Angela Thirkell book summaries by Amalia Angeloni Jacobucci. If you haven’t read the book, be aware that these are not reviews, these are summaries, and plot details are revealed. But if you are trying to remember which engagements happened where, this is for you!
High Rising by Angela Thirkell (1933)
In Angela Thirkell’s first Barsetshire novel, she sets the plot pattern which will be played out in most of her later books. She also introduces us to specific characters as well as “types” who will appear and reappear in changing relationships as the years go by. There is the middle-aged woman centrally involved in the events and activities around her; here, Laura Morland, a happily widowed author of very successful “good bad books” (Thirkell herself?). A disappointed suitor and/or a brief, ill-conceived infatuation of younger man with older woman. There are at least two romances to work out, an older couple and a younger one with mild crises along the way. A closing of ranks among the women vs. “the Incubus” resolves both affairs to the satisfaction of all. Especially delightful are the children, servants, and other retainers; well-defined characters in their own right; from motor-mouthed young Tony Morland and his model railways to housekeeper, Stoker, and her grapevine among the servants of the neighborhood.
The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell (1934)
In her second Barsetshire novel, Thirkell continues the saga of the irrepressible Tony Morland. An actual boy must be lurking somewhere in the background as it would be impossible to make up such a monumental Pest. Grown-ups and children alike are ground into submission by his everlasting chatter and overweening “self-esteem. Only Dr. Ford, whose conversation with Tony is confined to the phrase “Shut up” and Sylvia Gould, the swimming instructor, who exposes Tony’s vaunted diving ability as phony, come anywhere near even temporarily quashing him. Tony and his silent friend Donk (but how could he be otherwise around Tony?) are referred to as the “little boys” at age thirteen and Rose, age fourteen, is comforted by Mrs. Morland while holding her on her lap; how times have changed! Perhaps brought together by a common exasperation towards Tony, Dr. Ford and Sylvia appear headed for the altar. It would now be PC to describe Tony as inherently loveable; but I won’t.
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell (1934)
Action in Thirkell’s third Barsetshire novel centers around the extended family of the Leslies of Rushwater House. Lady Emily reigns behind a self-generated thicket of confusion and turmoil. There is no event so settled that Lady Emily cannot throw it into chaos at the last moment. Mr. Leslie has been known to take off on a cruise to the “Northern capitals of Europe” when it all becomes too much for him. Their daughter Agnes, a matriarch-in-waiting, has already produced three children despite a husband who seems to be perennially abroad on some unspecified activity. The French tenants and Mr. Holt, the consummate social leech, are skillfully and humorously dealt with as is the household struggle for control between Housekeeper and Nannie. Even the small children, James, Emmy, and Clarissa are fully defined and serve to reveal the character of the adults as they interact with them. As usual, we have the ” young man with crush on older woman,” one match completed, and others set up for the future.
August Folly by Angela Thirkell (1936)
In the Palmer and the Tebben’s families, we meet two of the less congenial figures among the Barsetshire gentry; young Richard Tebben and Louise Palmer. However, since Thirkell’s people are never all of a piece, bossy Mrs. Palmer’s nasty treatment of Margaret Tebben is partially redeemed by her handsome apology and Richard’s heroic rescue of young Jessica Dean from a bemused bull leaves him unreformed in his selfishness. Action centers around amateur theatricals which include young and old, upstairs and downstairs, and affords plenty of scope for romance. One is reminded of Mr. Bennet’s observation “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” Incidentally, where but here do we see allusions to Mr. Frank Churchill and Mrs. Norris with the expectation that we, as well as the characters, will understand the reference to novels of Miss Austen.
