Monday, August 17, 2015

High Rising

Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire series is supposed to be fantastically light-hearted, solidly middlebrow English domestic fiction, and it's spoken of very highly by a number of book bloggers who, like me, really enjoy this sort of thing. Virago has even been reprinting the series a book or two at a time (with really gorgeous covers). With all this to recommend it, I didn't hesitate when I was secondhand book-shopping in Boston three summers ago. I found a beautiful hardcover version of High Rising, the first in the series, which has turned out to be part of a set of the first Borzoi editions of 1951. (Mine is like the one on the right; I was looking around to see if there was a copy of the matching Wild Strawberries to be had.) It was so pretty, in fact, and I was so sure I'd love it, that I was willing to spend rather more than I usually am for a secondhand book.

Alas! I've been having some bad luck this summer with books I was certain to like. High Rising isn't awful, but it's not the sort of book I would have made sure to purchase after the first read. Enterprising career women, gossiping servants, romances that end exactly as they should...it's all pretty standard fare, but here these comfortable tropes are matched by some absolutely horrible classism, which I can't in this case simply excuse as an accurate reflection of its time, because we readers are asked to align ourselves with it in a most uncomfortable fashion. I rather enjoyed Laura Morland's son Tony, a schoolboy with a singular obsession with trains and an inability to talk about anything else, but I couldn't get behind the vilification of the secretary Miss Grey ("the Incubus"). I like my frothy fiction to be free of oppression and prejudice, wherever possible, so this one just didn't cut it.

Now what to do with the book, which, as a physical object, is indeed very pleasing?


2 comments:

  1. I attempted to read this and swiftly abandoned it because it annoyed me too much. Keep it, as it's lovely, and display it somewhere as an objet!

    kaggsysbookishramblings

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  2. Were you disappointed? I'd been so sure I would love it, based on other bloggers' admiration for Thirkell.

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