all too often becomes so friendly that they end up going off together and ignoring her; a dinner party at the Old Manor House with the Carters (Lord Crosse’s daughter and her husband, who is a distant relation of Everard Carter of Southbridge School); the gentle courtship of Miss Merriman by Mr. Choyce; the gentle refusal by Mrs. Morland of a proposal from Lord Crosse; and the most poignant description of the deterioration and death of Mr. Halliday.
A Double Affair. Begins with the wedding of Miss Merriman (Merry) and Mr. Choyce. There are parties at the Deanery, at Father Fewling’s in Greshamsbury, and at “Glycerine Cottage” in Northbridge, where Miss Hopgood, Miss Crowder, Mr. and Mrs. Downing, Mr. Highmore, and Miss Dunsford meet to discuss France and plan Miss Dunsford’s trip to the Riviera. Edith Graham is back from America, still unsettled about her life and rather pettish; she is disgruntled when the same three admirers from Never Too Late alternately ignore and lecture her. George Halliday and John-Arthur Crosse are also attracted to a pair of granddaughters of the Deanery, Jane and Grace Crawley. Much interest is shown in pigs, and Holdings Goliath wins the Barsetshire Agricultural. Mrs. Halliday is feeling rather lost in her widowhood, but a visit to old school friend Mrs. Dunsford helps her to adjust as she goes on trips to the Riviera and to London. Edith returns to Barchester to finish a course in estate management; Lord William Harcourt, young clerical son of the Duke of Towers, is introduced and shows interest in Edith, and the book ends with two marriages arranged and the prospect of a third. George wins Jane, John-Arthur wins Grace. Low-key, relaxing, and refreshing.
Close Quarters. Mainly describes a series of social gatherings in which we meet or hear about old friends from previous books; new readers must be mystified by mention of about 200 characters. Highlights: Widowed Margot (Phelps) Macfadyen visits numerous old friends while she searches for a house and worries about her parents (both of whom die before the book ends); the rise of Teddy Parkinson as vicar of Greshamsbury New Town, due to his wife’s hard work and their innocent goodness, which lead to their acceptance by the upper class; a Bring and Buy Sale for the Mixo-Lydian miners, at which Mavis wins a washing machine; parties at the John Leslies’, the John Fairweathers’, and Wiple Terrace. Tubby Fewling, having lost her in Jutland Cottage, wins Margot. Not exactly inspired, but entertaining as usual.
Love At All Ages. The last novel Mrs. Thirkell completed; shows signs of diminishing powers with age and bad health. She makes more errors in characters and relationships, children’s names, who has met whom, etc. There are two main themes: the marriage of Lady Gwendolyn Harcourt, sister of the Duke of Towers, to elderly, donnish clergyman Mr. Oriel of Harefield, and a growing attraction between Ludovic, Lord Mellings, and Lavinia Merton. Highlights: a glimpse of Edith (Graham) Harcourt’s new baby at its christening; rumors of the Bishop’s possible retirement; an outing on the river at Northbridge Manor with a crowd of young Pomfrets and Mertons; a visit to Pomfret Towers where Lavinia and Ludovic spend time playing and singing old songs; Roddy and Alice Wicklow try to start a Pony Club with Mrs. Morland and the George Knoxes at High Rising; dinner at the White Hart.
Three Score and Ten. Started by Mrs. Thirkell, completed by C.E. Lejeune (London film critic and friend of the author) after her death at the Biblical age of three score and ten. The story is, fittingly, set mostly in High Rising, the scene of her first book, with Laura Morland and her grandson Robin (the image of his father Tony) as the main characters. Highlights: visits to Rising Castle and the Cottage Hospital; the Barsetshire Agricultural Show (complete with Packer’s Derby) and the Horse and Dog Show; a campaign to stop the destruction of Wiple Terrace, where Lord Aberfordbury planned to build a factory; meetings with old friends such as Denis Stonor, C.W. and Daphne Bond, Lucasta Bond, Gradka the Mixo-Lydian ambassadress; news of Eric Swan’s appointment as Headmaster at Southbridge School; news of the birth of twins to Tommy and Octavia Needham (making eight children, just as it should); Dr. Ford’s engagement to Sylvia Gould, who had refused him long ago; and the conclusion with a grand birthday party for Laura Morland — organized at the instigation of Robin Morland (son of Tony), Amabel Adams (daughter of Sam and Lucy) and Eleanor Leslie (daughter of Martin and Sylvia). We are given a final look at Barsetshire, as the sun glints off the Cathedral spire.