Three Score and Ten by Angela Thirkell and C.A. Lejeune

 Three Score and Ten cover

Three Score and Ten by Angela Thirkell is her last book, unfortunately she died before she was able to finish writing it, but her friend C.A. Lejeune finished it off for her, presumably she had left some notes. I think that Lejeune did a fairly good job of it although as it was the year of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones that was given a few mentions and I believe that Thirkell didn’t write about such things, although I could be completely wrong about that.

The three score years and ten belong to that famous Barsetshire novellist – Mrs Morland. Of course strictly speaking she isn’t a local as she has only been there for forty years, but she’s very popular with young and old and they’re keen to mark her big day in some way. With Mr Wickham in charge of the booze procurement her party is obviously going to be a success.

This book features many of Barsetshire’s favourites – such as Sam Adams and his wife Lucy. The dreadful bishop and his wife are kept at bay as usual and it is that swine Lord Aberfordbury who provides the conflict by planning to knock down some well-loved cottages to build a factory on their site.

I particularly enjoyed this excerpt:
It is well known that it is not safe to have books in the house as they marry and have children, so producing over-populated neighbourhoods; but attics are just as bad. So, if one comes to think about it, is one’s own desk or writing table on which letters answered and unanswered, cards of invitations to various meetings, a Christmas Card that one can’t bear to throw away because it is so pretty, a notice of a concert that took place two months ago, one or two newspaper cuttings, a newspaper which one kept because because one meant to cut something out of it and then forgot what it was, all get mixed up with one another, all lie in confusion; and old bits of furniture and other odds and ends do certainly increase and multiply.

So true!

Purists may decide not to read this one as Thirkell didn’t manage to get it finished but I think that Lejeune did manage to write in her madly rambling style and also reproduced the ways of speech employed by the ‘lower orders’, that’s probably one of the things that so annoys people who aren’t fans of Thirkell’s writing, thinking it points her out as being a horrible snob, but it’s a skill writing in what is really a dialect just as she sometimes writes in a Scots dialect, and of course, she got that right too as her father was Scottish, she spent a lot of time in Scotland and had J.M. Barrie as her godfather.

I think I’ve now read all of her Barsetshire books, except the first one Northbridge Rectory. I’m waiting for a copy of that to arrive in the post, and when it does I intend to start reading the series again, in order this time. They’re comfort reads for me, perfect reading during yet another general election campaign and what seems like a constant stream of bad news stories.

The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

Love At All Ages by Angela Thirkell

Love at all Ages cover

Love At All Ages by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1959 and it’s everything that you would expect from a Thirkell book.

The government’s tax regime has caused the one time wealthy of the county of Barsetshire to have to economise, so most of the large houses have been rented out to private schools and various businesses. This sounds like a dire drop in their status but in truth they are all very pleased with the situation, most of them didn’t like the massive homes that were so uncomfortable, impossible to heat and the distances between kitchen and dining-room so vast that their food was always cold by the time it reached them.

This one features mainly the Pomfret and Towers families and as you would expect there are the usual hatches and matches all very satisfactory. Sadly this book doesn’t feature Mr Adams, one of my favourite characters although Mr Wickham is present, he’s a sort of one man booze supplier who feels an affinity with anyone with a similar fondness for the demon drink. (Kamarade!)

Editorially Thirkell’s books could be described as being a total mess. She rambles madly and goes off at tangents, but it’s all obviously contrived. She’s madly snobbish and she freely admitted to nicking stuff from many authors – Trollope and Dickens obviously, but I’ve just realised that she nicked things from E.F.Benson’s writing too. I read Trollope but avoid Dickens so I’m sure that I’m missing a lot of allusions to his writing, not that that would spoil the books for anyone. There are a couple of mistakes in this book, but by this time Thirkell herself was obviously getting confused with all the many inhabitants of her Barsetshire, something which she admitted within this book.

I do think that Thirkell’s best books are those that she wrote during and about World War 2 and the subsequent years when Britain was struggling under austerity and the never ending ration. It gave her so much scope to have rants against those who were in power and gives a window into life as it was lived and the changes in society, always entertaining and informative.

