One From the Archive: ‘The Brandons’ by Angela Thirkell ***

First published in May 2014.

The Brandons is the 598th entry upon the Virago Modern Classics list.  The novel was first published in 1939, and the new reprint has been adorned with another of Mick Wiggins’ lovely cover designs.  The Brandons is part of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire Chronicles series, which is comprised of twenty nine novels in all.

As the title suggests, The Brandons focuses upon the family of the same, and focuses chiefly upon Lavinia Brandon, who is deemed ‘quite the loveliest widow in Barsetshire’.  She lives with her two ‘handsome’ grown-up children, Francis and Delia, in quiet comfort at Stories, the family home.  The central thread of the story is realised when cousin Hilary Grant comes to stay, and ‘promptly falls for his fragrant hostess’ Lavinia.  She, however, is more interested upon making ‘a match’ between the vicar and ‘gifted village helpmeet’ Miss Morris, whilst ‘elegantly deterring her [own] lovestruck suitors’.

Lavinia Brandon has been widowed for quite some time, and has no qualms about being harsh or unfeeling regarding her late husband.  She frequently refers to how cruel he was, and Thirkell says of him, ‘As for Mr Brandon’s merits, which consisted chiefly in having been an uninterested husband and father for some six or seven years and then dying and leaving his widow quite well off, no one thought of them’.  The novel is not overly plot-driven, really, and involves itself heavily with such things as hosting and attending dinner parties and having to marry off one’s children by a certain age, lest they amount to no more than spinsters.

Thirkell writes wonderfully, and sets out the lives of her characters against backgrounds in which they live.  Her trademark wit can be found throughout The Brandons, and one can see how she always picks up on the very smallest details which immediately set out the temperaments of her protagonists.  Young Francis, for example, who appears to have been rather an exuberant infant, was ‘wearing a green linen suit with a green linen feeder tied round his neck, and was covered with apricot jam from his large smiling mouth to the roots of his yellow hair’.  So many elements are considered with regard to actions, settings and conversations that it often feels that one is watching a play as the scenes unfold so vividly.

Stylistically, The Brandons is similar to the other Barsetshire novels, and it is rather quiet in terms of what happens within its pages, but it is entertaining and droll, and is sure to be a great addition to summer reading lists.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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