Summer Half by Angela Thirkell (1937)
The denouement of Philip Winter’s ill-begotten engagement to featherbrained Rose Birkett is enacted in full view of Southbridge School’s extended family during a holiday break. Everyone, including her parents, is rooting for Philip’s escape which occurs when Rose breaks it off as the utter dullness of being engaged overwhelms her. Along the way, we enjoy the tea party where Rose, “through sheer want of personality bring(s) the talk to her own level” and confounds her audience by insisting that Hamlet and Shakespeare are both names of plays (and probably the same one). As in many of Thirkell’s books, the characters refer to a body of literature, both classic and modern, with a casualness that would be improbable today; the assumption of a shared background and culture having been lost. The ceremony of the Cleaning of the Pond by Lydia, Eric Swan, and a much improved Tony Morland brings the holiday to a satisfactory conclusion as does a match between Kate Keith and Everard Carter.
Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell (1938)
A long weekend party affords elderly Lord and Lady Pomfret the opportunity to introduce their cousin and heir, Gillie Foster, to the gentry and incidentally (?) to eligible young ladies of the countryside. The indefatigable Mrs. Rivers pushes her reluctant daughter, Phoebe, and, while fending off the most likely competition, self-effacing Alice Barton, she is completely outflanked by Sally Wicklow. Sally is eminently acceptable, complementing Gillie’s retiring nature and delicate health with robust competence. Mrs. Rivers, an outrageously successful author of formula books about middle-aged women and their not quite consummated affairs with younger men, crosses swords with Mrs. Barton who writes “learned historical novels about the more obscure bastards of Popes and Cardinals” (Renaissance era). Thwarting Mrs. Rivers occupies a good part of the weekend until her even more obnoxious son, Julian, humiliates her so publicly that even gentle Alice (who had been infatuated with him) scathingly rebukes his boorish behavior, sends him packing, and accepts Roddy Wicklow’s proposal. Matrimonial score: two goals, one miss.
Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell (1939)
Middle-aged Catherine Middleton, married to an obtuse but endearing older man, is the still center of a swirl of two generations of “gentry” on the brink of WW II. The activities of youngsters and contemporaries go on around her and it is only gradually that one sees how, without conscious manipulation, nothing happens without her. The characters are subtly and humorously drawn—keep an eye on the hypochondriac and self-absorbed Miss Starter who displays a shrewd gift for defining the essentials and deflating the fatuous. At the end, youngsters and oldsters are properly sorted out and paired off, mostly as expected, after several false starts. Alistair, the older man who sets off after the “ingénue” is nudged back into place with Catherine’s sister-in-law (his contemporary). She, in turn, sees “her young man” off to seek his dream, leaving her bereft of the companions of her mind and heart—duty and honor intact, with the notion of “self-fulfillment at all costs” decades away.
The Brandons by Angela Thirkell (1939)
In one of the last of the pre-war novels (WWII, that is), events center around the Brandons of Stories and Brandon Abbey. Mrs. Brandon presides over courtship, life, death, inheritance, and misunderstandings resolved. Whatever happens, and we’re rarely in suspense, it’s the gentle humor and the sharp characterizations of even the minor players which make “getting there half the fun.” The horror of Mrs. Grant, Hilary’s mother, can be enjoyed because we know she cannot resist an eventual return to sunny Calabria. And Sir Edmund Pridham, Mrs. Brandon’s elderly “trustee,” who is willing to marry her when he believes she is about to make an “unsuitable” match, but is mightily relieved to discover otherwise—just in the nick of time. While each book stands alone, reading them as a group provides a chance to look forward and backward at changing relationships. Knowing that these books were written more or less in “real time” lends a poignancy to the last summer of peace and “civilization as we know it.”
Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell (1940)
Following the social event of the summer, the marriage of Rose Birkett (the county’s scatterbrain heart-breaker), Fall brings WWII. The transition to war introduces unexpected elements into the Barsetshire milieu. Despite the newly somber atmosphere, evacuee children (see Nurse’s “lust for power over babies”), nouveau riche émigrés (Mr. Gissings’ suspiciously shaped head), and the Mixo-Lydians (and their embroideries) afford opportunities for snatching humor from the jaws of bleakness. The Bissells, lower-middle-class heads of a billeted non-U school, share, with the gentry, a mutual bewilderment of values. Mrs. Morland muses on Mrs. Bissell’s business-like acceptance of “the sinister implications of Adelina Cottage” shared by Miss Hampton and Miss Bent. The Keith family takes center stage as Lydia cares for the estate and her ailing mother while her friends pursue nursing and other war work. The young men pursue the young ladies and wartime accelerates the usual romantic coupling for a total of five, a record even for Thirkell.
Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell (1941)
Although action is limited to Northbridge Village and nothing of great moment occurs, a more varied assortment of “originals” will not be found in any of Thirkell’s books. The Rector’s wife, Mrs. Villars, suffering the “dark devotion” of young Lt. Holden, is ostensibly the focus. However, the permutations of the triangle comprising intellectual Miss Pemberton, her browbeaten boarder, Mr. Downing, and the kindhearted widow, Mrs. Turner, dominate the proceedings. And then there are the unsettling visits of the odious wife of Major Spender, an officer billeted at the Rectory. The organization of a parachute spotting patrol in the church tower involves everyone else from the ladies of Glycerine cottage to Miss Hopgood’s Aunt, but the exercise mercifully fades away as Christmas “began to cast an even thicker gloom than usual over the English scene.” Thirkell is able, in the midst of the War, to view the fevered exertions of the home front with a cool, ironic eye rare among popular writers of the time.
Marling Hall by Angela Thirkell (1942)
As war continues, the Marlings cope with friends, relatives, and “outsiders.” The definition of an “outsider” is a subtle one; the Harveys, a brother and sister who rent a nearby house for the duration seem eminently suited for inclusion. Gradually, however, through a series of misadventures, mostly involving chickens, their landlady, Mrs. Smith (one of the local non-gentry eccentrics) turns out to be “one of our own.” Utter confusion surrounds building a hen coop, chasing chickens, and futile attempts at foiling Mrs. Smith. Lucy, the younger Marling daughter, barges about noisily managing and mismanaging, but in the end, is sensitive to the growing attachment between her friend Capt. Barclay and her widowed sister Lettice. Miss Bunting (retired governess) and Miss Merriman (companion to the redoubtable Lady Emily Leslie) are instrumental in thwarting the charming but philandering cousin David so as to snare Lettice for Barclay. As an added bonus the Harveys’ housekeeper becomes engaged to the local carpenter and their maid to Ed Pollett, “immune to education” but an exceptionally competent handyman.
Growing Up by Angela Thirkell (1943)
The location of Beliers Priory in East Barsetshire, home to Sir Harry and Lady Waring, gives us a chance to enjoy some of Thirkell’s delightful place names. The main RR line at Winter Overcotes serves Shearing Junction, Winter Underclose, and Worsted. Nearby are Lambton, Fleece, Skeynes, and Eiderdown. As war drags on, the Warings host a convalescent hospital for soldiers as well as billeting their niece Leslie, and Capt. Noel and Lydia Merton from West Barsetshire. Romance proceeds apace “downstairs” as well as “upstairs” with a trio of followers (including a “Barkis is willin” character) pursuing Selina, the housemaid, to a most suitable conclusion. Philip Winter and Leslie meet, create, and resolve their difficulties. As Lydia observes they are “growing up” and the stationmaster with a POW son, Tommy Needham’s amputated arm, and everyone’s uncertainty re: absent friends and relatives are somber counterpoints to the prevailing attitude of “soldiering on.”