Several other readers have mentioned on Goodreads that Love At All Ages is the last in her Barsetshire series but I have Three Score Years and Ten which was published two years later. Although it was unfinished at her death, and was finished by C.A. Lejeune who apparently had often spoken of the characters with Angela Thirkell, so hopefully she was able to replicate the same atmosphere of the books. I intend to read it soon-ish.

Recent Book Purchases

Recent Book Purchases

On our recent road trip down to England I bought quite a few books – surprise surprise I hear you say.

1. Film-Lovers’ Annual – 1934
2. The Derbyshire Dales by Norman Price
3. The Better Part by Annie S. Swan
4. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
5. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
6. Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell
7. The Provincial Lady In America by E.M. Delafield
8. Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell
9. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
10. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy even more books as I saw two old Batsford travel books and I actually thought I had bought one Batsfprd book but I’ve just realised that the Derbyshire Dales book was actually published by Warne. I’m now regretting not buying Batsford’s England and Scottish Borders. Oh well, hopefully they’ll turn up at another time and place.

I bought the Dean’s Film-Lovers Annual from 1934 for the photos in it, some of very famous film stars such as Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and an awful lot that I had never heard of so I’ll be googling them. There are interesting photos of film sets too and a photo of Harold Lloyd’s sitting-room showing bookcases full of books. I’d love to be able to see what they are.

Titty or Tatty? what’s in a name

It’s a good long time since I read Swallows and Amazons and I don’t even remember one of the characters being called Titty, it can’t have struck me as being weird at the time. However her name is being changed to Tatty in a new film version which is being made by the BBC, you can read about it here. The author of the article, Nicholas Tucker has apparently written a lot about children’s literature in the past, but in this article he writes about words which were used by writers in the past, innocently, but which couldn’t be used today, such as ejaculate, meaning to exclaim, which used to be used by lots of authors including Enid Blyton if I’m remembering correctly. The word ‘screw’ in Victorian literature of course means salary, language changes all the time.

He goes on to mention that Angela Thirkell used the words ‘giant cock’ in her book The Brandons, it was of course a fairground attraction in the shape of a cockerel. Tucker seems to think that it’s unthinkable that Thirkell could have put that into her story deliberately. It smacks of those daft people who think that their generation is the one which invented sex!

Of course Thirkell put it in deliberately, and all of her readers would have had a right good snigger at it, her books are full of things like that, that’s what makes them so funny and popular in their day and now. Tucker seems to think that because Thirkell was rather snobbish and was a granddaughter of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, it means that a ‘naughty’ word would never have passed her lips! Whereas of course, her hobnobbing with rather posh people and being one of them herself makes it a dead certainty that she was a ‘bit of a goer’- as they say.

Tucker also doesn’t seem to realise that children’s books are written on two levels, one for the child and one for the adult who may be reading it to them.

I suppose he’ll be saying next that – a marquis’s son is unused to wine!

Jutland Cottage by Angela Thirkell

Jutland Cottage by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1953 and early on in the book the inhabitants of Barsetshire are quite despondent as the death of King George VI is announced, like everyone else it comes as a shock to them as they had thought he was getting better after an earlier health scare. They’ve just realised that they now have three queens: Queen Mary – King George’s mother, Queen Elizabeth the King’s widow and the new young Queen Elizabeth II – the one who should really have been called Elizabeth I of Britain if you ask me!

But most of the book is concerned with the Phelps family who live at Jutland Cottage. The head of the family is Admiral Phelps, retired from the Royal Navy but still fighting the battle of Jutland on a daily basis, with anyone who is willing to listen to his reminiscences. He’s not in the best of health and nor is his wife, in fact between them they are running their poor only child Margot ragged as she is running their house and smallholding single handed as well as looking after them.

Margot’s plight is taken up as a charitable cause by the neighbourhood and as she is taken in hand and spruced up by the very beautiful but dim and madly annoying Rose Fairweather nee Birckett, who it turns out has become very kind and thoughtful despite the fact that she is finding everything too shattering.

The Wiple Terrace inhabitants feature quite a lot in this book, single handedly taking on the national debt via booze tax by the sound of it as they sink enough alcohol between them to float a ship off.

This is the sort of book which I can’t help reading bits out of every now and again, and Jack is usually quite appreciative of the excerpts. Thirkell must have been a great observer of old married couples and their relationships, she’s so authentically amusing.

