Examines Thirkell's 31 Barsetshire novels as a microcosm of 20th-century English rural life.
After the publication in 1932 of Angela Thirkell's first Barsetshire novel, her fans eagerly awaited a new book in the series, and they were rewarded annually for the next 27 years. Drawing upon the entire body of Barsetshire novels (set in Trollope's imaginary county whose seat, Barchester, is a cathedral town), Laura Collins shows Angela Thirkell's larger purposes in chronicling the daily lives of the rural English. English Country Life demonstrates Thirkell's conviction that loyalty to family, county, and country is the essential bond that strengthens middle-class culture; her close acquaintance with the English countryside, her high regard for the wit and wisdom of its people, and her firm conviction that the strong family unit is the backbone of the nation, are recurrently illustrated in the Barsetshire series. Collins traces the development of representative county families and their responses to the forces of political and economic decline. The book conveys Thirkell's mastery of detail in recreating life on the county's estates and farms, and in towns and villages, reflecting the cultural changes forced upon all social classes by the two World Wars and their aftermath.
Collins shows how Thirkell's own life is reflected in her county chronicles. Perhaps most significantly, Collins believes Thirkell's own experiences as a daughter and as a mother to three sons is reflected throughout the novels, revealing largely in hindsight the touching ironies as well as the comedy of these relations. In the course of these narratives, her sharp sense of human nature is seen at its best when she introduces readers to the many babies, toddlers, and adolescents who grow up in Barsetshire. Making extensive use of the series, Collins demonstrates convincingly that Thirkell presents an authentic record of upper middle-class English country life. For public libraries and research collections where Angela Thirkell's novels are read, enjoyed, and studied.