This is one of the fifteen volumes I pulled off the TBR for Novellas in November, and I was thrilled to realise that it’s actually TWO novellas in one volume, thus making it my second and third Novellas in November as well as another volume off the 85-strong TBR Challenge list. I love it when something fulfils multiple challenges. Shockingly, I gained this via BookCrossing in 2017, making it the oldest book on my TBR, so it’s good I’ve now conquered it.

I did love these Chronicles of Carlingford and it’s made me want to read the rest … except I promised myself I’d read Trollope’s “Barchester Chronicles” first and I’m only half-way through those. But that’s why it was languishing on the TBR in the first place and needed shifting!

Mrs Oliphant – “The Rector” and “The Doctor’s Family”

(06 July 2017 via BookCrossing)

Really, “The Recotor” is more of a short story than a novella, but it’s called such in the introduction and the two are part of a world made up of long and shorter pieces, so I’m going to go for it and call it a novella. We’re introduced to the world of Carlingford, a small, gossipy town with, naturally, a “good” end and a less prosperous, more flashy end – a “horrid suburb”, no less! After the demise of the Evangelical Rector, a new one has come to take his place. No one knows what kind of Anglican he is (high, low, muscular, etc.) and really he’s come out of academia and into real life on a bit of a whim, to see if he can do it. Reverend Wentworth is the attractive Perpetual Curate of the next parish along (this means he wasn’t ever going to be a full vicar but could look after the church and its people – but not afford to marry) is visiting the Wodehouse sisters when Mr Wodehouse suddenly comes home with this new Rector, Mr Proctor. But Mr Proctor soon falls foul of a) gossip in Carlingford (his mother, an excellent character, joins in with wondering which woman’s going to nab him) and b) his inability to manage the business of his parishioners, being unable to soothe the unwell or tend the dying, and coming to the horrible realisation of this midway through trying to do it. Off he goes, but we do get a little flash of the future, which is nice for a couple of the characters.

“The Doctor’s Family” is not the family you think it is when introduced to Dr Rider, established in that “horrid suburb” and downplaying his qualifications so as not to scare anyone off. He’s a devoted worker but has the horrible secret of his layabout older brother, who has got into some kind of disgrace and is sponging off him. Then – worse – THIS doctor’s family (sickly wife, three dreadful children and capable sister-in-law) descend upon him, having followed him from Australia (does this qualify this book for AusReading Month?). Poor Dr Rider is soon having to find a house for them – for he won’t put them up himself – but is strangely attracted to his sister-in-law, Nettie, so different from his old love Bessie, who he was unable to marry due to the demands put upon him by brother Fred.

A slightly complicated plot ensues, with Fred and Susan working to ruin their own reputation, a forbearing landlord and landlady being offered extra behind the scenes and a tough heroine in Nettie who will not accept help or accept it’s not her duty to manage her sister and her feckless husband (Miss Wodehouse tries admirably with this). We see a sort of continuum of women, from the helpless to the refusing of help: all are seen as flawed, and a middle way the best, I think. Poor Nettie is an excellent character, seen girding herself to face various situations and seemingly never to get her own happiness.

In both these tales, there’s an economy which means we’re flung straight into the middle of the action. This is rather excellent and certainly keeps things going, and I like the emphasis on women’s roles and the domestic interior you get with this author: I will definitely be reading more Chronicles of Carlingford!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 9/85 – 76 to go and these were Books 2 and 3 in my Novellas in November challenge