Welcome to The Angela Thirkell Society

Monochrome portrait of Angela Thirkell. Angela Thirkell Society
Angela Thirkell – by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery

What’s special about Angela Thirkell?

Angela Thirkell was a best-selling writer in the 1930s-1950s especially in Britain and the US. But not every popular novelist would be accounted “a public benefactor” by an eminent figure such as Siegfried Sassoon. What made her special?

Her skill in writing highly readable novels without any sex or violence lies in the portrayal of a wide range of characters, all acutely observed, combined with what Alexander McCall Smith describes as the “coruscating wit” of her dialogue.

Having to earn her living by her pen she had got into her stride by the mid-1930s, her theme being contemporary life in the English countryside. So every year a new book appeared: especially interesting during the Second World War, with accounts of evacuees, Dunkirk, food and fuel rationing shown as affecting the characters we know and have become fond of, even the irritating ones! They are an astonishingly accurate record of English country life from the mid-1930s, extending to the years of austerity after the war.

“Just one of our little peace-time makeshifts,” said Mrs Tebben gaily. “A bit of Spam left over from a tin sent by that kind American friend of your father’s with some of last night’s macaroni cheese and a few nasturtium pods. Oh, and the end of a bottle of Worcestershire sauce that I found on the top shelf of the larder. I think Mrs Phipps must have hidden it.”

Love Among the Ruins (1948)
Chapter Two

Thirkell 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. Elizabeth Bowen said “If the social historian of the future does not refer to this writer’s novels, he will not know his business” which, although true, sounds rather solemn. The fact is that Thirkell is also wickedly funny, eliciting a smile or a chuckle from the reader at frequent intervals.

Such literature was seen as vital in maintaining public morale during the war, to the point where proposals to ration paper were modified to enable a flow of new works. In the current century, the pandemic with its socially isolating effects has again showed how valuable Thirkell’s work is, as the Society’s members will testify.

Angela Thirkell’s creation of unforgettable characters is matched by her interpolation of an extraordinarily wide 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 and nursery rhymes. Tracing those sources has occupied members for many years and they are recorded in the References and Relusions section of this website.

The Angela Thirkell Society

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.

Photograph of Diana McFarlan, the founder of The Angela Thirkell Society
Founder, Diana McFarlan

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, Australia, and the USA. 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.

PresidentThomas Thirkell
ChairmanHilary Temple
Committee SecretarySarah Preston
Membership EnquiriesSue Jenkins
TreasurerSally Phillips

Enthusiasts in the Americas may like to visit our North American associates
The Angela Thirkell Society of North America.