The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell (1944)
The Beltons of Harefield Park, in financial straits endemic to the times, have leased the ancestral home to the Hosier’s Girls School whose headmistress, Miss Sparling, a cut above the “nouveau riche” students, is welcomed into village society. Sam Adams, a wealthy, self-made industrialist, and his lumpish daughter Heather are introduced and we glimpse “the thin entering wedge” into the solid front of the old gentry. Mixo-Lydians backed by Dr. Perry’s wife, and Slavo-Lydians, clients of the mildly obnoxious Mrs. Hunter, barely avoid violent confrontation; it is Mr. Adams who gives short shrift to their belligerent solicitations. And we meet again the bemused Mrs. Updike whose self-battering, as she careens through life, gives new meaning to “accident-prone.” Miss Sparling reaches an “understanding” with perennial bachelor Sidney Carton (yes, we know) and strong-willed Elsa Belton is corralled by Capt. Hornsby who declines to be jilted. The poignant relationship between Mrs. Belton and her charming but prickly younger son, Charles, on embarkation leave, cuts through the lightheartedness and brings the war home.
Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell (1945)
Miss Bunting, governess to the County, fulfills her final days during a summer devoted to tutoring delicate Anne Fielding. Class distinctions are sharply delineated, especially by Lady Fielding who tries, in vain, to minimize Anne’s contact with the ungainly Heather Adams. Mr. Adams continues to involve himself in the affairs of the county, generating ambivalent feelings as well as obligations. His kind inquiries re: Jane Gresham’s MIA husband earns her uneasy gratitude. Feelings about Class seem a bit cruel here; perhaps in response to a sense that the barriers are about to fall. Humorous tidbits continue to delight—see Mrs. Merivale’s mysterious “lodger.” Again we encounter the Mixo-Lydians in the person of Gradka, whose ferocious rejoicing over a clash with the Slavo-Lydians foreshadows the Bosnian debacle. And the highlight of the season, the Annual Meeting of the Barsetshire Archeological Society, creates a grand hullabaloo which includes, among other things: furious debate on Vikings vs. Roman vs. Saxon remains; Lord Stokes “useful old cob”; and assorted milling about; all adding up to “a silly afternoon.” Miss Bunting observes all and escapes just in time.
Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell (1946)
True to the theory that a positive change creates almost as much stress as a negative one, the outbreak of Peace is met with trepidation. The Government falls, Mr. Adams contests Anne Fielding’s father for MP, and bread is not delivered (somehow equivalent events). However, the main action focuses on David Leslie who, at thirty-nine, is still meddling with the feelings of every available young woman until Rose Bingham, of suitable age and circumstances, “sorts him out,” object: Matrimony. At this the logjam breaks and everyone else becomes engaged. Around the edges we encounter Mr. Scatcherd the local “artist” and his formidable niece who harangues him in non-stop paragraphs; the continuing feud with the Palace as the Bishop’s request for a song in honor of “our Wonderful Red Comrades” is countered by a hymn whose tune is that of the Russian Imperial National Anthem; and young George Halliday’s infatuation with a totally oblivious, very middle-aged, Lady Graham.
Private Enterprise by Angela Thirkell (1947)
The social minuet of the society of Barsetshire continues. Predictably, Thirkell produces a stream of matrimonial fodder, both young and not-so-young. Youngsters from previous volumes grow up, marry and reproduce, and replace oldsters who retire or move on. Newcomers advance and retreat and, in some instances, remain as permanent players. The Brandons reappear and past threads are picked up and ingeniously woven into the social fabric to the satisfaction of all. Mild flirtations and an “affair” of three generations ago are the closest we come to scandal. Thirkell’s humor reveals itself most trenchantly in her minor characters (see the comfortable bickering of Vicar Horton and his younger aunt) and in her singular names for places, events, and groups; here we have “The Home for Stiff-Necked Clergy,” “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ancient Buildings,” “Red Tape and Sealing Wax Office,” and the “Ministry of General Interference.”
Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell (1948)
Another tale of requited and unrequited love. Charles Belton becomes interested in Clarissa Graham, Oliver Marling nurses a hopeless infatuation for Jessica Dean and the obnoxious Richard Tebben gets his comeuppance from his Viking betrothed, Petrea Krogsbrog. However, Fred Belton and Susan Dean overcome minor obstacles and are headed for the altar. The trials of peace are almost worse than those of war as the beleaguered gentry alternately fight the forces of change and resign themselves to the tyranny of “Them” (the Labour Government). Sam Adams, the self-made entrepreneur foreshadows the rise of a new middle class as he gains acceptance as a Labour MP who votes like a Tory. Mrs. Belton is instrumental in brushing up the rough edges and his own good sense and kind nature win over the “county” in spite of themselves.
