I recently had the pleasure of reading Flora Thompson’s ‘Lark Rise’, a personal account of growing up in a small rural community in Oxfordshire in the late Victorian period. Through the eyes of ‘Laura’, Flora Thompson paints an intimate and detailed social history of life in those times, from childbirth to death, inclusive of high days and holidays, religion, schooling, social life, care of the elderly and more. With a keen eye for observing nature and beauty, Flora Thompson renders an exacting yet not too sentimental picture of what life was like for the rural poor.
The exact time of the retelling is the 1880’s and two chapters are dedicated to describing songs sung by the village folk and games favoured by their children. There are even descriptions of the lavish care of the family pig – an exceedingly important figure in village life. The storyteller also closes the curtain on an era long gone and not to be recovered, as industrial and technological development changed the methods of farming and had a great impact on food production.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter dedicated to May Day celebrations, which started with the statement that the celebrations surrounding May Day were the most cherished by the village children. What followed was a description of a most beautiful and flower filled day of merriment, where a large May garland of flowers was carried ceremoniously accompanied by a flower bedecked May Queen. The other major celebration was Harvest Time, where after the last sheaf of corn was collected, the farm workers would be invited to a glorious harvest home dinner at the farmer’s house.
Apart from these celebrations, I also took careful note of some of the books that graced Laura’s bookshelves. Apart from her Mother’s Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress they included Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Gulliver’s Travels, The Daisy Chain and Mrs Molesworth’s Cuckoo Clock and Carrots. Flora Thompson’s writing is wonderfully descriptive and one might say, illuminating. A carefully scripted paragraph inserted here and there amidst the pages can astonish the reader with nature descriptions of searing beauty.
If you have wondered what it must have been like to live a few centuries ago, then ‘Lark Rise’ by Flora Thompson is a good book to pick up. It is a beautiful place to be transported to and though the last page of the book brought tears to my eyes, I will leave it to you, to find out why.