Delving into Thirkell and Benson…

villageI’ve been diving into the fictitious and rather perfect worlds of English country villages and their inhabitants the last few weeks – one is Risholme, the home of Lucia and her gang, and the others are in Barsetshire with Mrs. Morland and her crew. Again, the books are very idealistic and probably epitomize the idea of “traditional English village” more than real life, but they are rather fun to read.

Angela Thirkell (1890-1961) was an English author who had an impressive family history: one of her great uncles was a Prime Minister (Stanley Baldwin), another great uncle was Rudyard Kipling , and her brother, Denis Mackail, was also a successful novelist.

bensonpicE. F. Benson (1967-1940) wrote a series of novels with the group title of “Mapp and Lucia”, all revolving around the social goings on of a group of (mostly? all?) upper-middle, upper class villagers who are vying with each other as to who should “rule village society”.  Lucia rules the roost so far in the series, but she’s had some serious challenges from Daisy et al. especially when she left for London for a while.

I am up to number 3 in the Benson series now* although I did read a couple of them (accidentally) out of order just to get a taste of things, and if you are after a light frothy read, then these Lucia books are *perfect* for that.  (It could be argued that the Mapp and Lucia books are a more domestic version of Wodehouse’s Bertie and Wooster, I suppose.)

barsetshire_mapAt the same time, I’ve been delving into Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, which seems to be very similar to me: same sort of time period (1920’s, 1930’s), social machinations of small rural upper class community, continuation of characters from one book to the next (so far)…Thirkell’s seem to be a little more serious in some way, a little more drama and perhaps more “soap opera” as opposed to “comedy”. Still funny but not as pointedly obvious as the omniscient and rather camp narrator in the village of Risholme of Lucia and company.

That’s not to say as a criticism of either author – they are both really good, just in different ways. Benson is much easier to get hold of – free electronic copies are all over the internet – and the only way I have found to get copies of Thirkell is either through buying them (but some are out-of-print) or ordering them through the inter-library loan (ILL) system. As I’m trying to cap how many books I am buying at the moment, I’ve been using the ILL system which is working nicely. (The e-copies of Benson’s Lucia series also meets this goal so that’s been very good as well.)

thirkellBoth Benson and Thirkell were hugely productive and wrote a prodigious amount of novels, short stories etc., but I am not too sure how wise it is to read both of the series at the same time. However, I am now sucked into both of them and must find out how things progress in their little social worlds. Really enjoying them though, so that’s the key fact.

*E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series:

  • Queen Lucia (1920)
  • Miss Mapp (1922)
  • Lucia in London (1927(
  • Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  • Lucia’s Progress (1935) (also known as The Worshipful Lucia)
  • Trouble for Lucia (1939)

Link to the Angela Thirkell Society page which has the huge list of novels she wrote and the order they’ve been published. Best to read them in order, I think.

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