After reading quite a gruesome crime book it was a real treat to dive into the silliness and rambling writing of Thirkell and re-visit the towns and villages of her Barsetshire. This isn’t her best book, my favourites are the wartime books but I still loved it and for anyone interested in the social history of the time it’s a must. I only have a few of the Barsetshire books to track down now and I intend to re-read them all in order eventually as I’ve just been reading them as I’ve got them. If like me you are ticking them off in a notebook (it comes everywhere with me just in case I come across a booksale on my jaunts) as you go then you might be interested in this list of Thirkell’s books.

Happy Returns by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell’s books could be subtitled Hatches, Matches and Dispatches in Barsetshire I suppose, but they’re always very enjoyable and funny comfort reads for me. I was so lucky to stumble across Happy Returns on a recent visit to the St Andrews bookshop because I wasn’t even looking for her books as I had looked not long before and there had been nothing at all. It just shows you that the inhabitants of the bookshelves are changing all the time.

Happy Returns was published in 1952 and it’s a real bit of social history as at the time it was written the health of King George VI was a worry to people, but it was time for a General Election and so the King had to be propped up in bed to sign the necessary documents. The Labour government has been squeezing the wealthier members of Britain’s population and of course all the ‘better’ families of Barchester are dead against that and all for a Conservative win with Churchill at the helm again. The Liberals come in for a lot of derision – so no change there then!

On the surface Thirkell’s books are easy comfort reads but she always mentions things which were of importance to people, like the fact that after 5 or 6 years of war many of the men who had seemed absolutely normal at the end of it, had been jolted unexpectedly as nobody came home as they had been before and they were all damaged by it in some way mentally if not physically.

As usual there’s plenty of mutual home visiting going on, and lots of parties and dinners are attended. Lady Cora is about to give birth, the Luftons are trying to get over the loss of Lord Lufton but his widow is having a hard time adjusting to being on her own. Their wealthy Scottish tenant Mr Macfadyen (Amalgamated Vedge) is accepted by Barchester society as a good sort. Mr Wickham still manages to get booze and seems never to be without a bottle of something.

Various marriages are forthcoming, one seemingly rocky marriage is saved, but the thing which is exercising the Jorams is the fact that His Grace the Bishop and the Bishopess, as they style that much hated harridan, keep postponing their cruise, which means that the Jorams keep having to postpone their party as they are determined to have it while the ecclesiastical bigwigs are away so that they don’t have to invite them. Honestly, it is funny, especially as the good people of Barsetshire are just about praying for the demise of that detested couple.

What I’m trying to remember is – do the bishop and his wife ever actually appear as characters or are they just referred to from time to time? I’m wondering if they are like Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army and ‘Her Indoors’ in Minder – often spoken of but never seen.

I was swithering about whether to count Thirkell as Scottish, to me she is but to most folk she would be seen as English. Her father was Scottish and she obviously spent a lot of time in Scotland and was brilliant at writing in Scottish dialects, her maiden name was Mackail, her brother was Denis Mackail and her godfather was J.M. Barrie.

I’ll plump for being cautious and not count this one towards the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge as I’ll easily read more than 20 Scottish books this year anyway.

Read Scotland 2014

Have you signed up for Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge yet? If not then have a wee think about doing it as I’m sure you could read at least 3 or 4 books which would qualify for it without even realising. For instance did you realise that Ian Fleming would fall into the category of Scottish author, and almost all of the children’s classic authors were Scottish or of Scottish descent. Now that Jack has actually retired he is going to do this challenge, his first ever, he should have much more time for reading now, have a look at his post about it here. We will both be doing the Ben Nevis which is 13 books but we’ll end up doing far more than that I’m sure. In fact I think I might manage a purely mythical Jings, crivens and help ma boab category, and if you’ve ever read Oor Wullie you’ll know that those are all words which are used to mean flabbergasted, astonished, for goodness sake! Because I plan to read about 50 books for this challenge.

To begin with I’m reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe over the month of January, doing it in four chunks and writing about it each week. Join in with me if you think you’re hard enough! Judith are you still up for it?

