Review: Pomfret Towers, by Angela Thirkell

Discovering a new author is so much fun, especially when they have published many books, and you know you have those to look forward to as well.  Such is the case with Angela Thirkell, and Pomfret Towers which is part of her 29-volume Barsetshire series.  I received this book from a Secret Santa, and was looking for fun, light reads over the holidays.  Pomfret Towers fit the bill completely.

The novel is set in Barsetshire, a fictional English county created by Anthony Trollope.  Where Trollope’s novels are set in the 1850-60s,  Thirkell’s take place in the first half of the twentieth century.  Pomfret Towers centers on a weekend house party for the young people of Barsetshire, hosted by the elderly Lord and Lady Pomfret.  For Alice Barton, it is her first house party and she’s scared to death: unsure of what to wear, how to conduct herself, and what to expect of servants.  Her first instinct is to excuse herself completely, but she is convinced to attend when she learns good friends Roddy & Susan Wicklow will be there, along with her brother Guy.  Once at Pomfret Towers, Alice meets a couple of young men who capture her interest, and the feelings seem to be mutual.  But Alice is an unlikely match for both, so one wonders throughout how all this will turn out.  Needless to say, over the course of the weekend there is much courting, and matchmaking by older members of the party, and Thirkell keeps the reader guessing about how people will pair off.  Because, of course, they do.

Thirkell delivers the romantic storyline with a strong dose of social satire, poking fun at certain character types.  Besides Lord Pomfret, who provides considerable much comedic value, she makes fun of authors, like this one:

Mrs Barton was well known as the author of several learned historical novels about the more obscure bastards of Popes and Cardinals, with a wealth of documentation that overawed reviewers. Owing to living so much in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, she sometimes found it difficult to remember where she was. … When the tide ebbed, leaving her stranded upon the shores of everyday life, she would emerge in a dazed condition to preside at her own table, or take a fitful interest in her neighbours. (p. 3-4)

There are also annoying party guests, social climbers, and several all-around good people.  Mix them up with an interesting and funny story line, and you have a highly enjoyable novel.  I look forward to reading more of this series.

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18 thoughts on “Review: Pomfret Towers, by Angela Thirkell

  1. I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this! It is one of my favourite books in the series and one I think serves as an excellent introduction to Thirkell’s Barsetshire. For me, it is the supporting characters who make the book so wonderful: Mrs Rivers (“the Baedeker Bitch”) is both awful and pitiable, and I love Mr Johns’ emergency telegram strategy for getting him out of tiresome house parties.

  2. I love AT’s range of authors – Mrs Barton’s are definitely the kind I used to like when I was younger! I think Pomfret Towers has one of my favourite openings of the Barsetshire novels, too, one sympathises so immediately with Alice’s horror at the idea of the houseparty.

    • Geraniumcat, you are so right about the opening scene. Normally I would have been annoyed by someone like Alice, but she did a great job of making her a sympathetic character from the start.

    • Desperate Reader, I’m surprised to see they are hard to find on your side of the pond. They aren’t exactly plentiful here, either. My library has very few of them, and Amazon only has new editions (no used copies or Kindle editions). But on the plus side, it will be fun to hunt them down in used bookshops.

    • Kaggsy, you definitely should! It’s a fast read — assume the others in the series are as well — and I know you’d enjoy them.

  3. These sound like fun, light reads that happen to be classics! I’d be interested to know if you enjoy another book or two in the series before I pick up one at random. But we all need easy light reads!

  4. I finished Trollope’s Barsetshire novels last year & have the first of Thirkell’s waiting on my shelf for when I’m in the right mood! 🙂

    • Eva, finishing Trollope is quite an accomplishment! I just started his Barsetshire novels last year, and read the first two. I’m taking it slowly so may only read another two this year, but I really enjoy them.

  5. Oh, no, not another series I want to read!!! Aaack!

    I will not even think about reading Thirkell until I’ve made progress with Trollope, Barbara Pym, and my Persephones. But someday!!

  6. I’m so glad you’re enjoying AT, Laura. I’m just over halfway through the series. I’ve had to get most through interlibrary loan, but I have found some in my local shops. I even found a couple when I visited my old bookstore I used to own in Seattle. The new owner was gracious enough to give them to me gratis.

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