Angela Thirkell was an English and Australian novelist, born in 1890. She was literarily well-connected as the daughter of an Oxford don, and the cousin of Rudyard Kipling. She is best known for her series of novels set in Barsetshire, the fictional county created by Anthony Trollope in his Chronicles of Barsetshire, beginning with The Warden. These are considered his ecclesiastical novels, centering around the church and the country gentry. Angela Thirkell’s novels equally center around English country life in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Angela Thirkell is a rather neglected novelist, although she inspires intense loyalty among her fans. There are actually two Angela Thirkell Societies, one in the UK, and one in North America. The link to the Angela Thirkell Society of North America can be found here: http://www.angelathirkell.org.
Wild Strawberries was her second Barsetshire novel, coming after High Rising (which I have not read). It was first published in 1934. Her books have frequently been out of print, and are therefore somewhat difficult to find. My edition of Wild Strawberries was published by Moyer Bell and is, sadly, a really fairly awful reprint – riddled with errors and odd page breaks. I understand that Virago is in the process of reprinting at least some of her novels, but I was unable to get my hands on their reprint of Wild Strawberries. None of the books are – at least at this point – available for kindle or in any other electronic format. Hope springs eternal, because I would dearly love to have the complete set for my kindle.
However, getting down to it, Wild Strawberries is purely delightful. It is a light read, and is the kind of book that seems no longer to be written – absurdly comedic and full of wit and intelligence. It is the brief story of a house party at Rushwater House in West Barsetshire. The story itself reminds me strongly of Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina, although the heroine is not the child of a servant. The two romantic leads, however, are a younger brother named David, who is wildly attractive and rather a dilettante, and the older brother, John, a widower, who is a good-looking enough, but is staid and responsible.
While I was reading it, I realized that winter is really not the correct season for this book. Not that it wasn’t a fabulously witty romp, but this is the kind of book that should be read on my front porch on a summer evening.
In any event, in order to convince everyone who stumbles on this post to at least give Ms. Thirkell a try, I hereby offer some of my favorite quotes:
Day followed day in delightful emptiness. Agnes and her mother did their embroidery and had endless conversations about plans for visiting neighbors or having a few people to lunch, plans which usually never got beyond their inception. Mary went for long walks alone, played tennis with the doctor and his wife, and spent much of her time with the children.
“Do you think it would be more pathetic if the girl gave her blood and died, and then the man went off into the desert to be a monk, or if the man died and the wife and the girl made friends over his corpse and both became nuns? One might do good business with that, because in films no one much cares if the hero lives or dies so long as there are plenty of lovely heroines.
Could Mary care for him except through pity? Kind she had called him, but gratitude for kindness can be very far from love. Shaken and bewildered he could only let the evening bring forth its own fruits. If they were bitter, he could taste them without shrinking.
Wild Strawberries is not a romance, although it has strong romantic themes. It is light, often funny, and entertaining.