Saturday, 26 June 2010

Trooper to the southern cross (Thirkell) 171

Angela Thirkell is an author familiar to me for her Barsetshire books, wonderful, slightly satirical portrayals of English country life and middle class aspirations and folly. I was thus intrigued to see her on the VMC list, not with any of these titles, but another book - Trooper to the Southern Cross. Set in Australia, and written under the male pseudonym of Leslie Parker, this is really quite a different work. Thirkell spent 2 years living in Australia after her marriage to George Thirkell and drew on her experiences there and in particular of her horrific voyage to the continent in writing this book.

The book is told from the perspective of Major Bowen; he comes across as a bit of a character, a public school army type, complacent and very much of the time in his attitudes. In fact, Thirkell captured his identity so well that she managed to carry the pseudonym off successfully - the critics genuinely thought that it was written by a man. The book starts off by relating Bowen's role in the First World War, and how he got together with his wife Celia. But the main part of it deals with telling how he and Celia set out for Australia after the First World War, alongside other officers and their families, prisoners on board, and over 800 rioting diggers. I am sure that Celia must be a reflection of Thirkell to some extent and wondered whether how Bowen talks about her was how Thirkell felt that she must be viewed by her husband.

This book has just been published once by Virago with an original green cover. If you haven't read Thirkell, I would recommend seeking her out, although perhaps not this one which is so very different from the rest of her work. I would love to see some of her Barsetshire books back in print - one to suggest to Virago perhaps?! I've also discovered as part of writing this post that she wrote an autobiography, entitled Three houses, and will be borrowing that from the library very soon.


  1. U.S. publisher Moyer Bell publishes Angela Thirkell titles in trade paperback format if you're interested in tracking down some of her titles.

  2. I've read Three Houses and thought it charming. I also read one of her standalones and enjoyed it a great deal as well; it is responsible for the bookish fantasy that I have of reading all her Barsetshire books in a lazy book-soaked summer.