Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson
I have just spent the last week going from Lark Rise to Candleford and back again. How did I miss this marvelous book for so many years. I ordered a copy from Amazon.uk in 2009, after some mention on the Heyer list, and as usual added to the TBR pile. Last Sunday, when I finished Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, which is set in Oxfordshire, I remembered Lark Rise is also set in Oxfordshire and pulled it off the pile. By page three, I had fallen in love. C.S. Lewis described the experience in An Experiment in Criticism: "the first reading of some literary work is often, to the literary, an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison." This was one of those books for me. And it was a book to be read slowly, and savored, and shared - well, recommended anyway. I'm not loaning out my copy!
The immediate plunge in daily life in Lark Rise, especially all the domestic details, reminded me very much of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, set in a very different world, but similar in poverty, self-reliance, and ingenuity in making do with very little. I wonder if "Laura" being Thompson's stand-in character was part of that. There is no one in the Little House books like Miss Lane, though, to offer the American Laura an unconventional role, one that brings such freedom (especially with the postal route) and so many books. Miss Lane is such an outsized character - a woman in the 1890s running a blacksmith's shop as well as the post office, and so well-placed through both to have her fingers on every pulse of her community.
A friend of mine is a great fan of the filmed version of Lark Rise. As I was reading it, though, I kept wondering how on earth this could be filmed. Generally, as I have explained to far too many people, I subscribe to the Purist Principle: The Book Is Always Better. I have a t-shirt that proclaims "Never judge a book by its movie." I can trace my conversion to this dogma back to my crushing disappointment as child at the TV version of the Little House books (don't get me started on the adopted brother, and the very special episode about his detox in the barn from a morphine addiction). I do admit that PBS introduced me to Jane Austen, Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion, and Vera Brittain, but again and always, the books were better (but oh, David Rintoul as Darcy). I did see some mention that the film version of Lark Rise virtually ignores (oh such irony) the first book of the trilogy (yes, the one actually called Lark Rise) - but I can see the possibility of lots of dramatic or comedic stories around Candleford Green.
All in all, a book to be treasured - and a wonderful week of reading.