High Rising, the first book in the Barsetshire series by Angela Thirkell, is an extemely amusing novel, filled with charming characters, much absurdity, irony and satire, and giggly froth. Published in 1933, it tells the story of the lives and loves of a handful of people in the villages of High Rising and Low Rising from the point of view of a 40-something writer of novels about the world of couture, Laura Morland.
The town doctor is in love with Laura's secretary, Miss Todd. Miss Todd, who is saddled with the care of her ailing and dotty mother, is in love with a neighboring writer, the talkative Mr Knox, who is in the coils of his secretarty, Miss Grey, popularly known as the Incubus, who wants him to marry her. Laura's publisher, Adrian Coates, is in love with the daughter of Mr Knox. Fortunately Miss Knox reciprocates. Many of the characters from this book reappear in others of the 30 or so books set in Anthony Trollope's fictional county of Barsetshire.
Angela Thirkell is one of those Englishwomen who are in the middle of a small-world web. She was the grand-daughter of Edward Burne Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and the first cousin of Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Bandwin. Her brother, Denis Mackail, was a popular novelist of the 20s and 30s. Her son was the novelist Colin MacInnes and her godfather was J M Barrie.
Thirkell's novels have the gaiety and whimsy of P G Wodehouse and A A Milne but with her own outlook on the world and its absurdities. She suffered from lifelong melancholy, something you would never begin to guess from her delightful comic novels.
2012 No 116