The 1949 novel, The Old Bank House by Angela Thirkell.
The changing face of Barsetshire!
The face of Barsetshire is changing, and the fate of the Old Bank House, Miss Sowerby’s attractive eighteenth-century home in the High Street at Edgewood, neatly symbolises what is happening to the county as a whole.
Miss Sowerby felt about the place as most people do about their children. Her reluctant decision to part with it was taken almost as much for the house’s sake as for her own, now that she was no longer able to maintain it in the style it deserved.
To the great reliet of all concerned – which, as so often happens in Mrs. Thirkell’s Barsetshire, means all our agreeable old friends in the neighbourhood and a few new ones as well – Sam Adams, M.P., the rich manufacturer from Hoggle-stock who bought it, proved to be “the right kind of new world.”
The house always keeps the upper hand of its tenants and Sam, though a rough diamond, soon fell under its spell and set about fulfilling its needs, even to providing a mistress for it.
Meanwhile we are given the freedom of Barsetshire where, Brave New World not-withstanding, the prevailing note is still kindliness spiced with wit. Though it must be admitted that the note tends to tremble at the mention of Them -the people whom, in the rector’s words, “His Gracious Majesty has to call His Government, which must be a sore mortification to His Majesty.” Otherwise the even tenor of county life, with croquet parties and nursery tea, goes on as before.
Old Lady Emily Graham’s gentle fancies are more wandering than before; the Pomfrets keep up their struggle to maintain the old life, working ceaselessly and selflessly for others and getting little thanks for it.
Mrs. Thirkell has never written more entertainingly than in her descriptions of life at Edgewood Rectory, where, after much hesitation, the family has entrusted its daily needs to Doris and Edna, the two raucous sisters whom Venus had gripped too closely as her prey, not to mention their children of shame.
Surprisingly, the experiment succeeds. If this can happen, the Barsetshire barometer must, one feels, be set permanently fair.
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Critic reviews of the time
” Mrs. Thirkell’s resources as a story teller and humorist are remarkable in their variety.’
– FRANK SWINNERTON
“Grace, wit, equanimity and engaging narrative power . .. if the social historian of the future does not refer to this writer’s novels, he will not know his business.’
– ELIZABETH BOWEN
For sprightliness and gaiety in these black days, what better companion than Mrs. Thirkell? ‘
– RALPH STRAUS
” A very witty woman. A hundred and one times the reader is rewarded by the radiance of that inner grin which comes from sharing some entirely malicious piece of social observation that any man, and most women, would have missed completely.’
– NORMAN COLLINS
I am often impressed by Angela Thirkell’s likeness to Jane Austen: both writers possess a superb command of rural atmosphere and of inducing inner laughter.’
– RACHEL FERGUSON
* Mrs. Thirkell is a voluptuary in gay malice.’
– RICHARD CHURCH
I would call her a female Trollope, if this were not rude and tautologous.”
– CLIFTON FADIMAN
The text on this page is taken from the dust jacket of The Old Bank House, by Angela Thirkell. The book was published in 1949 by publishers Hamish Hamilton who have since become part of Penguin Random House.