Originally published in 1945, Thirkell's 'Miss Bunting' is a delighful British comedy of manners set in Barsetshire, a stretch of countryside well known to fans of Thirkell's more than 30 books.
It's wartime and luxuries such as stockings, milk, tea and anything made of steel are nostalgic memories. Miss Bunting is the quintessential elderly, unflappable governess hired to tutor delicate, naive Anne Fielding who soon makes the somewhat unsuitable acquaintance of Heather Adams, daughter of the wealthy but hardly genteel ironworks owner.
Anne's circle includes Jane Gresham, whose husband is missing in action in the East, and who has come with her young son to live with her father, Admiral Palliser. Robin Dale, son of the Church rector, has also come home, minus a foot lost in the fighting. He fills his time teaching small boys and caring for his scholarly, absent-minded father.
Despite the upheavels of war, Old Town and New Town have maintained their social separation - until crass but efficient Mr. Adams bowls over the barriers, conferring favors wherever he goes, wanted or not.
While the elder denizens are nonplussed by the man, they are unable to articulate their prejudice and Anne's acquaintance proceeds. Meanwhile, Jane finds herself intrigued by the man's energy.
Although largely plotless, Thirkell's novel draws the reader in with crisp, wry characterizations and turns of phrase. Miss Bunting is delighfully reactionary; the arbiter of British taste for generations of upperclass girls, the observer, who, when required, can set things in their proper place with a look or a word.
Thirkell's social comedies, with their gentle bite, should gain a new generation of anglophile readers.