Classic Author Focus: Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell had quite the pedigree. She was the daughter of John William Mackail, a Scottish Classical scholar, and Margaret Burne-Jones, who herself was the daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. She was a cousin of Rudyard Kipling, and her brother Denis Mackail, was also a novelist.

Thirkell was educated at St. Paul’s Girls School and later in Paris and Germany. Her first marriage, to the singer James Campbell-McInnes, with whom she had three children, ended in a sensational divorce. In 1918, she met George Lancelot Allnut Thirkell, an engineer originally from Tasmania, and she and her children sailed to Australia, where she lived a middle-class life. In 1929, Thirkell left Australia without warning, ostensibly for a holiday but with the intention of never returning. She borrowed money from her godfather, J. M Barrie, for the passage. One of her sons, Graham McInnes, chose to remain in Australia.

She had begun writing in Australia because of need of money, publishing an article in Cornhill Magazine in 1921 and her first novel, Trooper to Southern Cross, under the name of Leslie Parker. After that, she published several articles and short stories in Cornhill Magazine. Her success as a novelist began with her publication of High Rising in 1933, and she is well known for her Barsetshire series, set in Anthony Trollope’s fictional county and echoing many of the names from his own Barsetshire Chronicles.

Her earlier novels were known for their send-ups of village ways, middle-class aspirations, and aristocratic folly. Her wartime novels showed how the war affected life at home in rural England. Her post-war novels are less admired and more nostalgic as well as less contemporary.

Thirkell died in a nursing home. I could find no information about her cause of death. She is quoted as saying “It’s very peaceful with no husbands.” Although Thirkell’s oldest son Graham McInnes became a diplomat and art critic, he was also a novelist, as was her middle son Colin MacInnes. Her youngest son, Lance Thirkell, worked for the Foreign Office, the BBC, and was also a writer.

Dates: 1890-1961

Most popular works: The Barsetshire novels (29 novels published between 1933 and 1961), including High Rising, Pomfret Towers, The Brandons, Northbridge Rectory

Other works: Three Houses, Ankle Deep, Coronation Summer, and others

Reviews by members:

3 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Angela Thirkell

  1. I can see how much you love Thirkell’s book Kay, with a second reading/review for many of them! She was an interesting woman. Her eldest son Graham did not have any time for her (according to his biography) and Colin was also estranged from her.

    I realised I had not added my reviews for her books to the database, so have done that now – thanks for the prompt 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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