Pomfret Towers

pomfret towersThis is the fifth in Angela Thirkell’s delightful series of Barsetshire novels, and it is just as much of a delicious petit four as the rest of them so far. In this one, Alice Barton, a painfully-shy young woman who dabbles in art, is forced to go to her first house-party at Pomfret Towers. She is mortally terrified of supercilious housemaids, hunting, the wrong undergarments, being asked to dance, and other girls, and she wishes for sudden death to cover her. But things turn out otherwise for Alice.

Also present in this novel is a raft of wonderful characters, including the curmudgeonly Lord Pomfret, his deeply kind heir Mr. Foster, the unpleasant and self-absorbed author Mrs. Rivers and her even more unpleasant and self-absorbed artist son Julian (with whom Alice, naturally, falls in love because of his Greek-godly looks), good-natured horse-and-dog lover Roddy Wicklow and his sister Sally, and Mr. Johns, who has the misfortune to represent Mrs. Rivers’s books, as well as Alice’s mother’s.

As you can imagine at a house-party like this, shenanigans ensue in the most charming way imaginable. Mrs. Rivers’s blatant attempts to inveigle Mr. Foster into marrying her daughter Phoebe and to manipulate Mr. Johns into giving her ever-larger advances on her books are foiled; Alice, to her surprise and pleasure, makes a friend; Julian’s narcissism and rudeness have less consequence than they might. Thirkell makes constant, gentle fun of authors and artists, but she has compassion for everyone except the utterly self-involved — and even they may only be very, very, young.

Angela Thirkell is very funny in a low, burbling way. This book is frothy, self-deprecating, and witty — and sometimes poignant as well. The stakes are never very high, but there’s genuine feeling behind everything from proposals to nights of quiet loneliness. There are some lovely references to Trollope (the dean at Plumstead Episcopi who insists that no one writes as Dickens and Thackeray these days, for instance) as well. I have liked this series so much thus far. Do they ever connect up? Will I see any of these characters in other books? Because I’ve enjoyed their company so much that I’d gladly seek it out again and again.

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18 Responses to Pomfret Towers

  1. There are something like twenty two books with recurring characters: you have only touched the top of the iceberg! :)

    • Jenny says:

      But you see, none of the characters have recurred yet, so there’s no iceberg in sight. That’s why I asked! I’m glad to hear that eventually there will be an iceberg.

      • There will. Mrs Morland should come soon again. And Lady Emily Leslie is Lord Pomfret’s sister. This is a hint that families will expand and intertwin. :)

      • Maybe I have read them in a different order, or maybe we’re reading in the same order but you’re expecting a more obvious connection? The Demon in the House is the one I read third and the main character is the son of the writer, Laura Morland, in the first volume (so she becomes a more tangential character), High Rising. And I think one of the young men who is fairly prominent in the second volume reappears in the fourth? I really enjoy the subtle interconnections; I think that’s my favourite part of the series so far!

  2. Lisa says:

    I think they start connecting together in the books from the war years, though Laura Morland shows up in some of the earlier books, as I remember. I can’t wait for you to get to The Brandons :)

    • Jenny says:

      I think The Brandons is the very next one! I have been making an effort to read these more often than once a year, so I’ll probably get to it in about six months.

  3. You will certainly see the characters connect up in later books (though the quality goes down as that happens). I do love this one – it might be my favourite of her pre-war books.

  4. aartichapati says:

    I’ve read two of the books in this series. I really loved High Rising, though I didn’t like Wild Strawberries as much (I think I was jolted a bit out of the pleasantness of a rural English village by a racist comment made by the hero of that story). I should return and try more!

    • Jenny says:

      Sometimes even the best 1930s books can jar you that way, I agree. High Rising was wonderful — it gave me that where-have-you-been-all-my-life feeling. And the rest have just charmed me as well.

  5. lailaarch says:

    Thanks for writing about these. I’ve not yet tried them, but when my TBR Challenge is up in April I’m going to get the first one! They sound like they’re right up my alley.

  6. Has another writer picked up the thread, by chance? I like the idea of Barsetshire existing perpetually.

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