Candelford Green is the third installment of the Lark Rise to Candleford series, Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a small English village.The books take place in the 1880s and 1890s, and Flora writes as an adult looking back at simpler times and the changes that happened since.
In the first book, Lark Rise, Flora’s alter-ego, Laura, is the oldest daughter in her family, living in the small village of Lark Rise. In the next book, Over to Candleford, Laura spends a lot of time with her relatives in Candleford Green, a slightly bigger village some eight miles away.
In this third book, Candleford Green, Laura works as an assistant in the post office. Young girls often went into service as maids or mother’s helpers at this time. Laura’s mother didn’t feel she was suited for either of those jobs. But when a friend of the Candleford relatives invites Laura to help her out in the Post Office, her family agrees to let her go.
Like the first two books, there’s no real plot. The book is mostly Laura’s observations of how the people lived, worked, celebrated, decorated their homes, etc. Along the way are little vignettes of some of the individuals who make up the village.
Some of the quotes that caught my eye:
Few would care to take that trouble for the sake of a few spoonfuls of jelly in these days. . . it was thought a waste of time in many households. On the face of it, it does seem absurd to spend the inside of a week making a small jelly, and women were soon to have other uses for their time and energy, but those who did such cookery in those days looked upon it as an art, and no time or trouble was thought wasted if the result were perfection. We may call the Victorian woman ignorant, weak, clinging and vapourish—she is not here to answer such charges—but at least we must admit that she knew how to cook.
At fourteen it is intolerable to resign every claim to distinction. Her hair was soft and thick and brown and she had rather nice brown eyes and the fresh complexion of country youth, but those were her only assets in the way of good looks. ‘You’ll never be annoyed by people turning round in the street to have another look at you,’ her mother had often told her, and sometimes, if Laura looked dashed, she would add: ‘But that cuts both ways: if you’re no beauty, be thankful you’re not a freak.’
And she had her own personal experiences: her moments of ecstasy in the contemplation of beauty; her periods of religious doubt and hours of religious faith; her bitter disillusionments on finding some people were not what she had thought them, and her stings of conscience over her own shortcomings. She grieved often for the sorrows of others and sometimes for her own.
‘You’ve got to summer and winter a man before you can pretend to know him’ was an old country maxim much quoted at that time.
This about two single women taking care of elderly parents while trying to run a shop:
No wonder the Pratt girls looked, as some people said, as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. They must in reality have carried a biggish burden of trouble, and if they tried to hide it with a show of high spirits and simpering smiles, plus a little harmless pretension, that should have been put down to their credit. Human nature being what it is, their shifts and pretences only served to provoke a little mild amusement.
The new vicar, according to Laura, didn’t mention heaven or hell or sin or repentance, but his sermons made “you feel two inches taller.” The people were what I’d call God-fearing in a general sense, but it doesn’t sound like the gospel was proclaimed except for one or two of the townspeople.
I found the first book sometimes hard to wade through. I didn’t have any problems with the last two: maybe I grew more used to Thompson’s style.
I hope to be able to watch the series, Lark Rise to Candleford. I know some things will be different. Laura is just a teenager in this last book and younger than that in the first two books. Dorcas, the postmistress, doesn’t appear until halfway through the second book, but I understand she’s there at the beginning of the series.
Overall, these were pleasant reads. I’m glad to finally be acquainted with Laura and the villagers.