Thursday, May 14, 2020

Lark Rise to Candleford; and my pastoral life in Germany


I finally tackled one of the books I've had on my owned-and-unread pile the longest -- Lark Rise to Candleford. I bought this more than ten years ago, around the time the TV series was first broadcast, but I've been putting it off forever, put off by the sheer size of it, and by the first couple of pages which are mostly descriptive. (It's also one of the books from my original Classics Club list that I never read). It's a little tough if the first page doesn't grab you. I had watched a bit of the TV series and enjoyed it, so I thought I should give it another go. 

For those who aren't familiar, Lark Rise is a fictionalized memoir of Flora Thompson's childhood in rural England, during the late Victorian period. It's classified as fiction but definitely reads like a memoir, and most libraries and bookstores shelve it in the fiction section. There isn't really any plot, it's really a lot of vignettes and memories of Thompson's childhood in Oxfordshire, and she places herself in the story as the main character, Laura, oldest child of a stonemason and his wife who live in a poor but comfortable house in the little hamlet of Lark Rise. It was originally published as three volumes, and I read the edition pictured above which includes all of them: Lark Rise [1939], Over to Candleford [1941], and Candleford Green [1943]. Since 1945 it's been available as an omnibus and there are many beautiful editions. 

A Penguin edition of the first volume.
My copy had woodcut illustrations similar to the one on the cover, 

though they're black and white


Each chapter has a theme, so it isn't told in a specifically linear fashion. It jumps around a bit, but it's easy enough to follow. There were chapters on May Day, hog butchering, school, churchgoing, and so on. Bits of it reminded me a bit of the Little House on the Prairie series, just in the descriptions of daily life in that era. Life was hard for Laura's family and the other families in Lark Rise, but she seems to have very happy memories. It's a really lovely portrait of rural life towards the end of the Victorian era, with hints of what's to come in the new century. 

It's fairly long book, more than 500 pages and 39 chapters. I finally got around to picking it up when I was looking for something soothing to read, and it fit the bill perfectly. Most of the chapters are short, and I thought I'd just read one or two a day, but I found myself turning to it more and more often in the past week. It is just the thing to read before bedtime, to crowd out all my other thoughts of world events. I can see why it was so popular when first published during WWII. 

After reading a few chapters I was wondering how they adapted it into a 40-episode TV series (I've only watched the first season so far). Eventually, though, I began to recognize characters from the series. Some of them have much more screen time than you'd expect from the book, and a couple of them have been combined into one family. They've definitely kept the spirit of the book in the series. It's a bit like Cranford in that the TV creators have taken the essence of the characters and place and extrapolated from there. If you're expecting it to be a novelization of the series, you'll be disappointed. For example, Dorcas, the postmistress, has nearly as much screen time in the TV series as Laura, but she doesn't show up in the book until more than halfway through. 

The beautiful Folio Society edition. I would love to take a look at this one. 



I really enjoyed this book, though it wasn't what I'd call a quick read, It's definitely a leisurely read, well suited to reading in bits in pieces, and it felt more like a memoir than a novel. In the past I've described books as 'nonfiction that reads like fiction' but this was the opposite. And if you love a sense of place, this is the book for you, with lovely descriptions of the countryside and just the slowness of everyday life. It made me want to move to a cottage and cook on an open fire. 

I'm a suburban kid and the idea of living in a village surrounded by countryside has always appealed to me. Our house in Germany was in a village, though nothing like Lark Rise, though we were at the end of a street on the edge of farmland and I could literally see cornfields and livestock right outside my door. I used to walk my dog through farmland and there were cows, horses, and chickens within a short distance, and in the spring, I'd take the scenic route to see if there were any lambs. I did enjoy how peaceful it was but there wasn't much to do close by, if you wanted to do more than a movie or basic shopping we had to drive pretty far. 

So here are a few photos of the countryside near my former house in the village of Steinwenden, a tiny village in the Rhineland-Pfalz, near Ramstein air base.


Just some cows in the neighborhood.


A field of canola. Every spring the countryside would be bright yellow. 


Pasture on the hill just behind our house, I could see these sheep from the second-story window. 

Sadly they weren't permanent residents, just visiting.  


In the summer this field was normally wheat or corn, 

but one summer it was all sunflowers and sweet peas, to help enrich the soil.


Sunset over the wheat field, just beyond my house. 