The Old Bank House by Angela Thirkell (1949)
The small market town of Edgewood becomes the center of attention when the Old Bank House, the ancestral home of old Miss Sowerby, changes hands. Its refurbishment by Sam Adams is regarded as the legitimate concern of the countryside up to, and including, an impromptu gathering to supervise the proper cleaning of the well. Adams represents the emerging middle-class, supplementing professionals like the Deans and further diluting the influence of the old gentry; the Pomfrets, Marlings, Leslies, etc. Interestingly enough, the author uses Adams to articulate the old values and negative attitudes toward creeping socialism and the lower orders which would sound mean and self-serving coming from the old gentry. Despite the surface lightness and gentle humor, Thirkell’s depiction of returned veteran Tom Grantly’s post-war angst over choosing a career is sensitive as well as accurate. Meanwhile, Colin Keith (like David Leslie previously) escapes the fate of perennial uncle by his engagement to Eleanor Grantly and Lucy Marling accepts Sam Adams’s marriage proposal.
County Chronicle by Angela Thirkell (1950)
Pairings begun in previous volumes come to fruition and other characters surface with promises of future couplings. Lucy’s marriage to Sam Adams seals his acceptance by the “county,” bringing new blood and, not to be overlooked, new money, into the mix. Jessica Dean marries her manager Aubrey Clover leaving a brooding Oliver Marling, and Mrs. Brandon escapes her selfish son when she marries Canon Joram. The younger women have occupations but not yet “careers” and Isabel Dale’s success as a mystery writer is somehow less important than the dilettante efforts of the males of the species. Isabel’s family inheritance brings “county” money to her engagement to the tax-impoverished Lord Silverbridge, making his standing for Parliament a possibility (Conservative, of course) in the continuing battle with “Them.” We sense in these events the further encroachment of a new middle class no longer based on land ownership and family.
The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell (1951)
Several of our favorite characters reappear to play sometimes crucial roles: Lady Norton, the Dreadful Dowager; Gradka of the Mixo-Lydians; the obnoxious Harvey siblings; and the appallingly accident-prone Mrs. Updike. Lady Norton calls upon recently married Lucy Adams after a nine-finger exercise determines that congratulations may be in order. Gradka, now Mixo-Lydian Ambassadress is instrumental (with Maria Lufton) in routing Miss Harvey’s matrimonial assault on Oliver Marling. She also helps to rescue Tom Grantly from his ill-advised venture into the clutches of Geoffrey Harvey and the Red Tape Office. Oliver is frightened out of his “habit” of love for Jessica Dean and perennial unclehood into a real attachment for Maria. Charles Belton and Clarissa Graham advance from “understanding” to engagement, Tom and Emmy Graham, united in “cow-mindedness,” follow suit as do Lady Cora (the Duke’s daughter) and Cecil Waring; all within a twenty-four hour period.
Happy Return by Angela Thirkell (1952)
The action takes place at a succession of social gatherings, dinner parties, teas, sherry hours, and a dance in the local pub reminiscent of the one in Austen’s Emma. The retreat of the gentry continues, now, however, buoyed up by the return of Mr. Churchill and “Us” to the government. Despite this, it gradually dawns that hard times do not disappear and an uneasy feeling that the past cannot be recaptured lurks in the background. We have our usual complement of requited and unrequited love. The marriage of Charles Belton and Clarissa Graham is finally brought about by the efforts of friends and relatives to the vast relief of the whole county. Grace Grantly (of Trollope’s Grantlys) brings a much-appreciated dowry to Lord Ludovic Lufton leaving Eric Swan mildly heartbroken. Minor characters of the whole “downstairs” portion of society continue to re-appear—take note of Edna and Doris Thatcher and their “children of shame,” a delightfully un-PC characterization.
