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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Three Score and Ten - Angela Thirkell Rating: 4.5* of fiveThe Book Description: Finished posthumously by her close friend, C. A. Lejeune, Three Score and Ten concludes the Barsetshire series with the birthday party of the heroine of the first novel, Laura Morland, now seventy years old, surrounded by her grown family, her literary legacy, and the same small-town drama that enchanted and amused readers thirty years previously. Thirkell's last, unfinished novel features a host of new and old friends from the author's beloved Barsetshire. This time out, a little boy appears to save Wiple Terrace, home of Miss Hampton and Miss Bent, from destruction. The budding romance between Lord Mellings and Lavinia Merton flowers, a past love finds Dr. Ford, and the Old Bank House provides the setting for the final scene, an all-Barsetshire party. My Review: Of all the bittersweet pleasures I know, the completion of a dead author's beloved series stands alone at the top of my list. This, the twenty-ninth book in Thirkell's Barsetshire series, is never to have a companion added. It is a shame, on one level, and a relief on another.I love the divagations and arabesques of illogic and whimsy that Thirkell specialized in. One's gently daft old Great-Aunt Maude, speaking from the edge of the grave to one's child-self, telling stories of the damnedest things...life before TV?! Horses as transportation instead of sport?! No showers?!...how extraordinary, how unimaginably primitive, how exciting! Laura Morland, introduced in the first book as the slightly harassed and mildly put-upon widowed mother of four wildly energetic, not terribly obedient sons, newly arrived in Barsetshire, is now turning seventy, which was quite a great age in 1959. She sits writing her Madame Koska thrillers, one after another, each just like the next and quite happily so; she has her youngest son's oldest son wished on her for the summer hols; she goes to parties, visits old friends for tea, takes pretty no-longer-young single women to the lairs of elderly single men and somehow makes it all come out right. Mrs. Morland is of the fabric of Barsetshire. She is the weft of the cloth, putting the picture into perspective, adding color and strength, and yet her lifetime habit of self-deprecation is ingrained and requires her to play down her milestone birthday and reject a party celebrating it in her honor.And herein the relief of the series ending. The attitudes of fifty years ago can jar on modern sensibilities. The attitudes considered old-fashioned fifty years ago...! And of course, as anyone who has read the books before this one knows, there's the racism inherent in the time and place, most strongly evidenced by Thirkell's portraits of the Mixo-Lydian Ambassadress. Ye gods! The assumption that one must be married, must have a wife to care for one, a husband whose babies to have, isn't exactly in line with today's thinking and was slowly losing its hold on womanity even in 1959. The country-simple folks whose lives revolve around the rhythms of nature and the needs of their domestic cattle and crops, then a doomed lot of old-fashioned yokels, are now quite celebrated by the culture. Look at the Fabulous Beekman Boys! They're making a living out of promoting this very lifestyle, a gay couple riffing on Martha Stewart and (probably unknowingly) Thirkell. (Go read their blog. You'll see what I mean. Sharon Springs is like Barchester in a number of ways.)But for all that, the sheer delight of sitting with Mrs. Morland, the authoress's well-known alter ego in the stories, as she contentedly runs out the sands in her life's hourglass, looking not ahead by much and back with a good deal of affection, is quite a pleasant experience. Mrs. Morland isn't dead yet, you see, she isn't just waiting for God, she is smiling and chatting and dispensing her inimitable style of wisdom to the young things quite without portentousness or even awareness of what she's doing. The Leslies, the Fosters (the Pomfrets, one supposes), the Thornes and Mertons and Keiths...of all generations...open their homes to Laura Morland, celebrated authoress, and old friend in this last installment. As Mrs. Thirkell herself died at seventy-one, it isn't a huge leap to imagine all these quiet teas and dull dinners (self-described!) and Agricultural Shows as Mrs. Morland's own last ones, and see them in this sweetly golden glow of times well and truly lost.Being a Thirkell novel, well story since novel implies a plot of which this dear and lovely creation is void, there are engagements that will lead to the next generation's birth and upbringing, there are young people of every age busily engaged in the business of becoming themselves, there are so many many bustling scenes of no great moment but such deep pleasure...the knowledge that, despite the impending departure of the main character for good and all, there will be other lives and other worlds and new perspectives on it all. The sadness we feel at inevitable loss is tempered, as it always should be, by the eternal verity that Life, my dear, Life Goes On.I love Barsetshire, and need its beautiful landscapes and wonderful people in my mental furniture. And sad as I am that I can't go there afresh in a new book, I'm so pleased to have had the chance to close the circle in finally reading this deeply autobiographical book. The door to Barsetshire, however, I refuse to close. The breeze from it is so beguilingly fresh.