Lark Rise to Candleford


Lark Rise to Candleford is a charming BBC series depicting life in late nineteenth century England. It offers a nostalgic view of a life uncluttered by modern technology and conveniences. It plays the ancient contrast of the agricultural hamlet of Lark Rise versus the merchant town life of Candleford. Visually rich and well written, it is cozy entertainment.

Lark Rise to Candleford is a trilogy written by Flora Thomson, (loosely) the basis of the BBC series. Without a narrative arch, it is a portrait of a culture. Not a novel, it is a memoir written in the third person. The overwhelming motif is change, how current life (1930’s) is so different from the ‘eighties (1880’s).

Watch the series first (how seldom I say that) and let the characters (Laura, ‘Par’, ‘Mar’, Alf, Queenie, Dorcas Lane) and countryside seep into your bones. If your curiosity isn’t piqued by the films you may not stick with the books. Enjoy the trilogy for its own merits. Par and Mar are winsome in the fictionalized movies; it was disappointing to read Flora’s realistic characterizations in the book.

After working in the pure cold air of the fields all day, the men found it comforting to be met by, and wrapped round in, an atmosphere of chimney-smoke and bacon and cabbage cooking; to sink into ‘feyther’s chair’ by the hearth, draw off heavy, mud-caked boots, take the latest baby on their knee and sip strong, sweet tea while ‘our Mum’ dished up the tea-supper.

You will enjoy reading about:
— Victorian privies with a wall hanging ‘Thou God seest me’
— how poor kids moisten mud pies
— outdoor singing during work being the norm
— wisps of mist floating over the ploughed fields
— England’s women all gave a penny for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee
— Laura’s need to read (Waverly, Cranford, Dickens, Trollope, Austen)
— superstitious remedies (black slug for warts, fried mice for bedwetting)
— origin of ‘a pretty kettle of fish’ and ‘journeyman’
— the all-conquering song of the ‘nineties: Ta-ra-ra-BOOM-de-ay!

Books can enliven unfamiliar times and places. Honestly, the end of the nineteenth century seems so far back.

Or is it? Lark Rise is a few years later than Little House in the Big Woods. There are still some living who are only one or two generations removed from pre-WWI times. My grandpa was born in 1889.

If you read through the first book, Lark Rise, you will get to experience one of the best last sentences of a book. The final paragraph is a masterpiece. The magnificent restraint, the absence of foreshadowing until the final word—a gut puncher—makes this book well worth reading. Its potency is in surprise: please don’t peek!