Coronation Summer

What a fun cover!  Mine isn't.
Coronation Summer, by Angela Thirkell

A couple of people around the bloggy world have been reading Angela Thirkell, which strikes me as a perfect author for reading while hiding out from a global pandemic.  I had this one on my TBR shelf, and indeed it was an ideal read for right now.  I'm going to pass it on to my mom and then to a friend; it was so refreshingly funny!

Fanny Harcourt is 17 in the summer of 1838, when the young Victoria is going to be crowned.  She and her best friend Emily Dacre manage to talk Fanny's father into spending the summer in London so they can see all the sights and experience the excitement.  The girls also spend quite a bit of time thinking about the young men they meet; Emily has a crush on Fanny's older brother Ned, and Fanny is much struck by the romantic-looking dandy, Mr. DeLacy Vavasour, who has published several sensational novels.*  Mr. Darnley, on the other hand, is also charming...

The story is told by Fanny herself, now a young matron, a few years later in a reminiscence she is writing for her children to read someday.  She and Emily have just read The Ingoldsby Legends** and are confused by the (fictional) author's name; they are well acquainted with Tom Ingoldsby, but how did he write this book?  Fanny thinks she might turn author too.

This is really a delightful novel, and one reason is the perfect pitch of the writing and dialogue.  I'm no expert, but this read completely 'young Victorian lady' to me.  Never was there a jarring modern word or expression; Fanny sounds just right.***  She gushes over "our dearest Boz," and thinks a lot about fashion but has a realistic wardrobe. 

Another delightful element is that, while Fanny writes as a nice young lady, she often gives herself away as...not always very nice!  She tends to both misunderstand and manipulate her father, and is often not very kind to her 'dearest Emily' -- they quarrel regularly.  It is delicately done, and very funny.  Thirkell is satirizing her characters and their world, but so expertly that it is all just a little bit over the line, and all the funnier for it.

Here are a few excerpts:

...parents are created to distress us, and let me not forget that Emily too has her trials.  Never shall I forget her account of the Sunday when her father, usually all that a parent should be, actually sent her home from the very church door for wearing a bonnet which he considered unbecoming to the daughter of a rector of the Church of England.  Poor Emily, who had for the moment indulged in a tender sentiment for a handsome young Evangelical preacher whom she had met while at Miss Twinkleton's school at Cloisterham, and who was subsequently imprisoned for abducting an heiress, had taken to wearing plain bonnets as a sign of regeneration.  She was forced to go home and put on a bonnet with feathers and ribbons...

[describing a beauty, at length, evidently after the style of Mrs. Radcliffe]...Her rounded figure was moulded by a dress of pure white silk from the riches looms of Cashmere, while a scarf of finest gauze half hid, half revealed a bust which might have served a Canova as model.  She wore no ornaments except a necklace of cameos richly set with diamonds, and her arms were clasped with magnificent bracelets...

[On Quakers] ...They seems to be a useful and philanthropic sort of persons, and as for their religion, I have been brought up an Anglican and can tolerate any form of worship which does not attempt to foment discord among the lower orders.
Oh, I had so much fun with this one.  Really glad I read it.  And it's pretty cheap on Kindle, so if you think you'd like it, it will be easy to get!

*Mr. Vavasour's novel has an incredible plot that is a wonderful pastiche of the typical elements.

** Having grown up reading E. Nesbit, I always wondered what The Ingoldsby Legends were, and so some years ago I got a copy.  It's a collection of funny ghost stories, legends, and poetry that first appeared in magazines.  The first story is about a ghost who steals guests' pantaloons...and you can easily get it in ebook format!

*** I suppose Thirkell had an advantage over our modern writers; having been born in 1890, she probably had a grandmother who really did speak in Fanny's style.


  1. This was one of the books I reviewed in the early days of blogging - comparing it with Ernest Shepard's Drawn from Memory, which I coincidentally read at the same time -- and which is set around the time of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, so an interesting real-life companion to the early Victorian pastiche.

    Anyway, I agree the period writing is extremely well done and that is so refreshing compared to some of the anachronistic junk that is being produced nowadays. And I also remembered the Ingoldsby references from E. Nesbit -- but I never bothered to seek out the original as you did.

    But I did not like Fanny at all and wished for a more sympathetic heroine. In my review I said she would have been perfect as a side character to poke fun at, but as the main character it was too much. However, I am glad you enjoyed it! Yes, great cover as well.

  2. Miss Twinkleton's school at Cloisterham! That is straight out of Dickens' last unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

  3. This sounds fun!

    I'm currently writing my post for Friday, about the altered plans for VE Day anniversary celebrations. It would be fun to read about the London excitement surrounding the coronation, since we'll be missing what might have been this weekend.


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