Thursday, July 27, 2017

Marling Hall - Angela Thirkell

still in 1942, but this time in Barsetshire and the War is everywhere. It's a very different atmosphere to George Bellairs 'Death of a Busybody' where he ignored it as far as possible. As ever with Angela Thirkell reading her books once is not enough (I'm very grateful for the Internet and the access it gives me to the Angela Thirkell society's guides go her novels. Invaluable for chasing down references.) there's so much detail that a lot of it will always slip past me first read round.

That's partly because the first time I read these books I'm sort of concentrating on the plot, such as it is, and trying to keep everybody's relationships, names, and children straight. After that it's Thirkell's rather malicious humour as she digs her pen into people or types that annoy her. And then there's her insiders view of an upper middle class world under increasing threat.

'Marling Hall' opens with William Marling, squire of Marling Hall, a man in late middle age contemplating 'his small and much loved world crumbling beneath his feet during his life and a fair probability that his family will never be able to live in Marling Hall after his death.' Regardless of how you might feel about class, this is a sad reflection - it's not the relative luxury, but the personal history, and the pride in being able to pass something beloved on to the next generation that's being threatened. Knowing the number of country houses that were demolished post war (see Here for more), some of them of real architectural significance, it isn't unlikely that Marling Hall would have been raised to the ground. I don't know if Thirkell had any inkling if the scale of the destruction that would come with peace when she wrote this, but it lends a considerable pathos to her defence of old county ways.

There's a lot about the county set in 'Marling Hall' and I will admit that I'm feeling faintly nostalgic for my memories of what that meant when I was a child. Men in tweed suits that they quite possibly had made before the war, or that may even have belonged to their fathers before them and frankly intimidating women with pearls who looked capable of just about anything, mostly encountered at the local agricultural show. They would have been the generation that Thirkell is writing about here - something I hadn't really considered before, but is probably another reason I like her books (without wanting to live in one).

Something else I found particularly interesting in 'Marling Hall' is the focus in child rearing. In Thirkell's eyes this means the right kind of nurse/nanny followed by the right kind of governess, before going to the right kind of schools. It's definitely worth noting that her fictional school (Southbridge) seems to be filled with benign, well educated masters, who do not take pleasure in beating boys. Their diet is good, and they get hot water. This is very much at odds with just about any description of private schools I have ever read or heard.

The question of whether bringing up children is best left to professionals or parents is an interesting one though, but even more interesting is Thirkell's frank admission through one of her characters that her children are far easier to like because she isn't primarily responsible for their care. She can enjoy them without becoming tired or overwhelmed by them. It's not a point of view that fits with the #blessed Instagram image of motherhood - but it's honest.

On the other hand I get the impression that Thirkell would only defend her way of thinking so vehemently if it was under threat not just from outside forces, but from within her own glass/the class she writes about.

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