This is the story of the author of a classic of English literature, who is far less renowned than her crowning achievement, Lark Rise to Candleford. While Flora Thompson’s much-loved portrait of life in the 19th century countryside has inspired a hit television series, relatively little is known about the author herself.
In this highly original book, bestselling biographer and nature writer Richard Mabey sympathetically retraces her life and her transformation from a post-office clerk who left school at fourteen to a sophisticated professional writer. Mabey shows how her legacy emerged from the creative tension between two different dreams of the good life. While her work’s appeal comes from her commemoration of the virtues of traditional village life, just when these values were being eroded by the advance of urbanisation, her own history consisted chiefly of an escape from this culture, and a hunger to become a different kind of person, a writer with her sights on the skies.
Above all, this book helps us understand how the creation of a formidable imagination can arise from the humblest of beginnings. Using an innovative biographical structure, Mabey interprets the Lark Rise trilogy with intelligence and sensitivity, showing how its semi-fictional story interweaves with the facts of Thompson’s real life as she painstakingly taught herself to write: soaking up the atmosphere of literary bohemia in Surrey; finding her true voice in the Hampshire hills, the charged literary landscape of her heroes, Gilbert White and Jane Austen; and the inspired creation of her leading character, Laura, a semi-fictionalised version of her childhood self. Mabey’s empathy with the nuances of Thompson’s narrative voice, as she switches between Laura’s ‘child’s eye’ and the writer’s own adult perspective, make this biography a joy to read. Dreams of the Good Life paints a poignant, unforgettable portrait of a working-class woman writer’s struggle for creative expression.