Friday, 13 May 2011

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson: the English Little House on the Prairie

I mentioned this in passing in an earlier post as an example of a neglected classic that can help your writing.  People may be familiar with the spin-off TV series, but the original series of books has much more to offer.  These are really pseudo novels, thinly-disguised autobiography much in the vein of the Little House on the Prairie books.  Flora relates her life growing up in an English village at the end of the nineteenth century.  Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Flora began to write of her experiences later in life, realizing, again like her American counterpart, that the first few decades of the twentieth century had ushered in such rapid change that the way of life they grew up with was in danger of being forgotten.

Flora Thompson
Although she was thankfully wrong that all idea of this life would disappear, still, she throws light on the subtler attitudes and mores of village life that escape most modern depictions of the period.  For example, the essential isolation of village life, both between and among settlements, is underscored in the idea that a ‘good’ wife kept to her home and didn’t go gossiping among her neighbours.  We see the type of attitude that can cheerfully send very young children to walk several miles to visit relatives in another village, yet at the same time forbids the teenage Flora, when employed with her cousin, from being allowed to do the very same.  Yet new views also rub up against old: Flora’s mother accepts her role as housewife and mother of multiple children, while Flora is surprised to discover that younger, middle class young couples are quite open about intentions to take advantage of newly available family planning advice to limit families.  As I’d like to reiterate from my previous post, this trilogy challenged what I thought was a solid understanding of English country life.

If you enjoy the village life depicted in Lark Rise to Candleford, you might peruse The Peverel Papers, some of Flora’s collected essays for The Catholic Fireside magazine, or Still Glides the Stream, posthumously published reminiscences of Oxfordshire.

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