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Lark Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 4 Dec 2008
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Flora Thompson's immortal trilogy, containing "Lark Rise", "Over To Candleford" and "Candleford Green", is a heartwarming portrayal of country life at the close of the 19th century. This story of three closely related Oxfordshire communities - a hamlet, the nearby village and a small market town - is based on the author's experiences during childhood and youth. It chronicles May Day celebrations and forgotten children's games, the daily lives of farmworkers and craftsmen, friends and relations - all painted with a gaiety and freshness of observation that make this trilogy an evocative and sensitive memorial to Victorian rural England.
About the Author
Born in Juniper Hill, Oxfordshire, Flora Thompson left school at 14 to work in the local post office. She married young, and wrote mass-market fiction to help support her increasing family. In her 60s she published the semi-autobiographical trilogy combined as LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD (1945). RICHARD MABEY is the author of some thirty books, including Whistling in the Dark: In Pursuit of the Nightingale, Beechcombings: the narratives of Trees, the ground-breaking and best-selling "cultural flora" Flora Britannica, and Gilbert White, which won the Whitbread Biography Award. His recent memoir Nature Cure was short-listed for three major literary awards. He writes for the Independent, the Guardian, Resurgence and Granta, and contributes frequently to BBC radio. He lives in Norfolk, in the Waveney Valley.
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A lot of the games, rhymes, foods (such as chitterlings and trotters), ways, sayings and customs she describes in her book had somehow filtered through to the fag-end of the 1960s in the cities - I guess many country people who had migrated to the cities had brought with them their ways and sayings, and several described in the her book were very familiar to me a 1960s child. I remember making daisy chains as Laura did, and I remember chanting from the top of a mound of snow during the harsh winter of 1963 “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal” - a similar chant to those Laura heard in her childhood, and so on.
My most favourite phrase from the whole book is “the nearer the bone the sweeter the meat and this last picking - though meagre - was sweet” - if that was a last picking, my childhood was a picking of the pickings as I experienced the very last thin trail of that now lost generation: yet the thin thread which links Laura’s childhood to my own is very real. The main one which stood out as I re-read the book was we both shared a working-class childhood which was free from electronic devices: the only devices we had were our imaginations, exploring the natural world, and our few toys. But it is our imaginations and the natural world which link us together - playing outdoors with rhymes, marbles, skipping, playing with whatever objects we could find and finding the simplest pleasures in them. These things are mainly lost to the current generation of children.
The book does contain lots of intricate detail - but therein lies the beauty as reading it seems to capture the essence of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Forever - is composed of Nows” because Flora Thompson certainly touches something of the “forever” in this book, even though it is set in the time of the 1880s: but the reader is right there with her as she describes the minutia of an enchanting rural childhood. She has a gift for describing details which envelop the reader as if they were there with her as an observer. At the same time however she somehow embraces the future - revealing our vulnerability and mortality, and she captures the beauty and innocence of children whose lives later can be wrecked through war or trauma.
It is a unique book and I personally found it absorbing: there is no sex, very little violence - though the author does not deter from recording the cruelties which life back then presented - and no bad language, so its a lovely clean read. The intricate details might require extra concentration from the reader to appreciate - but therein lies the beauty of reading a delightful chronicle of life in an English Hamlet during the 1880s.
In this book Flora combs the deepest places of her memories as a child and teenager - her mind was like a sponge soaking up every small detail. The reader becomes a time-traveller - transported back to that period with her vivid descriptions.
Well true was the gypsy woman’s prophecy when she read Laura’s fortune: she would be loved by many people she never knew or would ever know.
When I was 16 and first read the book I connected to Flora as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, but now 40 years later, I connect to her as the mature woman who looked back on life through the lens of experience and passing years. Also on my second read, different images stuck in my mind: such as her description of her luxuriating in a deep hot bath, and her enjoyment of a summer evening on the Green which she wanted to linger forever ……. simple things, but things in this ephemeral transient life pass too soon, and have to be enjoyed in the moment.
Okay, if you thought you knew Laura from the TV show, forget that. You don't.
Real Laura knows about heart break. She's met death. She knows real poverty. Unblinkingly accepts her place in a disgusting system of class oppression. She sees sex, she sees love. She's not an innocent idiot (as portrayed on TV).
What she is, from a very early age, is an observer and reporter. What she is reporting is the mechanisation of the agricultural age, soon to be replaced by the industrial age (mature in the North and Midlands) but new, and late, to Oxfordshire.
She is able to captivatingly describe the changes in her tiny hamlet in an innocent voice while avoiding being twee and tiresome.
Laura/Flora uses both her voices to comment, as the observer and her mature self (Flora) to narate. It works very well. Apparently there is another work 'Heatherly', which I am unable - sadly - to locate.
And what a world it was. For all of the hardship and the lack of sophistication, it is obvious that Flora misses it. When she leaves home to work in the post office at Candleford, the world she describes is just about recognisable to the modern reader--or at least one who has read a lot about the past, or even watched period dramas. But even then, it's still a magical world; not in the sense of the supernatural, but almost like a particularly wistful yet realistic dream. I read a hell of a lot of books, and this rates up there with the classics.
I didn't enjoy the TV series anywhere near as much as it rendered saccharine what in the book is sweet. This is a snapshot of an England that was vanished even by the time Flora Thompson wrote the book, and was in the process of vanishing when she lived it. There's a timeless, lovely quality about it, like rose petals pressed in an old book: you catch a hint of fragrance and a memory of summers long gone by returns.
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