The nature writer Richard Mabey is the author of a large book on the plants of Great Britain, Flora Brittanica. His latest work is a biography of the author of the Lark Rise to Candleford series of novels (made into a TV series), Flora Thompson. A small part of me wonders if he wrote this latest biography just to have two books about ‘Flora’.
But of course Mabey is attracted to Thompson because, while her books are novels, they tell of English rural life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly a countryside that was steadily becoming mechanised, and, in Flora’s part of the world, more populous, and Mabey is interested in the old, lost ways of country life and work.
His small biography utilises the novels to a fair degree because not much is known about Thompson’s life. The novels themselves were described as autobiography when Oxford first published them, and so the temptation is to read them as such, which one might do cautiously, assuming that while the characters might not always align with real life, much of the descriptions of the countryside, and the ways of the people in them, will.