Blog

A Class Apart: The Best British Country House Novels

Posted on 13th September 2019 by Mark Skinner

The British (and indeed the wider world) do love their country houses. As the televisual, period-drama phenomenon that is Downton Abbey arives with a flourish in the nation's cinemas, we take a look at some classic literary evocations of spectacular stately homes and crumbling country pads, from Brideshead to Blandings and all places in between.

Just why do the British have such affection for country houses?

Emblems of power and privilege they hark back to a time of rigid class distinction and archaic ritual that many people find faintly embarrassing in the twenty-first century. Yet throughout popular culture the rambling, stately pile has never been more in vogue, with that behemoth of period telly drama, Downton Abbey, making its big screen debut this week.

Country houses have always held particular appeal for authors for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the simple logistical fact that they provide a rich closed environment in which to gather a disparate group of characters. Wealthy landed gentry, a raft of domestic servants, mysterious interlopers – all can be accommodated in the capacious rooms of a venerable country pad. Then there are the themes that a country house allows a writer to explore; class, repressed emotion, illicit sex, avarice, generational dispute. All of these tropes may be prevalent in modern, urban settings as well, of course, but they are more sharply delineated in a country house novel. Finally, there is the chance to create a character from the bricks, chandeliers, winding staircases and portrait galleries of the houses themselves; think Manderley, Mansfield Park, Howards End, and other fictional residences that are just as, if not more, well-known than the flesh and blood characters that inhabit them.

The ten novels below range from rose-tinted nostalgia to bitter class critique, via golden-age murder mystery and masterful farce. Any one of them would be ideal to retire to the drawing room with - alongside a nice glass of port and an effortlessly witty companion of course.

£9.99 £7.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
A paean to the fading glamour and privilege of the interwar aristocracy, Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Flyte family and their opulent stately pile stands as the ultimate country house novel. Drenched in nostalgic reverie yet alive to the era’s shortcomings, Brideshead Revisited endures as a true twentieth-century classic.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£5.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
With typically piercing insight into social position and the confines of class, Mansfield Park moves beyond the comic irony and lighter themes of Austen’s early work to ask searching questions about a number of weightier issues. Fanny Price’s uncomfortable residence at the titular country house is handled with sensitivity and depth by an author ever more assured in her craft.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£6.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
One of the great literary dissections of the British class system, Howard’s End pits the bourgeois Wilcoxes against the cultured Schlegels - no to mention the impecunious clerk Leonard Bast - in a bitter battle for the eponymous stately home. Deftly written yet multi-layered, Forster’s great novel retains its relevance into the twenty-first century.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£9.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
A masterly evocation of the mores and morals of the 1930s upper class, McEwan’s rich, character-driven narrative examines the nature of guilt and the onerous quest for redemption. A moving love story brimming with repressed passion and festering jealousy, Atonement is a period novel of supreme acuity.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£8.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Delicately written yet packing an emotionally devastating punch, The Go-Between resounds with lost innocence and the inevitable corruption of youth. The exploitation of a young boy drawn into conveying messages between a farmer and a rich young woman at Brandham Hall echoes the hidden decadence at the heart of Edwardian society.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£8.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Something of an outlier in the Christie canon, The Hollow boasts a far greater depth of characterisation than the Queen of Crime is usually given credit for, whilst the mystery element of the plot is chiefly subordinate to the protagonists’ motivations. Rest assured, however, the archetypal country pad is present and correct, as is one Hercule Poirot, puzzled by a seemingly open-and-shut case.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£8.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Wistfully elegiac and simmeringly romantic, The Remains of the Day is Ishiguro’s meditation on duty, repressed desire and self-sacrifice, as seen through the eyes of a dedicated, unshakeably loyal butler. Expertly capturing a moment in time, this tale of convention and lost opportunities in an interwar stately home is both a deeply affecting and richly atmospheric read.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£10.99
Hardback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Lord Emsworth’s prize-winning pig has been stolen (again), whilst the threat of salacious memoirs dogs his aristocratic sister. The funniest of Wodehouse’s Blandings novels, Summer Lightning is a majestic literary farce where clockwork timing and sparkling dialogue combine to create a comic masterpiece.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£8.99
Paperback
We can order this
Usually dispatched within 1 week
Insidiously sinister and elegantly written, Sadie Jones’ country house chiller is lithe enough to make space for elegant bon-mots and a hauntingly off-kilter love story. A note-perfect pastiche of Edwardian gothic, The Uninvited Guests is tremendous, knowing fun from start to finish.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout

£7.99
Paperback
In stock online
Usually dispatched within 24 hours
One of the most infamous books in British literature, Lady Chatterley’s Lover’s notoriety is always in danger of detracting from its considerable merits. The erotically charged tale of an illicit affair between the wife of a paralysed grandee and his earthy gamekeeper, Lawrence’s classic novel has much to say about social class, sexual desire and gender politics.
  • This item has been added to your basket
View basket Checkout






Comments

There are currently no comments.