Jutland Cottage by Angela Thirkell (1953)
It is a great relief to find Thirkell confessing that the discrepancies of dates and ages in her Barsetshire Chronicles have gotten so out of hand that she herself is unable to reconcile them. We thought it was us. Margot the fortyish, dutiful daughter of the ailing Admiral and Mrs. Phelps is taken in hand by the combined communities of Greshambury and Southbridge. Spearheaded, to the amazement of all, by Rose Fairweather (née Birkett), the group plans outings and treats ranging from wardrobe items to beauty treatments to Holman’s Phospho-Manuro. The last, a gift from Mr. Macfayden, a landscape gardener tycoon, followed shortly by a proposal and acceptance of marriage. Old friends reappear: Mrs. Morland shedding hairpins; Misses Hampton and Bent shedding ambiguities; and the bickering Vicar Horton and his aunt (whose mere presence “saps the Admiral’s Vitality”). Rose splendidly routs the Hortons but, not to worry, her immunity to literacy remains firm as she confuses Dickens with his works.
What Did It Mean? by Angela Thirkell (1954)
“The whole of England was now in an orgy of Coronation Committees” and inevitably we are swept up. Lydia Merton and Mrs. Villars lead some old friends from the war years; Miss Pemberton and her cowed boarder, Mr. Downing; the Misses Hopgood and Crowder of the enigmatic Glycerine Cottage; Miss Hopgood’s Aunt; and Poppy Turner, to the glorious climax in the production of The Northbridge Coronation Pageant. Along the way, young Ludovic of Pomfret Towers emerges from his shell to shine in Aubrey and Jessica Clover’s short play staged as part of the festivities. Having arrived at a hiatus in the generations of Barsetshire where she has married off all suitably aged persons and is not quite ready to pair off the 3rd generation of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, Thirkell reaches back to the truncated romance between Mr. Downing and Mrs. Turner and (sanctioned by a seriously ill Miss Pemberton) again produces the mandatory nuptials.
Enter Sir Robert by Angela Thirkell (1955)
The book begins with Lady Graham’s announcement of the imminent return of the elusive Sir Robert Graham and ends as Sir Robert enters the house. What happens in between is more than usually “Much Ado About Nothing.” We meet Vicar Choyce whose vacillation is matched by Lady Graham’s vagueness (as she becomes more and more like Lady Emily). Much of the action consists of a stately pavane between them as they decide and undecide and decide again that Sir Robert (when he returns—any moment now) will take over the churchwarden’s duties from the ailing Squire Halliday. Meanwhile, Edith Graham, as the only Ingénue in sight, enjoys the vague attentions of three young men, including her cousin Lord Mellings (Ludovic), until Uncle David Leslie and his wife sweep her off for a visit to America. Still between generations, Thirkell produces the only book so far with no marriages or engagements.
Never Too Late by Angela Thirkell (1956)
Whether through inattention or coincidence an imbalance of marriageable young continues. Six Leslie and Graham young men remain unattached, while Edith (disqualified as sister or cousin) continues to enjoy the attentions of three other eligibles. However, life proceeds as Mr. and Mrs. Carter (Lord Crosse’s daughter) rent the Halliday’s Old Manor House and re-introduce the Mixo-Lydians in the person of the maid, Dumka. Toleration survives lurid harangues on the perfidy of the Slavo-Lydians but not an uprising in the kitchen. Lady Graham mounts a repeat performance of “intromission” as she and Vicar Choyce settle the matter of the Manor House pew. Squire Halliday’s last days and funeral are poignantly depicted along with contemporary worries about death duties and break-up of the large estates. Lord Crosse more or less proposes to Mrs. Morland, who, having been happily widowed for many years, signals her refusal. But, not to worry, Miss Merriman, factotum to the Pomfrets and Leslies, is happy to accept the proposal of Vicar Choyce, observing, “service is not an inheritance.”
