Lark Rise to Candleford

By

The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the great number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard and nested on the bare earth between the rows of green corn…

Thus opens Flora Thompson’s gentle masterpiece of rural life in an England that was just beginning to feel the benefits–and the drawbacks–of the Industrial Revolution. By turns witty and elegiac, this combined collection of three original works (Lark Rise, Over to Candleford and Candleford Green) is a haunting and detailed chronicle of a world that is no more; a world that existed for centuries and which ended abruptly with one generation.

Don’t despise the old because it’s old, or overvalue the new because it’s novel. Don’t sacrifice the verities simply because they are invisible.

Lanier Ivester

With an eye as keen as only love could make it, Flora Thompson, by way of her thinly-veiled little fictional counterpart, Laura Timmins, paints a picture of the life she knew among the fields and hedgerows, in her father’s garden and at her mother’s humble but well-stocked table (“there was never enough of anything except food”), in the shades of her beloved woods and in the comparatively elegant streets of the neighboring village of Candleford. Through Laura’s eyes we see the men savoring their meager half-pints at ‘The Wagon and Horses’ after a grueling day in the fields and watch the women over their well-deserved teas at one house or another:

These tea-drinkings were never premeditated. One neighbor would drop in, then another, and another would be beckoned to from the doorway or fetched in to settle some disputed point. Then someone would say, “How about a cup o’ tay?” and they would all run home to fetch a spoonful, with a few leaves over to help make up the spoonful for the pot.

With a sensitivity that is never mere sentiment, Flora Thompson gives us an honest assessment of the life of the poor: the tiny cottages too small for the ever-growing families that occupied them; the privations resultant of “enclosure” acts which kept them in a station of life we would deem below poverty level, the ceaseless occupation of mothers endeavoring to cover the bodies if not the feet of their children as they went out to school or to work in the “larger world.”

But there is a beauty, even in the harshness of reality, and an original truth undergirding the simple rustic lives she portrays. Perhaps water must needs be drawn from a common well on the outskirts of the hamlet (and in times of drought they “just had to get their water where and how they could”), perhaps milk was a rare luxury and “for boots, clothes, illness, holidays, amusements, and household renewals there was no provision whatever.” But in spite of such struggles for existence–or, perhaps, because of them–that existence was in many ways an enviable thing to those of us jaded and dazed by the overwhelming complexities of the current age.

I’d never so much as dare to suggest that their lives were easier than ours, in the purely practical sense of the word; in almost every way they were harder, grittier, leaner. But there was an abundance in all the rustic rituals and dearly-earned pleasures, a fundamental simplicity that, quite frankly, made my heart ache to read of.

Flora Thompson writes with such an honest beauty that the images of Harvest Home suppers and May Day customs long-since abandoned seem to voice their own appeal for the traditions of the past and lure our hearts to any and all of the various roots from which we have sprung. From her descriptions (and oftentimes adorable commentary!) she affords her readers a privileged view of life as it really was, and that in staggering detail. And all without the slightest shade of condescension or petty moralizing that would ruin the confiding tone and reduce its timeless truths to mere curiosities of a vanished era.

As it is, Lark Rise to Candleford is a gift and a gem, and a kind pluck at the sleeve to the modern reader tempted to exchange community for all the things purchased with its price on the world’s market. Though she never says it outright, it seems to breathe in every well-crafted line: Don’t despise the old because it’s old, or overvalue the new because it’s novel. Don’t sacrifice the verities simply because they are invisible.

Don’t forget where you’ve come from.

But, in spite of their poverty and the worry and anxiety attending it, they were not unhappy, and, though poor, there was nothing sordid about their lives. “The nearer the bone the sweeter the meat,” they used to say, and they were getting very near the bone from which their country ancestors had fed. Their children and children’s children would have to depend wholly upon whatever was carved for them from the communal joint, and for their pleasure upon the mass enjoyments of a new era. But for that generation there was still a small picking left to supplement the weekly wage. They had their home-cured bacon, their “bit o’ leazings,” their small wheat or barley patch on the allotment; their knowledge of herbs for their homely simples, and the wild fruits and berries of the countryside for jam, jellies, and wine, and round about them as part of their lives were the last relics of country customs and the last echoes of country songs, ballads, and game rhymes. This last picking, though meagre, was sweet.

Please give yourself the pleasure of this beautiful trilogy. It’s a treasure that would not have come into existence but for a remarkably observant little girl and the remarkably insightful woman that she became.

Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.


7 Comments

  1. Holly Deutsch

    @hollymeri

    I loved the BBC Series and now I need to get my hands on Flora Thompson’s trilogy. There were elements of the series that reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s stories, especially Cranford. These stories are so compelling – real and honest yet full of the simple pleasures that brighten home and community.

  2. Ashley

    I absolutely LOVE the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy. It’s strange how it is about a time so different from now, and yet it brought me such comfort in terms of the world we live in as it now is. It was a comfort to me to find that her observations and feelings regarding the changes that the industrial revolution brought to her world were very similar to my feelings as our world shifts again in the midst of the “technology revolution”. I found her perspective so helpful.

    Thanks for bringing attention to this trilogy! I can never find anyone who has read it to discuss it with. Very exciting to find that there’s someone else out there who loves it as much as I do. 🙂

     

  3. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Our family watched the first couple of seasons of this, and though it was pretty hokey at times, the allure of the characters and their simple way of life kept us watching. It was a bit like Gilmore Girls in old England. I don’t think I realized the BBC series was based on books! Have you read All Creatures Great and Small? I read the first two and loved them for the same reasons.

  4. A

    Please do not think the BBC series is like the book, it is VERY loosely based on it but the book is SO much better!!! And no agendas:)) Another one worth reading would be “Cranford”

  5. Rebecca Peters

    @pracades

    I loved the BBC series and was sad to see it end. A simple pleasure. I didn’t realize it was based on a series of books either and am very interested in reading these. @andrew we are a James Herriot family through and through. We have all his books and own the TV series. My father in law was a country vet and always adored Herriot’s stories, so many characters he could relate to. He passed away last year and now those stories have become treasures in our family, as they remind us of so many of the stories he shared with us. I highly recommend Jim Dale’s reading the Children’s Treasury for your next family card trip!

  6. Lanier Ivester

    @lanier

    I’m just now seeing these comments, but I’m so happy to hear that there are other (and potential!) Flora Thompson fans out there! 🙂

    I really enjoyed the BBC series, but I couldn’t watch it until I’d let the books sit with me for some time, as it was so different. (I also thought it got better as it went on.) It was pretty true to the spirit of the characters, however, especially Laura Timmins and her parents.

    @andrew, we haven’t read Herriot, if you can believe it! Yet. 😉

    And, yes, I most heartily agree on the Cranford recommendation!

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