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.

Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning

Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levant Trilogies are probably better known as Fortunes of War as that is what the BBC serialisation was named. The first three books were published separately between 1960 and 1965 as :

1. The Great Fortune
2. The Spoilt City
3. Friends and Heroes
and later published in one big volume as The Balkan Trilogy.

As you can see an audio version is available.

The sequel is The Levant Trilogy which was published in three volumes between 1977 and 1980 as:

1. The Danger Tree
2. The Battle Lost and Won
3. The Sum of Things.

If you’re at all interested in World War II you’ll love these books. I read them all in 2008, just before I started blogging and I don’t even have any notes on them but I thoroughly enjoyed the books and they’re written so well I was finished them in no time at all, which was the only disappointing thing really.The writer Anthony Burgess said that they were, “The finest record of the war produced by a British writer.”
Can’t say fairer than that can you?

I remember that I loved watching the BBC serialisation but for some reason it’s never been re-shown, unless I’ve just missed it somehow. It starred a very young Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. I think it was only the second thing that I’d ever seen Emma Thompson in, the first programme was by the BBC again and it was called Tutti Frutti. It was ages ago now and again it doesn’t seem to have been re-shown. But at last, it’s out in DVD.

It was set in Scotland and also had Robbie Coltrane and Richard Wilson in it. I remember it was very funny and is just the sort of thing that they should have on now in these dark and gloomy days. Emma Thompson was able to do a very good Scottish accent. Her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law.

I think I might just put the DVDs on my Christmas list, if my husband’s looking for any ideas!