Hay all bundled up at the end of the season. I took this photo from my driveway. 


I loved the peace and quiet of the countryside but I was happy to move closer to a major city. Right now I'd be really happy to be on the edge of the farms, I'm sure it would be more relaxing right about now! Well, every place has its advantages. 

Bloggers, which are your favorite books about rural life? And does anyone else feel like moving out to the country about now? 

I'm counting this as my Adapted Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge

14 comments:

  1. Great review and aa someone who saw part of the TV series the book interests me as well although I don't kniw if I'll ever get around to it. For me the highlight of Lark Rise to Candlford is Dorcas Lane wonderfully portrayed by Julia Sawalha. I would say Fried Green Tomatoes is a favorite, The Little House on the Prairie series as well.

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    1. I loved Dorcas! I see glimmers of her in the book, but there's some definite liberties with her character in the show. Julia Sawalha is great, she's so different from Lydia Bennet!

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  2. I read a lot of mystery suspense thriller type of books interspersed with historical fiction and women's fiction. During this lockdown I thought about going back to vintage and have started downloading a couple of books. I liked the slower pace of Patricia Brent, Spinster and unlike your book these have been shorter reads. Right now on Letters from Bath just finished actually. It has been nice to read these books again. Made a note of your recommendation. Sounds tailor made for me.

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    1. I loved Patricia Brent! I need to find some shorter reads, I tend to gravitate toward long books and then I despair because my TBR pile never gets any shorter. I need to just make a pile of the shortest books and just plow through them.

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  3. I read this book years ago in my teens, and found it a bit slow and meandering then, but now I think returning to those chapters on rural lifestyles and comforts would make me feel differently. Your photos are beautiful, as is that gorgeous Folio edition cover.

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    1. Thanks! They're just from my phone, it's amazing how well they came out. The book is rather slow and meandering. I think it was a good bedtime read because it really took me out of what's going on in the world.

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  4. I read this years ago in college and loved it; I've been meaning to re-read it ever since the TV show came out. What I mainly remember is the bit about women having babies and their anxiety lest they not prove tough enough to get through it without achieving the ambition of not making any noise.

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    1. Yikes. I haven't gotten that far yet in the series. That sounds terrifying. I had all the drugs I could get when I was in labor and delivery, and it still wasn't enough.

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  5. I didn't realize the book was so long! I've never seen a copy - just read about it on the internet.

    I love your photos. It reminds me of the small town where my grandparents lived in Ohio with the mix of farm, pasture and residents. I currently live in the suburbs but I have to say, it is pretty quiet since the stay at home order...very little automobile traffic and lots of people walking and jogging.

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    1. It was surprisingly long which is why I put it off forever! I just decided to think of them as three short books which made it easier to dive into it.

      I'm also from the Midwest and though I grew up in a suburb, there were farms not too far away and I had friends in high school who were farm kids. Nothing nearly so pastoral as my village in Germany, though!

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  6. I read Lark Rise years & years ago, as a "required" supplement to a course in early 20th century history; much to my surprise (it IS long and it DOEs meander) I really loved it once I got into the flow. I haven't seen the TV version but I can imagine Julia Sawalha was great (she was a wonderful Lydia Bennet. Did you ever watch Absolutely Fabulous? She was also wonderful as Saffron!).
    Like you, I've sent most of my time in urban/suburban settings but I DO have that rural fantasy thing, so I really enjoyed your lovely photos . . . .

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  7. I'm working my way through this, currently on the last book in the series. I've had the same book you picture at the top, and I also put it off because it was so long. But I want to see the series, and I wanted to read the books first. They do remind me of Little House on the Prairie, too. I was disappointed, at first, that there wasn't more of a plot to them. But once I got into them, I enjoyed the people and the descriptions of the way of life. I'm not a rural girl, but I'm not a big city girl, either. I like something in-between.

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  8. My husband grew up in southern Germany and for our 1-year anniversary we went on a 2-week trip there. It was my first time in Germany and it was so cute and quaint! My favorite place was definitely Staufen.

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  9. I was born in the Paris suburbs, there were fields at the end of my street when I was a kid but it has changed a lot now ! I'm still working in Paris, but I moved to a small village in Burgundy - much more peaceful and great view. I watched the TV series (2 seasons) before I realised there was a novel, I'd love to read it, even if it's different - books are my one weakness ;) Love your pictures and thanks for the review !

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