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Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell

Miss Bunting (1945)

by Angela Thirkell

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178366,644 (3.74)13
  1. 00
    Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell (KayCliff)
  2. 00
    The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell (KayCliff)
  3. 00
    Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh (thorold)
    thorold: Quite apart from the appalling pun in Thirkell's title, it's pretty obvious that Waugh and Thirkell enjoyed each other's books. It's fun comparing their approaches to the wartime home-front situation.

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This 14th entry in Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire series had a lot of references to the Trollope series, especially in the families - the Frank Greshams and the Dales in particular. While knowing the Trollope series isn't required to enjoy this novel, it does add a spice to the storyline revolving about Mr. Adams of Hogglestock. Although I laughed aloud at several points while reading this, this novel (written at the end of WW2) has a feeling of sadness, not just about the dead & wounded men but for the loss of a state of society Thirkell had captured so wonderfully in the early books in the series. As she says "...Jane Gresham, who felt as the Fieldings
did that another piece of the pre-war world had
gone and the tide of a Brave and Horrible New
World was lapping at her feet." While I understand this feeling, not being from that time and place I cannot truly sympathise & can only hope that the light humour I enjoy so much will continue in the rest of the series. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 26, 2013 |
Published in 1945, and fits in with the mood of Thirkell's other home-front morale-booster novels. The war is nearly over, but things are still scarce, many of the ladies of Barsetshire have lost sons, brothers, husbands, others are in uncertainty as to whether their men will ever come back, those too old to fight are suddenly feeling their age, and it's increasingly plain that — for the upper middle classes at least — postwar England will be very different from the cosy world of the thirties.

There are plenty of little jokes here, but unless you read it very superficially you're unlikely to come out with your morale boosted: on the whole, the view of the world here is a rather depressing one. As usual with later Thirkell, she often goes just that little bit too far, crossing the invisible line that divides engaging social satire from unpleasant snobbery. This is especially so with the industrialist Mr Adams and his daughter Heather, who appear in several of the other wartime novels as well. They are clearly meant to be sympathetic, if slightly comical characters, refugees from Dickens whom she misguidedly wants to present as representatives of the up and coming generation of the fifties. But Thirkell simply can't bring herself to like them, and keeps sticking the knife in when she thinks the reader isn't looking. Not an attractive picture.

All the same, she does write so well. In this book, it's the big set-piece scene, the meeting of the Barsetshire Archaeological Society, that it the real triumph, and before and after it there is an ample supply of Thirkell specialities like grumpy old men, small boys and schoolmistresses.

The times being what they were, Thirkell couldn't do much in the way of servants (her other big comic speciality) in this book, apart from the rather nasty caricature of Gradka, the bloodthirsty East European refugee. At least she avoids being directly offensive by making her a native of Mixo-Lydia, the only fictitious country ever to be named after a musical mode... ( )
2 vote thorold | Mar 18, 2013 |
"Miss Bunting" is part of the Barsetshire Chronicles by Angela Thirkell, a series set in Anthony Trollope's ficticious county of Barsetshire in the 20th century. The book alludes to characters and places from Trollope's books but in a very unobtrusive way; you can enjoy Miss Bunting without having read Trollope.

Angela Thirkell presents a set of characters from the gentry - the Rector, his son working as a classics schoolmaster, the retired Admiral and his Daughter and various others living in a small town called Hallbury. In a summer towards the end of the war the Dean of Barchester's daughter, Anne, is added to their circle, together with her paragon of a governess, the eponymous Miss Bunting.

And this is about everything that happens in the whole book. People meet and make genteel conversation, some war work is efficiently discharged with, pert boys and their antics contribute an element of humour.

I usually like the sedate middlebrow novels written in the 1920's till 1940's; and Miss Bunting doesn't have a bad start. The lack of action doesn't matter so much when the characters are introduced, and this is done with a dry sarcastic humour reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse.

Sadly, the novel never gets past this stage, and a real plot never developed. The main element of action is the introduction of Mr. Adams, a very wealthy factory owner, and his daughter who has come to live in Hallbury to prepare for Cambrigde.

With the depiction of these non-gentry characters the novel really got a foul taste in my mouth. Pretending to be a magnanimous if humorous portrait, Mr Adams and his daughter are constantly run down for their lack of social graces. It's made abundantly clear that their presence is a nuisance to the gentry which they can't forgo (times being what they are) and bear with valiant politeness.

Perhaps class snobbery is so pronounced because everyone feels that WW II signifies the end of an era: the good old feudal England of the gentry won't come back. The way it was depicted in this book, that's nothing to regret.

WW II, by the way, is merely a background - some husbands are missing, one protagonist has lost his foot, but nobody seems to feel deep suffering. The attitude to foreigners is also appalling - Thirkell introduces a servant who is ridiculous to the main charakters because of her bad English and her blood-lust for her (invented) neighbour-country.

Oh, and why is the book called Miss Bunting? Well, the governess is the epitome of gentle Englishness; everyone is in awe of her - and at the end of the novel she dies alone in a cottage hospital, while everyone goes unperturbedly their own way.

If you enjoy books from this era, read E.M. Delafield, D.E. Stevenson or Jan Struther; this book is a loser. ( )
  1502Isabella | Dec 22, 2011 |
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To My Father and Mother from their loving Angela
First words
The great Duke of Omnium, as is well known, not only disliked railways but refused to acknowledge their existence.
Never had Miss Bunting in her long career had a pupil who had tasted honeydew with such vehemence, or drunk the milk of Paradise with such deep breaths and loud gulps.
The gods are just and of our pleasant vices do occasionally make something quite amusing.
"Though I can see my soup with these glasses, I can't see the faces across the table. To see them I need this pair." She drew out from her bag a blue spectacle case, exchanged the glasses and announced that she could see both ladies quite well. "But for my soup, I must return to the first pair," she said.
Lady Fielding felt her mild liking turning to gall. A woman who could say "phone up" would be capable of anything.
Jane said that if Mr. Morland had died before his boys were born, he might not have had any.
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Book description
Angela Thirkell's new novel, it is almost unnecessary to state, continues the chronicle of this most English and most charming of counties - Barsetshire. In it are presented characters of whom some have appeared in earlier books by this author, while others will be new friends for the multifarious admirers of her work. Some of these people are mildly eccentric, like the Rector of Hallbury Old Town with his passion for the prophecies of Haggai, some mildly objectionable, like the Mixo-Lydian refugee, Gradka, with her admirable cooking and her pedant's approach to "The Ingoldsby Legends" and the works of W.S. Gilbert, some are efficient warworkers, some merely flustered, while a brace of Thirkellian small boys make a triumphant first appearance; others are just plain nice. And all are good to meet and good to read about.

In this admirable novel Mrs Thirkell reaches the peak of her form. She has never written anything better; none of her stories have been more amusing, more penetrating or more charming. There can be no question but that "Miss Bunting" will add to the large circle of her admirers - if this is possible under conditions of paper-rationing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 999753249X, Hardcover)

The carefully observed separation of the old and the new social strata is upset when representatives of each come together in the sphere of Miss Bunting- the governess who has molded most of the country's upper class. Under Miss Bunting's tutelage, Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Fielding, renews an old school acquaintance with the daughter of Hogglestock's successful, albeit not genteel, iron master. "We must move with the times," says the unflappable governess when Lady Fielding questions the suitability of this association. With characteristics aplomb, Miss Bunting takes girls and situation both firmly in hand and sets all things to right.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:47 -0400)

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