High Rising was
the first of the 29 novels Angela Thirkell set in Anthony Trollope’s
fictional Barsetshire. But Thirkell isn’t really a successor to
Trollope. He is a great author; Thirkell wrote light comedies of
manners and didn’t pretend to be a serious novelist. Thirkell might
have been thinking of herself when she described the novels of her
protagonist in High Rising,
mystery writer Laura Morland, as “good bad books.”
Thirkell’s Bartsetshire novels were written over more than three decades. A reason to read High Rising and the other 1930s novels today is to glimpse upper-middle-class rural British life between the wars. Laura is an unconventional woman for her time. A widow, she writes to support herself and her four sons. She doesn’t care to remarry; doesn’t miss her weak husband; will make fun of her children. But High Rising also reflects prejudices of the time, especially in antisemitic comments and the treatment of a villainous woman. Also, Laura’s youngest son, an extremely talkative boy, was undoubtedly meant to be charming, but today’s readers are more likely to find him unbearable.
Thirkell’s novels are being reissued by Virago, testifying to the many fans she still has.
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