Over to Candleford is the second book in Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical Lark Rise to Candleford Trilogy.
Candleford is a bigger town about eight miles away from the village of Lark Rise where Laura’s family lives. For years, Laura heard offhand plans about maybe going over to Candleford one day. Then finally it happens.
Laura’s father hires a cart, and the whole family drives over to visit relatives. Laura and her brother Edmund are fascinated by the new things they see. They are a bit intimidated by their relatives, though. Both families they visit are more well-to-do than Laura’s. The first has so much excess that Laura doesn’t feel comfortable. The second family is less ostentatious and more thoughtful and kind, and Laura feels more at home.
Later, Laura’s mother asks if Laura and Edmund think they could walk to Candleford by themselves. I can’t fathom sending children that young (nine and eleven) on an eight mile walk alone. But they make it.
This starts Laura on several visits to Candleford. One of my favorite parts is when she discovers a pile of old books in the attic and then discovers her uncle loves to read as much as she does.
Every afternoon when her cousins could be persuaded to go out or do what they wanted to do without her, she would tap at the door of her uncle’s workshop and hear the familiar challenge, ‘Who goes there?’ and reply, ‘Bookworms, Limited,’ and, receiving the password, go in and sit by the open window looking out on the garden and river and read while her uncle worked.
Laura’s family might seem a little rough to modern readers. They are not unkind, but they don’t coddle their children. “Her mother was kind and sensible and loved her children dearly, but she did not believe in showing too much tenderness towards them or in ‘giving herself away’ to the world at large.” When a neighbor tells Laura, “Never you mind, my poppet. Good looks ain’t everything, and you can’t help it if you did happen to be behind the door when they were being given out,” her mother tells her later, “You’re all right. Always keep yourself clean and neat and try to have a pleasant, good-tempered expression, and you’ll pass in a crowd.”
Laura starts to feel less valued than the new babies, until her mother finally treasures the bond they share in remembering early days and people that the youngest can’t.
When Laura turns thirteen, that’s about the time girls in the village found work outside the home to help support the family. But Laura is unsuited for many of the lines of work open to her and feels like a failure. Then an unexpected opportunity arises.
There is a little more plot to this book than Lark Rise, the first one. But there’s still a lot of description and short vignettes of people and customs.
I enjoyed the opening of new horizons to Laura in visiting a bigger town and unfamiliar people. I also liked her arc from a girl into a teenager.
Thompson also shares the changes that occurred during her lifetime.
They were still much as their forefathers had been; but change was creeping in, if slowly. A weekly newspaper came into every house, either by purchase or borrowing, and although these were still written by educated men for the educated, and our hamlet intellects had sometimes to reach up a little for their ideas, ideas were slowly percolating.
I smiled at this about bicycles:
But, although it was not yet realized, the revolution in transport had begun. The first high ‘penny-farthing’ bicycles were already on the roads, darting and swerving like swallows heralding the summer of the buses and cars and motor cycles which were soon to transform country life. But how fast those new bicycles travelled and how dangerous they looked! Pedestrians backed almost into the hedges when they met one of them, for was there not almost every week in the Sunday newspaper the story of some one being knocked down and killed by a bicycle, and letters from readers saying cyclists ought not to be allowed to use the roads, which, as everybody knew, were provided for people to walk on or to drive on behind horses. ‘Bicyclists ought to have roads to themselves, like railway trains’ was the general opinion.
Yet it was thrilling to see a man hurtling through space on one high wheel, with another tiny wheel wobbling helplessly behind. You wondered how they managed to keep their balance. No wonder they wore an anxious air. ‘Bicyclist’s face’, the expression was called, and the newspapers foretold a hunchbacked and tortured-faced future generation as a result of the pastime.
There’s always resistance to any progress, and then it becomes normal.
As a homebody myself, I appreciated this:
To the women, home was home in a special sense, for nine-tenths of their lives were spent indoors. There they washed and cooked and cleaned and mended for their teeming families; there they enjoyed their precious half-hour’s peace with a cup of tea before the fire in the afternoon, and there they bore their troubles as best they could and cherished their few joys. At times when things did not press too heavily upon them they found pleasure in re-arranging their few poor articles of furniture, in re-papering the walls and making quilts and cushions of scraps of old cloth to adorn their dwelling and add to its comfort, and few were so poor that they had not some treasure to exhibit, some article that had been in the family since ‘I dunno when’, or had been bought at a sale of furniture at such-and-such a great house, or had been given them when in service.
This was a sweet story, and I look forward to the next one, Candleford Green.