The Pop Larkin Chronicles by H. E. Bates.

The Pop Larkin Chronicles is a series of five novellas by H. E. Bates:

  • The Darling Buds of May (1958)
  • A Breath of French Air (1959)
  • When the Green Woods Laugh (1960)
  • Oh! to be in England (1963)
  • A Little of What You Fancy (1970)

They are centred on the Larkin family in rural Kent: there's Pop Larkin, Ma Larkin, and (in the first book) their children Mariette, Primrose, Monty, the twins Petunia and Zinnia, and Victoria. The plots of each novella is very simple: in the first, Cedric Charlton a tax inspector arrives and, for a short while, battles with Pop in vain to get him to fill out his tax reforms however ends up falling in love with the family, the farm, and, most importantly Mariette so abandons his city life for the country. In the second, the Larkins holiday in France, and in the third Pop sells an estate to a city couple, Mr and Mrs Jerebohm, and so unused to country ways (and indeed Pop's), Pop ends up being taken to court for indecent assault (which, in fitting with the tone of the entire series, is treated very lightly). The fourth novella deals with the christening of the new addition to the Larkin family, Oscar, and as it emerges, the rest of the family too, and in the final book Pop's extravagant lifestyle catches up with him. 

The books are comic, light, airy and wondrous: written and indeed set in post-war England it captures an old, eternal spirit of the pastoral age that, strictly speaking, is long gone yet here it is, alive and kicking in Kent. For that, it is heavily reminiscent of the Ancient Greek and Roman pastoral poems and stories, like Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, the poems and fragments of Moschus and Bion of Smyrna, and Virgil's Eclogues whilst at the same time being undeniably English and post-war. It is dated, charmingly so for the most part, though I should acknowledge that some of the humour and incidents will make the modern reader wince, though I've now read so many classics I am used to it (not everyone will be, however). It doesn't stop this from being one of my favourite books and, for the second time I was sorry to have finished it. It's a vivid celebration of English rural life, and a great achievement. Everything is beautiful, it is almost always summer, and everything turns out alright in the end. A pleasure to read!

Comments

  1. You must have written about this before? Because I feel certain (in my hazy memory) that I read the first two books after you wrote about them. They really were a lot of fun.

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    1. I did on an old blog (I had to check because I don't remember writing it!). They are amazing fun, aren't they? :D

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  2. Ah, well, you can't really go wrong with H.E. Bates as I've discovered over the last few years having read quite a few of his short stories and non-fiction. I haven't actually read the DBoM books yet. I have a copy of this omnibus edition (with the TV cover) but haven't got round to it yet as I watched the TV series again about a year ago—I watched them originally when they came out. Have you seen the TV series?

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    1. Mine has the TV cover as well. And yes I watched it on TV - wasn't it on on a Sunday, sure it had roughly the same slot as Last of the Summer Wine (which was appropriate).

      I must read more Bates. I've read The Triple Echo and loved that one too, other than that not so much...

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  3. i read ' Fair Stood the Wind for France" and liked it: this sounds even better... i'll get it, tx...

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    1. I've got that one but not read it yet - I must get to it :)

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