Lark Rise to Candleford is a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson: Lark Rise was first published in 1939, Over the Candleford in 1941, and Candleford Green in 1943, and then the complete / combined edition in 1945. I liked it a lot, but I must admit it was a rather curious reading experience.
It begins with a portrait of rural life in the late 19th Century in the hamlet of Lark Rise, based upon Juniper Hill on the Oxfordshire / Buckinghamshire border where Thompson grew up. Here she writes about rural poverty in the Home Counties but it is far from bleak - it's from a child's perspective, a child who knows no better or worse circumstances and who accepts the life and had learned to find the beauty and pleasure when and where it is available. It's a peaceful community and a time when life was in keeping with the changes of the season, a time which has now died out and, even in Thompson's day was on the decline (for this there's an air of Thomas Hardy in her writing; the early, less gloomy Hardy that is). There's always a promise in Lark Rise that Laura and her family may visit the neighbouring town Candleford (based on Bicester, again in Oxfordshire, and Buckingham, Brackley and Banbury in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire respectively), which they eventually do (after years of promises), and finally, as a young adult, Laura leaves the hamlet of Lark Rise and goes to live and work in the post office in Candleford Green, a small village based on Fringford.
|Illustration by Helen Allingham for|
Lark Rise to Candleford.
It is a nostalgic book, published during the Second World War when England faced not only the upheaval of the war but the great social change associated with it. The late 19th century when Queen Victoria reigned represented a period of stability which had begun to noticeably fracture. Flora Thompson closely observes these details of country life and weaves them into her fictional account, but it doesn't read like a traditional novel, more of a description of a way of life and of growing up which she writes about beautifully, almost like an odyssey, her literal passage with her brother, her walk from Lark Rise to Candleford. It yearns for simpler times in her childhood and young adulthood; Flora's brother Edwin (her favourite brother) was killed near Ypres in 1916. But the same time the difficulties she and her family faced in such impoverished circumstances is not shied away from.
It's a beautiful book, sweet at times, great characters, and wonderfully detailed: her powers of observation and memory are keen and we learn not only about Flora Thompson but the ways, the life, the rituals and celebrations of a time gone by. I loved reading it once I'd settled into it's rather curious style.