Monday, 30 January 2017

The World of Angela Thirkell

"The daughter of a classical scholar, Thirkell was also the cousin of Rudyard Kipling. Her novels, usually peopled with genteel, snobbish characters, are noted for their gentle irony, absurdity of tone, and understated sophistication."
That is what it says about her novels on Fantastic Fiction and the 'irony' maybe explains why some people love her writing and others can't get into it at all.

She was born in 1890 and died in 1961 and wrote the Barsetshire series between 1933 and her death.
I worked in libraries in the 1970s but don't remember her books being in stock, so perhaps they were well out of fashion during that decade.
But Virago Vintage Classics began reprinting her books in 2012 and I was drawn to the cover of the 1st,  High Rising, when it kept popping up on my Amazon page as something I might like to read.

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Once I got into her way of writing it made me smile and that is what I like about her books. You mustn't be put off by 'the genteel snobbish characters'. Don't take offence at the gentry's way of speaking about their servants. It is this very absurdity that makes them so enjoyable.
And of course we do irony quite well in Suffolk anyway.

 This is a paragraph from the 1945 novel Miss Bunting that probably explains why her books make some readers despair and never read any further but make others smile and read on.

A nice bit of  fat boiled bacon off the ration (which for the benefit of any readers from another planet we will explain to mean not that the bit of bacon in question comes off your ration but that it isn't  and never was on it) with young potatoes and peas from the garden is not to be despised. Frank did not despise it, by which happy chance his elders were able to talk in peace for a time.

 I've read 14 so far, and as Virago re-print I borrow them from the library (although recently they annoyingly published a few only as e books) and look out for them for pennies at charity shops. I actually picked up some very old tatty Penguin reprints from the 1950's at a car boot sale several years ago but they had such small print that I couldn't read them. A kind blog reader sent some old hardbacks that she had in duplicate so my collection is growing slowly.

Although each book is a separate story they have characters  that pop up now and again in different books, which can be very frustrating as I remember the name but not always their back story. So with Christmas money from Father-in-Law I  ordered Angela Thirkell's World ................

....... Created by an avid Thirkell fan, this reference was designed to help fellow readers keep straight the hundreds of characters that populate the 29 novels of Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire series. Organised alphabetically, the book includes the name of every character, a chronological list of the books in which he or she appears, and a summary of what readers learn about the character in each book.

It finally arrived all the way from the USA last week - the cheapest copy on Amazon. Now I might need to re-read all 14 and put all the others on my wish list so I can make good use of the book. Of course the ones I own are................packed in a box!

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  1. In the nineties I built up quite a collection of original Penguins (the ones with the orange covers). I read an article by Keith Waterhouse, who had done the same, and he said that it meant he almost always had a good read when he got one home.
    So I started my own collection. I had about 400 when we downsized to a much smaller house and I had to part with them.
    Anyway, this is a preamble to saying that that was how I discovered Angela Thirkell.
    I really must read/reread some more of her books. Such a perceptive writer, and such a great sense of humour.

    1. The penguins of Thirkell were just so tiny print no way could I read them - very annoying. It's going to be very hard to get hold of the ones I've not read

  2. I do remember being a fan years ago Sue.

  3. Just day nearer to moving! x

  4. I haven't read Angela Thirkell for years, the Virago classics are worth owning just for the covers, I gave some to a friend as a present, it was hard parting with them.

  5. I love Angela Thirkell's writing and whenever I need a gentle laugh I reach for one. Someone once described her as a female P.G. Wodehouse and I can see the similarities.

  6. I tried Thirkell but couldn't get on with her. Perhaps she's a Marmite writer, love her or hate her?
    Margaret P

  7. Sounds as though they are fascinating reads, she isn't an author I have ever come across.

  8. Isn't it amazing that you can find a book for $4-$5 INCLUDING SHIPPING all the way across the pond? I just got one from the UK (one you recommended, actually) and it took 9-10 days to get here. I can't imagine ever buying a new book again (although, truth be told, I only ever buy a used one if I can't get it at the library for $0).

  9. I've seen that one come up on my amazon feed as a recommended read and often wondered if I would like them. Thanks for the tip about the characters, if I do read them I'll make sure I do it in order.
    Lisa x