Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical Lark Rise to Candleford is a part-lyrical part-documentary work of social history and agricultural portraiture. In the trilogy, written years after the events, Thompson details her recollections of the daily lives and the domestic interiors of the homes of the living people in rural Oxfordshire where she once lived, and shows the individuals as an integral part of rural society. In her chronicles, through her assumed character, “Laura,” Thompson records her observations of human character, and the social and economic changes happening around her on a deeper level than either Sturt or Evans. Laura “is the recorder of hamlet, village, and the country town who was of them but detached from them, and whose observation of their inmates by intimacy by no means clouded precision of insight and an objective capacity to grasp … the essentials of character” (Massingham (1939) 1984, p. 8).
Thompson uses the fictional techniques of authorial omniscience and third person narrative, and is a sympathetic but unsentimental, realistic writer. For example, through “Laura’s” story Thompson reveals that within the tight knit community, the villagers’ attitudes towards each other are contradictory; the villagers are sympathetic towards young village girls who give birth to an illegitimate child, as long as that girl is not their own daughter to bring them shame: “ ‘I allus tells my gals,’ one woman would say confidentially to another, ‘that if they goes getting themselves into trouble they’ll have to go to the work ’us, for I won’t have ’em at home.’…” (Lark Rise (1939) 1984, p.p. 138-40).
J. Massingham points out that Thompson’s Lark Rise may seem to be a “placid English water-colour,” but what Thompson depicts is “the utter ruin” of the three layers within a closely knit rural society—country, village and small market town— with “a richly interwoven and traditional culture that had defied every change, every aggression, except the one that established the modern world” (Massingham (1939) 1984, p. 10).
Thompson does not explicitly describe transformation, rather does so through “Laura’s” story and allegorically through the changing of the seasons in the rural community where “Laura” lives. Through “Laura’s” story also, Thompson implicitly shows that underneath all the organic change life goes on, and during transition from the old pre-industrial England to the new contemporary society, traces of the customs and language of old England still exist in some rural village households, and in isolated pockets the “age-old discipline” is not altogether lost but has adapted to the modern times.
Massingham, H. J. Introduction. 1944. Lark Rise to Candleford. By Flora Thompson. 1939. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.
Thompson, Flora. 1939. Lark Rise to Candleford. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.