Angela Mackail Thirkell (1890-1961) was an English novelist who wrote 29 books about the imaginary county of Barsetshire, based on the same county explored by Anthony Trollope. The first few books are what I call “comic romances”; they explore a quiet romance between two well-bred, country-dwelling English people. The first of these, High Rising, appeared in 1933, and thereafter Thirkell wrote a book a year. The books set in the War years and the even more dreadful Peace that follow were written in real time, and provide, I think, a superb documentation of what the English housewife was enduring: not just the fear for loved ones, but the grey depressingness of rationing and the queues and endless work parties and the housing of evacuated London children and refugees. Thirkell also deplored the loss of the old Edwardian country and county life and the rise of the new middle-class, and her exploration over many books of the character of the self-made millionaire Sam Adams is a testament to her keen social observations. She is an important social historian.
But mostly she is funny! Wickedly so, in many cases.
I encountered Thirkell as a teenager and read the books out of order and probably understanding only a third of what was going on. But when I went to England a few years later I was delighted to find some of the things that Thirkell described still existed–like the beer delivery cart pulled by two enormous dray horses attended by minions in smart black and red uniforms, and of course the quaint villages and country lanes and noble seats, some of the unparalleled Victorian hideousness that Thirkell ascribes to her imaginary Gatherum Castle or Pomfret Towers.
Let’s explore Thirkell’s world together, in reading order which is, happily, also publication order. Prepare to be charmed, to laugh, and, occasionally, to be moved to tears. Click on the posts below.