HAPPY RETURNS

Cover notes and reviews of Angela Thirkell’s 1952 Barsetshire novel, “Happy Returns”. This book was also published in the USA by Alfred A. Knopf,Inc under the title “Happy Return”.

Picture of the dust jacket of "Happy Returns" by Angela Thirkell. Designed by Fritz Wegner.

Cover notes from the Hamish Hamilton edition: “BARSETSHIRE again. But with Mrs. Thirkell’s books one might say “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” [The more things change, the more they stay the same]. Here are many of our old friends and some new ones, all going on much as usual, with just that touch of the unexpected that intrigues and amuses us.

“The Happy Returns are, of course, political, and the County and the Close (with the exception of the Palace) breathe a sigh of relief. An old love story comes at last to a satisfactory end; another has its happy beginning; a young heart breaks – but we feel that in Barsetshire it will some day be mended again.

“Mrs Thirkell has paid much attention to the young clergyman, Mr Parkinson, whom with his delightful wife we have met before, seeing in him the best stuff of the Brave New World coming to help civilisation. We are allowed to be anxious for the Bishop of Barchester, but our anxiety is tempered by the certainty that Mrs Thirkell will never let us lose him for, as the charming Mrs Joram remarked, “It would be quite uncomfortable to have someone at the Palace that one could not really dislike”. We think Mr Trollope would appreciate this point of view.”

BOOK REVIEW by Marghanita Laski, taken from a newspaper cutting taped inside the back cover of a first edition. The words, “Criticism by Marghanita Laski” are written above it, but there’s no clue as to which newspaper it appeared in, or the precise date.

“That dealer in arch snobs, Angela Thirkell, is a lady who has in her time been described as graceful, witty, shrewd, a voluptuary in gay malice, and a female Trollope. No literary critic has yet described her as a lady Tory. But this she is, to her dainty finger-tips. I am a Tory myself, so I wonder if Mrs Thirkell knows how much harm she has already done her True Blue cause.

“Her latest book, HAPPY RETURNS (Hamish Hamilton, 12s 6d.), in spite of a proud boast on page 84 that “Politics are not in our line and to write one word more would be to betray our rooted ignorance,” is not a novel; it is a rambling and misguided political tract.

“Apart from this shameless propaganda, there is a rambling account of Lord Lufton’s love affair, engagement, and marriage to Miss Grace Grantly, an account of the reproduction of the species of various ladies, coy asides to the reader (usually about laughable working-class mispronunciations), and 101 easy, well-known quotations from Palgrave’s “Golden Treasury” and the works of Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray.

“Reading Mrs. Thirkell, I wished most passionately that someone would declare all Dickens quotations unlucky. But more than this, I wish that lady novelists with outstanding gifts would use them to write novels, and not dabble in matters that women do not understand. Like politics.”

Cover notes from the Alfred Knopf (USA) edition, “Happy Return”: “Mr. Churchill’s return to office (celebrated by Mrs. Thirkell as the triumph of Us over Them) has brought new hope to the tax-burdened denizens of England’s most hospitable county. These garrulous deans and kind-hearted peeresses, perplexed young men too poor to declare their love, squires with a nice taste in port and botany, sensitive maidens and distracted domestics, pursue their duties and diversions with a lighter heart. We meet many well-loved friends now grown slightly older. Eric Swann (sic), who used to help Tony Morland with his trains, still wears his disconcerting horn-rims; he is now looking for a wife. Charles Belton has one half-promised, but delays pressing his claim. Lady Lufton, beginning to recover from her widow-hood, wishes her son Ludovic were settled. Mrs. Thirkell uses all her willfulness, wit, and edged acumen in bringing another batch of Barsetshire affairs to the happiest conclusion.”

Happy Return the USA edition of the Thirkell novel, Happy Returns

Frances Lindley, of the Denhard & Stewart Advertising Agency, often produced poetry for Alfred A Knopf to celebrate their latest Thirkell novel.
Here is Happy Return:
“Happy Return! They’re out! We’re in!
England has found the will to win,
And Barsetshire sings loud Ahem:
Her princes are come home again:
Their scepter’d isle, their earth, their realm,
With Mr Churchill at the helm,
Strong to withstand–as oft before–
Infection and the hand of war;
Their dear, dear land, so long unnerved,
Conservative–and thus conserved.
Happy return! The best of folk,
Whose hearts are as the English oak,
Whose speech is as an English brook,
Are back in this beguiling book.
Two of our lately married pairs
Seek Nurses for prospective heirs;
One maiden is betrothed, and one
Is wed to Mrs Belton’s son
(Wherefore maternal hopes beat high
For granny-fodder in good supply).

Happy return to those delights
We taste when Mrs Thirkell writes;
Happy return to laughter and
Happy return to Thirkell-land.


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