These days of course a series is a very popular thing, both with readers and booksellers. A series of books of course are by no means a new thing. Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles for example have delighted readers for many a long year. Less well known perhaps though from a similar era, are the Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs (Margaret) Oliphant. Written in the 1860’s they then spent many years out of print. The Rector (a short story) and The Doctor’s Family a short novel– were published together by Virago Modern Classics and are the first two stories in the series. The books are now best obtained either on Kindle or in second hand VMC’s – I have three of the next four books in the series (2 VMC’s and a penguin classic) and hope it will be as easy to pick up number 5, books 2, 3 and 4 are fairly chunky, this delightful little book serving as something of an introduction to Carlingford – much in the same way as The Warden does with Barsetshire.
The Rector of the opening story is Mr Proctor – a middle aged clergyman who having spent the previous fifteen years cloistered happily away at All Souls, now takes up the living in Carlingford, in part to provide a comfortable home for his ageing mother. Mr Proctor is somewhat unused to the world is certainly unprepared for the blue ribboned prettiness of Miss Lucy Wodehouse.
“The Rector was not vain – he did not think himself an Adonis; he did not understand anything about the matter, which indeed was beneath the consideration of a Fellow of All-Souls. But have not women been incomprehensible since ever there was in this world a pen with sufficient command of words to call them so? And is it not certain that, whether it may to their advantage or disadvantage, every soul of them is plotting to marry somebody?”
In ‘The Doctor’s Family’ we meet the young Doctor Edward Rider, a bachelor who lives in the newer part of Carlingford, with a blue plaque outside his door bearing the legend M.R.C.S he ministers to those afraid of the word physician. It is Dr Marjoribanks in the older part of the town who has the practice Dr Rider coverts. However Edward’s elder and dissolute brother Fred has arrived back from Australia unexpectedly taking up idle residence in Edward’s house. Edward is incensed by his brother’s idle selfishness, and yet is little expecting to be faced by his brother’s wife Susan, three children and sister-in-law Nettie, arrived from the colonies to seek him out. Nettie is a small but determined young woman, she manages her family completely as Fred’s wife is as lazy and useless as he is himself. Only Nettie is able to manage the children, and it is only Nettie who has any money on which the family can live. Nettie secures the family some lodgings and her sister and brother-in-law much to Edward Riders disgust are happy to live upon her goodness and be managed absolutely by her. Dr Rider’s feeling towards Nettie inevitable lean towards romance and he is appalled that Nettie should be quite so content to sacrifice herself to others.
“Edward Rider stared at his brother, speechless with rage and indignation. He could have rushed upon that listless figure, and startled the life half out of the nerveless slovenly frame. The state of mingled resentment, disappointment, and disgust he was in, made every particular of this aggravating scene tell more emphatically. To see that heavy vapour obscuring those walls which breathed of Nettie – to think of this one little centre of her life, which always hitherto had borne in some degree the impress of her womanly image, so polluted and vulgarised, overpowered the young man’s patience. Yet perhaps he of all men in the world had least right to interfere.”
I absolutely loved this book. I hope it doesn’t spoil it for future readers to say that the ending is of course very satisfactory. Readers today may like to think ourselves oh so more sophisticated than in the 1860’s – but really? don’t we all rather like a happy ending? I am already a fan of Carlingford, and hope I find the next much fatter instalments of the series just as charming and readable.
The Chronicles of Carlingford comprise:
The Rector and The Doctor’s Family
The Perpetual Curate