Thirkell Update

Thirkell portraitAngela Thirkell (1890-1961) was an English and Aussie author who published approximately five million volumes of a family saga set in the fictional world of Barsetshire. (Nothing like a little hyperbole. She actually published about 37 novels in this series and I’m up to #18.)

Although her characters tend to lead fairly ordinary and domestic lives, Thirkell herself didn’t – perhaps the plots reflect a more ideal life in her mind? I don’t know – she might have been a person who thrived on unpredictability and impulsiveness, so who knows, really? I’m not judging her by any means – I just think it’s rather fun to try to delve under the layers to find out more about a person and his/her work…

So, as mentioned, Thirkell was a prolific writer who published an average of a novel/year for ages. (She referred to each of her new novels as “old wine in a new bottle” which is pretty on-target as plots are recycled one after the other. (In this case, I don’t mind as the books are well spaced out due to being difficult to find, and the repetition is not enough for me to notice it for the most part.) You can tell she was a big fan of Trollope in how the characters interact and the plots develop. I think she’s easier to read as there are fewer tangents about church politics – more about cups of tea and hosting dinner parties.

She was a well-educated woman who moved in rather elite social circles (with family connections) and her novels do have a satirical bite to them (although it’s covered in sugar most of the time). Wiki reports that due to her well-read background, she “quoted frequently, and without attribution, from novels by Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Elizabeth Gaskell” which could be arguably interpreted as a nice way to say plagiarism. (I don’t have any specific passages to point to in support of this, but perhaps others do. If so, please drop me a comment.)

Despite this flaw, the Barsetshire series is a lot of fun to read although rather challenging to find. I am having to inter-library-loan the majority of the titles as they seem to have gone out of print for some reason. I do know that Virago re-published a few titles over the past few years, so perhaps there is a long-term plan to do the whole series. Right now, though, half the fun is finding the titles as I read through the back-list.

Which leads me nicely to the following pics. This particular ILL volume was kindly lent by the Tom Green County Library in San Angelo, Texas, and is a 1941 edition of “Northbridge Rectory” in this Barsetshire series I keep mentioning. Older library books can be hilarious to look at sometimes as, commonly, there can be a little history inside its pages in terms of readers’ marks, comments, and other detritus of the reading experience. This one, for example, had a reader who was meticulous about social titles:


Two pages further on, there is a very authoritative stamp which proclaims the following and which made me snigger a bit, considering the ad hoc editing that had occurred earlier. (I can just imagine the person who made the marks previously justifying the page edits to her/himself in her/his head… “But this is different”…) 🙂


And then, right towards the back of the book, there is a rather interesting detail about the typeset that the printer used:


It’s these long-forgotten details that help me to enjoy the older editions of books… I’m pretty sure that 50 Shades or Twilight won’t retain these little marks in future generations!

1 thought on “Thirkell Update

  1. Pingback: Suggested Summer Reading…. (Part One) | Just One More Page…

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