6 thoughts on “Angela Thirkell’s The Headmistress

  1. So many of my blogging acquaintances read Thirkell and clearly love her and yet until I started blogging I had never heard of her. I’m fairly sure that I have a copy of one of her books somewhere in the house. I am going to have to dig it out and try for myself.


  2. To me, The Headmistress is Thirkell at her best. Not, as you say, her funniest or most observant but I feel this is one of the few books that is strong on all counts. And even if it weren’t I would love it for Mrs Belton alone. The Belton children might not be very sympathetic but their anxious, exhausted and loving (if never quite certain how to show that love) mother is.


  3. I enjoyed this. Thank you.

    I was slightly baffled though by a couple of things. Firstly by the Mixo-Lydians and the Slavo-Lydians, who seemed irrelevant yet intrusive. Secondly by the Anthony Trollope references. I wasn’t sure what the benefit was in connecting the characters to the ones from Dr Thorne. Are those themes which make more sense if one reads more of the Barsetshire novels?


    1. The Mixo-Lydians and Slavo-Lydians (who are supposed to be impossible to tell apart) are AT’s satirical take on the passionate sense of nationhood expressed by WW2 refugees in England during the war. They crop up in all the war books as a running ‘joke’ (they are rarely funny), but through them she does achieve some insights into the desperation and misery felt by refugees living in a society that fails to comprehend them or their concerns. And sometimes the characters are witty, but you have to wade through French dialogue to get the ‘jokes’. They’re a curious blip in her characters, completely unlike any others. As for Barsetshire, yes, this was AT’s ‘project’: she used the Barsetshire family trees created by Trollope, and the topography, and made it her own. You don’t have to know the Trollopian originals, but sometimes it’s nice to recall that in Trollope family X was very poor and struggling because in Thirkell she has made them grand and upper middle-class.


  4. I’ve just come across your post here and am sort of thrilled to see you talking about how the portrayal of Sam Adams reflects changing social views as I am forever boring my friends (most of whom have never read Thirkell) on that subject. Now I’m going to have to see about getting a copy of *your* book. But I also have to say that you sell the Mixo-Lydians a bit short; Gradka’s delight in the misfortunes of the Slavo-Lydians in “Miss Bunting” is priceless as is the character of Gradka in general. Like Sam Adams, she evolves over time, developing from lumpish refugee to ambassadress. Full disclosure: my most beloved tortoiseshell cat was named Gradka, and the name suited.


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