Nothing quite lifts the spirits like a weekend spent in 1938 with Angela Thirkell!
When Karen at Kaggsys Bookish Ramblings announced that she and Simon from Stuck in a Book were launching the 1938 club, I couldn’t wait to join in the fun. After some frustrated shelf foraging, I quick google later and I hit the jackpot with Angela Thirkell’s comedy Pomfret Towers. Angela Thirkell is an author I’ve heard so many positive things about, and I’d managed to pick up a brace of her Barsetshire novels at a secondhand bookshop some time ago, Pomfret Towers included. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that if the story lived up to its fabulous cover all would be well.
When the bombastic Lord Pomfrey invites Alice Barton and her brother Guy, to Pomfret Towers for the weekend, shy young Alice is paralysed with fear at attending such a social event. Discovering that her good friends Sally and Roddy Wicklow will also be there, she rallies a little. On arrival, Alice, terrified she’ll show herself up in front of the staff, is kindly taken under the wing of Phoebe Rivers, who is staying in the room next door. She and her brother Julian are also guests for the weekend, and their mother, an author, takes every opportunity to throw her daughter into the path of Mr Foster, who will be heir to the Pomfret estate.
The surly pretentious Julian is more interested in talking about his art and himself than in socialising with the other guests, however, Alice, is immediately smitten.
‘You are Miss Barton, aren’t you?’ he asked, looking intently at her. On hearing these remarkable words Alice at once fell in love. It had never happened to her before except with people like Charles I, or Sydney Carton, but she knew at once that it was the real thing…… In that flash of ecstasy she suddenly knew what all poetry, all music, all sculpture, except things like winged Assyrian bulls, or the very broken pieces in the British Museum, meant.
Pomfret Towers has all the elements you’d expect from such a comedy of manners. It is set in a country house with a brusque bad-tempered Lord, and a Lady who is only really concerned with her dogs and travels to Italy, a tangled knot of young people in love that is set straight by the end, complicated business wranglings and misunderstandings and underpinning the whole shebang, are the steady reliable workforce, solving all of the problems behind the scenes.
I found the novel highly entertaining, and Thirkell’s wit is as dry as a bone and sharp as an arrow, making me laugh out loud numerous times. However, what struck me as quite peculiar was how much I’d begun to care about the characters by the end of the novel. There’s an attention to detail in Thirkell’s characterisation which fleshes out her characters, bringing them to life far more fully than the stock characters one usually expects in such novels.
I was planning to read P.G. Wodehouse’s ‘The Code of the Woosters’ which was also published in 1938, but unfortunately I ran out of time. It would have been interesting to compare the two. As an author of comedy brilliance, Wodehouse is a firm favourite of mine, and while I wasn’t expecting to rate Thirkell anywhere nearly as highly, after reading Pomfret Towers I’m not so sure. One thing is certain, this won’t be the last book of hers I read.