The Brandons

brandonsThis is the sixth of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, and it is just possible that it’s the most charming one yet. The novel centers around the unbelievably alluring (if rather scatterbrained) Mrs. Brandon and her two sensible children, Francis and Delia. To this contented family we add the high entertainment factor of Mrs. Brandon’s many admirers: among them, Mr. Miller, the vicar; and Hilary Grant, Mr. Miller’s pupil, who is Francis’s age. Hilary, in particular, has fallen violently in love with Mrs. Brandon the moment he saw her, and his earnest passion (complete with poetry) is extremely funny:

…his incoherent and jumbled wish had been entirely a prayer to be allowed to die some violent and heroic death while saving Mrs. Brandon from something or somebody, to have her holding his chill hand, and perhaps letting her cheek rest for a moment against his as his gallant spirit fled, all with a kind of unspoken understanding that he should not really be hurt and should somehow go on living very comfortably in spite of being heroically dead.

(To this sort of thing, Francis and Delia merely shake their heads. They are accustomed to their mother’s “hopeless cases.”)

Because Thirkell models herself on Trollope, though, behind this flamboyant background, a real love story is taking place. This one is between Mr. Miller and Miss Morris, companion to the now deceased Miss Brandon (an elderly relative of the Brandons.) The two had known each other forty years earlier, when Mr. Miller lived with Miss Morris’s father as he studied to become a priest. Ideological differences separated the two men, and Miss Morris found it difficult to forgive the young Mr. Miller for causing her father pain. But time has made it possible for these two to be gentle to each other, and to themselves, and watching them come back together is an absolute joy.

This isn’t a complicated book. There’s a death and an inheritance, people falling in and out of love, an engagement or two, and a glorious church fete (complete with Laura and Tony Morland, two of my favorite characters!) The entire thing is carried along on the river of Thirkell’s words, a sort of low, gentle, hilarious stream. If you’ve been feeling tired or stressed or worried, this is the sort of book that might really rest you, and I can’t say fairer than that. Thirkell wrote it in 1939, on the brink of war, knowing that this was the last peaceful English summer for some time, and it brims with contentment. Read it and garner some for yourself.

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14 Responses to The Brandons

  1. whatmeread says:

    I’ve read Thirkell on and off, but this is one I haven’t read. I’ll have to try it!

  2. As I’ve only read the first of these Thirkell books, it’s great to know that I have this one to look forward to! Thanks for introducing this series to me, by the way.

  3. Jane Mackay says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed The Brandon’s, it’s one of my favourite Thirkells and I’ve read it over and over again, and I can still remember when I bought my copy, a Penguin, in a small newsagent which had no more than ten books for sale. The only thing is: surely the son of the house is Francis not Paul.

  4. Jenny says:

    What a great memory! And thank you so much for the correction — you’re quite right — fixed now.

  5. Jane Mackay says:

    Now I need to make a correction: I cannot think how I put an apostrophe in ‘The Brandons’. How restrained of you not to point it out!

  6. Pingback: “Bother the Incubus!” Angela Thirkell, High Rising » Novel Readings - Notes on Literature and Criticism

  7. So happy to hear you enjoyed this! I so love Lavinia and straight-forward Delia (bit meh over Francis, frankly, though that is more to do with his behaviour in later books).

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, shoot — I thought Francis was great in this one. I’ll have to reserve judgment! But actually, I love people who cast wrenches into the works as well, like Mrs. Grant. She reminded me of a character in Cold Comfort Farm. Delicious.

  8. Karen K. says:

    Now I want to search Amazon and get all the Thirkells I am missing from the series — I think I have nine so far, but just random books I’ve picked up in used bookstores. I know this series is going to suck me in just like Poldark!

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