Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.

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. 

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Further Reading

Comments

  1. is it a bit like "Cider with Rosie" or the John Moore trilogy, "portrait of elmbury"," brensham village", the blue field"? there was another good one i read a long time ago i can't remember the name, darn it, describing the occupations in a small village, blacksmith, reaper, grocer, etc. i guess i shouldn't have mentioned it since i can't remember the title and don't have the book anymore... anyway tx for the review; i've wondered about this trilogy for some time and i think i'll have to give it a try...

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    1. I've seen Cider with Rose mentioned quite a few times in posts and articles on Lark Rise to Candleford. I must read it, sounds like something I'd like!

      Have you remembered the name of the book yet? :)

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  2. This sounds like a lovely book. I think I own it in hardcover but I've been hesitant to read it for fear of disappointment. Now I need not fear! ;-)

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    1. No, it is lovely! Look forward to your thoughts :) I think we're both in need of some fairly simple and pleasant reads at the moment what with the FQ :)

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  3. I agree, this is definitely a bit of a strange reading experience. I must admit, I wasn't crazy about it when I read it, but I think it does grow on you, particularly its, as you note, willingness to discuss both the difficulties and the pleasures of a rural life.

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    1. It does grow on you, I agree. I wasn't so into it for the first 100 pages - I did like it, but I wasn't wild about it, but as I read on I grew to love it :)

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  4. I think I would like this trilogy; it sounds charming. I like reading books set in the Victoria era.

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    1. I do too - especially by people who lived in the Victorian age. I like their hindsight :)

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