At the same time I intend to read Lanark by Alasdair Grey as a respite from Ivanhoe. Lanark was voted the second best Scottish book recently, the first was Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting but I don’t fancy that one at all. Below is a list of some of the Scottish fiction authors that I’ll definitely be reading during 2014, I’ll be adding more though. Books with a Scottish setting are also eligible for the challenge. Have a look at the Scottish Books Trust for more inspiration.

Iain Banks
William Boyd
John Buchan
Andrew Crumey
O.Douglas
Alasdair Grey
A.L. Kennedy
Dennis Mackail
Compton Mackenzie
Allan Massie
James Oswald
Rosamund Pilcher
James Runcie
A.D. Scott
Walter Scott
Mary Stewart
Jessica Stirling
Josephine Tey
Alison Thirkell
Angela Thirkell

If I read just one by all of these writers then I’ll have bagged Ben Nevis and then some, but I still have my non fiction books to look through and list, it looks like 2014 is going to be a very Scottish (parochial) year for me!

Oh and I’ll be writing about some of the many children’s classics which are suitable for this challenge. You’re never too old for a good children’s book. Remember that you don’t have to have a blog to take part in this challenge.

Thanks for setting this up Peggy Ann.

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell

The Headmistress was first published in 1944, in fact my copy is a first edition hardback, not that I’m bothered about such things but I do prefer hardbacks to the modern paperbacks.

This one mainly involves the Belton family, they’ve fallen on hard times and are unable to afford to live in their large home. Luckily the Hosiers’ Girls’ Foundation School has rented the property for the duration of the war, however long that may be, and the Beltons have taken up residence in a smaller house which is situated more conveniently in the village.

I did enjoy this one although it didn’t feature much in the way of food rationing information, it was mainly clothes coupons which seemed to be a worry. I really like all the social history side of these books but there’s plenty of humour too.

The character of Heather Adams starts off as ghastly annoying schoolgirl and by the end has begun to transform into an almost likeable young woman. But it’s Miss Sparling, the headmistress of the school who as a newcomer has caught the eye of more than one of the local gentlemen, there always has to be some romance after all.

Friendships are forged when people realise that they have a hatred for the same person, everything else is forgotten about when the Bishop or Miss Pettinger rear their ugly heads. Those characters manage to unite people against them. This seems so realistic to me, I’ve definitely experienced the most unusual combinations of people who have bonded over a mutual dislike.

This storyline must have spoken to so many of the original readers of the book as the younger members of the families are all being sent off overseas and are really not expecting to be coming home again. In reality that was exactly what was happening in every community in the UK and elsewhere of course.

I could be doing without the Mixo-Lydian/Slavo-Lydian nonsense but I suppose that was reflecting the animosity between some of the many Eastern European refugees who were finding there way to the UK during the war. I think that the Mixo-Lydians must have in reality been Romanians as they have ‘escu’ endings to their surnames.

This was another enjoyable visit to Barsetshire, mainly with the Belton family who are the descendants of the Beltons who featured in Anthony Trollope’s book The Belton Estate.

Never Too Late by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell seems to have been writing one book a year for quite a long time and by popular demand but this is the first time I’ve ever read two back to back in quick succession. It was just fortuitous that I could do it because it turned out that Never Too Late is a sequel to Enter Sir Robert which did end with quite a lot of ends hanging loosely.

So in Never Too Late we find out what happens to The Manor House, which had been used for some years as a bank, but was again in need of a new tenant. The inhabitants of the Wiple Terrace cottages appear, with their many bottles of booze. A lot of the not so young men of the county who had been involved in World War 2 and have bonded over their experiences in France come to the realisation that they should have got married a few years before, and Edith is probably too young for them. Even Mr Choyce, the vicar is on the look out for a suitable lady wife.

Captain Fairweather and his wilfully stupid wife, Rose Birkett as was, also turn up and it turns out that Rose has a wonderful social memory and can remember everyone she has ever met, which has been an immense help to her husband in his career, I knew she’d have to be useful for something!

Sir Robert hangs over the place like a shadow which never reaches human form, well almost never. Lord Stoke has his suspicions I think, as do I, but Agnes is happily oblivious to any blots in her marital life.

In amongst all this is the usual social observation and wit which you expect from a visit to Barsetshire and as there’s quite a lot of Mrs Morland too, it was a very enjoyable read.