A Double Affair by Angela Thirkell (1957)
A Double Affair opens with the wedding of Vicar Choyce to family retainer Miss Dorothea (“Merry”) Merriman. It closes with the double weddings of George Halliday and John Crosse to Jane and Grace Crawley, of suitable age, having suddenly made their appearance. Fortunately, the young men promptly and obligingly fall in love. Along the way, the problem of Mrs. Halliday, the widowed parent, is explored until said “relict” takes charge of her own life, removing herself not only to live with a congenial cousin in Northbridge, but later to permanent residency on the French Riviera, to the not unmixed relief of her son and daughter. So much for the “empty nest” and doting granny-hood. And if anyone recalls that Edith Graham has, in one fell swoop, lost two of her quasi-suitors, be of good cheer, Lord William Harcourt has conveniently appeared in the wings.
Close Quarters by Angela Thirkell (1958)
Margot Macfayden, née Phelps, spends the months following her husband’s death visiting friends in Greshambury, Southbridge, and Harefield as she ponders re-locating while hoping to avoid again being preempted by her aged parents (who, to be fair, share her feelings). At Harefield we become re-acquainted with the Beltons; Mr. Belton, previously an inconspicuous figure, comes into his own as he delivers masterful performances ranging from “Old English Squire” to “King Lear” meriting the admiration and amusement of his friends and relatives. We also are fortunate to make the acquaintance of Admiral Prsvb of the Mixo-Lydian Navy, which consists of “one very out-of-date English gunboat on a lake,” as he comes to dinner at the Fairweathers with our old friend Gradka, the Ambassadress (formerly the Fielding’s cook). Fortunately, in the commonsense view of almost everyone, Admiral Phelps and Mrs. Phelps follow each other in rapid succession to peaceful and timely ends, freeing Margot to accept the long-delayed marriage proposal of Canon (Tubby) Fewling.
Love At All Ages by Angela Thirkell (1959)
In this, the last but one of Thirkell’s books, there is a certain “drawing in.” As usual, not much happens, however, most of the discussion repeatedly refers back to previous characters and events without advancing the themes. The ages of the third generation of children have by this time become so muddled that we have Lavinia Merton, age 16, joining the grown-ups for a dinner party while her cousins, 18 and 16 are practically relegated to the nursery. Having, for some time now, run out of young marriageables, Thirkell arranges for one between the Rev. Oriel (another of our perennial bachelors) and Lady Gwendolyn Harcourt (sister-in-law to Edith Graham); “after a gentle attachment of some standing; it was highly improbable that they would be troubled by children.” But not to worry, the budding romance between Lavinia Merton and Lord Ludo of Pomfret Tower is certain to reach a satisfactory conclusion and we are grateful, as always, that Thirkell, like Mrs. Morland, continues to write “the same book.”
Three Score and Ten by Angela Thirkell and C. A. Lejeune (1962)
The last of the Barsetshire novels, left unfinished by Thirkell at her death at 75, was completed from extensive notes by a friend and fellow writer, C. A. Lejeune. Regardless of its provenance, it is a remarkable reprise of the whole series. Mrs. Morland (Thirkell’s alter-ego?), the protagonist of the first book, High Rising (1933), is again the center of the action. She turns seventy affording the opportunity for a final gathering of our favorite people who continue to act as expected on all occasions. Young Robin Morland, son of the irrepressible Tony, helps or hinders or both at once. Along the way, Wiple Terrace with its motley complement of tenants is rescued from the depredations of the odious Lord Aberfordbury (of Pookers Piece fame). Mr. Adams and Gradka, an unlikely duo, form a syndicate to frustrate his aims. Matrimonial fodder is provided by the expected match between Ludo Pomfret and Lavinia Merton and the unexpected one between Dr. Ford and Sylvia Gould (which we thought had come about thirty years ago).