The Angela Thirkell Society was founded in 1980 by Diana McFarlan of Dublin, Ireland, who had gathered a small group of devotees together and planned to write a biography of Angela Thirkell. She discovered that one was about to be published, so she contacted the author and put notices in various newspapers and periodicals to announce the existence of the Society. Angela’s son Lance Thirkell learned of this and hosted a London meeting of the Society at which he was elected President. Its first Annual General Meeting took place the following year and the Society went from strength to strength thereafter.
The ATS is based in the United Kingdom, with members throughout Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is a member of the UK Alliance of Literary Societies and representatives regularly attend its meetings.
Angela Thirkell (1890 – 1961) published 36 books, most of which were novels based in the fictional county of Barsetshire created by Anthony Trollope in 1855. Thirkell’s novels were immensely popular in the mid-20th century. A list of her publications can be found here.
Angela Thirkell’s grandfather was the Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer Sir Edward Burne-Jones,
Angela Thirkell’s Writing
Having enjoyed best-selling status in their heyday, popularity of Thirkell’s books decline for some years. They were thought to be too concerned with the upper middle classes as well as a lifestyle that ceased to exist after World War II.
Her books have for the most part been out of print and poorly stocked in libraries for some years, although in the USA nearly all of them have been republished in paperback.
Happily, with the revival of interest in middlebrow 20th century literature, the situation continues to improve.
An accurate and wickedly funny record
To the modern reader the books are increasingly of interest. They are an astonishingly accurate record of English country life from the mid-1930s. They extend through the War, as well as the years of austerity afterwards. Thirkell wrote at the rate of a book a year. She portrayed village and small town life exactly as the events of the day affected their inhabitants. Not just the county families but also the doctors, lawyers and architects, agricultural and domestic workers with whom their lives were associated.
Angela Thirkell’s often caustic wit, her accurate and wickedly funny realisation of unforgettable characters, and her interpolation of an extraordinary range of references and allusions, ranging from Homeric similes through English literature from William Shakespeare through Charles Dickens (and of course Anthony Trollope) to her cousin Rudyard Kipling, historical episodes, nursery rhymes, laced with a sound knowledge of what everyday life was like, mean that one can read and re-read her books.
Enthusiasts in the Americas may like to visit our North American associates The Angela Thirkell Society of North America.