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Picturing a World

Angela Thirkell Society

My copy of the Holiday 2014 issue of Divagations, a thrice-yearly bulletin for members of the Angela Thirkell Society of North America, arrived today. In it appears a short essay of mine on what I learned as a writer from Thirkell. For those of you who don't know her work, Angela Thirkell was a witty, shrewd observer of upper-middle-class county life in England from the 1930's through the 1950's (with more than a dash of Tory snobbery as the years went by).

She picked up Anthony Trollope's Barchester and brought it into the 20th C, writing a book a year. They can be read in any order; but if you start with the early ones and come forward, you can meet recurring characters as they are introduced and watch them grow up, marry, have children, and eventually become grandparents (you'll weep a little at some of the deaths). All of them are light, romantic comedy of manners; yet the novels written during the Second World War are notable for an underlying seriousness that derives from the fact that neither she nor her readers knew how the war would end.

If you want a recommendation on where to start, I'd say try Summer Half (1937), which introduces Lydia Keith, my favorite character, followed by Growing Up (1943), a poignant war novel in which you again spend time with Lydia. Two other novels generally considered among her best are Before Lunch (1939) and The Headmistress (1944). Once you develop a taste for Thirkell, you'll read them all with pleasure.

If you want to know more, read Verlyn Klinkenborg's Life, Love and the Pleasures of Literature in Barsetshire.
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