Sunday, 6 April 2008

Lark Rise to Candleford

Sunday night is one of my television nights mainly because I look forward to watching an historical literary adaptation for the small screen. Lark Rise to Candleford fitted the bill, in a gentle, easy to watch, curl up with a cup of cocoa and suspend belief sort of way. But it's finished.

This long series followed on from Cranford which kept those of us who enjoy such stuff making sure we bagged the sofa for Sunday evening. Cranford it was not: see my blog archive 2007, posted on 30th December. In the televised Cranford there was real depth of characterisation, humour and the sense that true social change was taking place as the story unfolded.

Flora Thompson's, Lark Rise to Candleford, is a very different creature from Elizabeth Gaskell's novel. Flora Jane Timms (1876-1947) was born in the small village of Juniper Hill (the fictional Lark Rise) on the Oxfordshire border and left school at fourteen - as was usual - to work in the post office in the village of Fringford (later depicted as Candleford Green). She married in 1903 and moved to Hampshire where she and her husband ran a post office.

Lark Rise to Candleford is a semi autobiographical trilogy based on her Oxfordshire childhood and three communities, a hamlet, a nearby village and a town. The first story, Lark Rise, was published in 1939, followed by Over to Candleford (1941) and finally Candleford Green in 1943. These were re-issued as one volume Lark Rise to Candleford in 1945.

The books all describe village life throughout the year and the events depicted in them mirror much of Flora's experience. The central character is Laura Timmins, and the story starts when she leaves her hamlet of Lark Rise to work in the post office of the larger Candleford. Every television episode had its own little drama and on the whole these stood on their own. In the book the trilogy finishes when Laura leaves to sample life in the outside world, but the TV adaption has the post mistress fulfil this ambition. In fact this is what Flora herself set out to do.

As a record of ordinary rural life her books are an excellent record – do you remember Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady? Well in this respect they are very similar. But, although in Flora's novels we do see characters riding the newfangled bicycle, we are hardly aware how much the railway transformed transport and the relationship between village and town (it’s a shocking event when this occurs in Cranford).

Nor should the reader or viewer look to these novels to portray complete historical accuracy. Although we are very aware how the telegraph impacted on communications, we are little aware of the mass migration of rural workers to the cities. In Gaskell's novels, however, this sort of social change is always apparent and often the basis of the story.

The stories in Lark Rise to Candleford are set in the last years of the nineteenth century and Flora was over 60 years old when she wrote them. She, too, possibly saw that time through rose-tinted spectacles. They are gentle reminiscences of a time and way of life long past. And I, for one, will miss this sentimental, nostalgic series that was so easy on the ear and eye; that and having the sofa to myself.


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