Novels about English Village Life
March 30, 2010 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm making a reading list and I'm looking for some novels about English village life. What I have so far you can view here. Any suggestions of books and authors I may have missed? I am looking for fiction that is in print and more than likely available at most public libraries in the states.

What I have so far:

General Fiction

Albert, Susan - The Tale of Hill Top Farm
Benson, E.F. - Mapp and Lucia
Brooks, Geraldine - Year of Wonders
Cheska, Anna - Moving to the Country
Coleride, Nicholas - A much married man
Hall, Sarah - Haweswater
Heley, Veronica - the Secret of the Hall
Hill, Reginald - Stranger House
Joyce, Graham - Limits of Enchantment
Mitchell, David - Black Swan Green
Pearce, Mary - The old house at Railes
Purser, Ann - Sorrow on Sunday
Read, Miss
Sedley, Kate - A Midsummer Rose
Shaw, Rebecca - Country Lovers
Simonson, Helen - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Trollope, Joanna
Willett, Marcia - Second Time Around


Airth, Rennie - Blood Dimmed Tide
Atherton, Nancy
Beaton, M.C.
Brett, Simon. The Poisoning in the Pub
Christie, Agatha
Edwards, Martin - Cipher Garden
Graham, Caroline - A Ghost in the Machine
Kingsbury, Kate
Purser, Ann
Sherwood, John
posted by zzazazz to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I've only seen the TV costume drama based on the novel (nerd alert), but Lark Rise to Candleford is about English village life in the late 19th century.
posted by ishotjr at 5:19 PM on March 30, 2010

p.s., your google docs link tells me I don't have permission.
posted by ishotjr at 5:19 PM on March 30, 2010

James Herriot: All Creatures Great and Small series
posted by SLC Mom at 5:22 PM on March 30, 2010

Any particular time period? I always thought (as an ignorant American who's never been to England) that James Herriot's books (particularly All Creatures Great and Small) were a delightful look at rural Yorkshire life in the 30's and 40's.
posted by saladin at 5:25 PM on March 30, 2010

Dang, guess I should have previewed...
posted by saladin at 5:25 PM on March 30, 2010

Thomas Hardy's novels would fit this bill, particularly The Mayor of Casterbridge. The Return of the Native might be too rural.
posted by OmieWise at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2010

Response by poster: Historical novels are welcome.
posted by zzazazz at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2010

George Eliot's novels are in the main British village pastoral.
posted by Paragon at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read her (to my shame and detriment) but George Eliot is generally considered the master of English village novels. Here's a lovely episode of BBC series In Our Time about her and her novel Silas Marner.
posted by Kattullus at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2010

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
posted by Fiery Jack at 5:35 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the historical end, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are both brilliant reads. Perhaps stretching the definition of "village" a bit in a cathedral-town setting, but absolutely worth reading.
posted by Rallon at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2010

How about Doomsday Book by Connie Willis?
posted by teraflop at 5:43 PM on March 30, 2010

I really like Cold Comfort Farm
posted by selton at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2010

Cold Comfort Farm, A Room With a View, and I Capture The Castle come to mind.
posted by mynameisluka at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2010

Jane Austen said of writing that "3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2010

Reginald Hill's Pictures of Perfection is set in an teensy-tiny Yorkshire village.

Mary Russell Mitford's Our Village (a good public library may have an abridged edition).
posted by thomas j wise at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2010

Beverley Nichols's:
*Down the Garden Path
*A Thatched Roof
*Village in a Valley
are one set where he buys a Tudor cottage in a little village. The last book is the most about the village; the first is about the garden and the second the house, but the three go together and all have that flavor.

His later
*Merry Hall
*Laughter on the Stairs
*Sunlight on the Lawn
are about a Georgian Mansion he buys and restores similarly; it's a more intermixed set, and contains a lot of village life as well.

The first set is post-WWI and the second is post-WWII. They're both fictionalized accounts of his actual life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 PM on March 30, 2010

Adam Thorpe's excellent Ulverton.
posted by Abiezer at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2010

Historical end of it, Elizabeth Gaskell, "Cranford". There was an excellent BBC adaptation done a couple of years back.
posted by arha at 7:01 PM on March 30, 2010

"Darling buds of may" by H.E. Bates
posted by SueDenim at 7:16 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Under mysteries, try Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series (The Various Haunts of Men, The Pure in Heart, The Risk of Darkness, etc.).

Stop You're Killing Me! has a location category for mysteries set in the British Isles.

You can also examine historical novels by period at

I'd also recommend the archives of the Fiction_L e-mail list. There's a "village life" list (a little old now and not necessarily limited to UK), but you can also search through their archives for more recent or other related topics. For example, here are two conversations that popped up when I searched for "english village":
posted by kypling at 7:18 PM on March 30, 2010

Barbara Pym
Angela Thirkell for county class/1930s
H.E. Bates for humour
Cyril Hare, mysteries
Wodehouse for farce
posted by Bet Glenn at 7:45 PM on March 30, 2010

I was coming to say Hardy, so I'll second OmieWise's motion.
posted by papayaninja at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2010

How about Anthony Trollope -- Barchester Towers, Framley Parsonage, Doctor Thorne, etc., etc.,
posted by lex mercatoria at 7:51 PM on March 30, 2010

Could someone maybe explain what a village novel is? Simply a novel that takes place in a village? From what I see on google, it's a recognized genre, but I can't find any attempts at a definition.
posted by kitcat at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2010

Miss Buncle's Book (D.E. Stevenson) is one of my all-time favourite novels, period, and it is all about goings-on in an English village in the 1930s stirred up by "amateur author" Barbara Buncle. "Miss Buncle Married" and "The Two Mrs. Abbotts" are also very good, but I believe that they are currently out of print.
posted by purlgurly at 8:14 PM on March 30, 2010

J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country, published in the US by the NYRB Classics. The perfect novel, or as close to it as dammit.
posted by hydatius at 12:24 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Caroline Graham's Ghost in the Machine is part of a series of Inspector Barnaby mysteries. This is the series that became Midsomer Murders, the DVDs of which also tend to be available at public libraries. The older Barnaby novels have been reprinted in recent years by Felony & Mayhem Press.

Looking over their catalog of British mysteries, I see some more village-murder mysteries, such as Sheila Radley's Inspector Quantrill series.

Also, for what it's worth, I'd consider Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series to be a village murder mystery, but with various stand-in Oxford Colleges as the villages. Morse does leave Oxford pretty regularly to visit some of the surrounding villages. The same could (almost) be said of Christoper Fowler's Bryant & May series - their 'village' is untrodden parts of London and you get much the same 'memory of community' feel from the books, but they're certainly not rural.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:25 AM on March 31, 2010

J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country, published in the US by the NYRB Classics. The perfect novel, or as close to it as dammit.

This is so true. I read this book at least once a year.
posted by OmieWise at 6:30 AM on March 31, 2010

Just finished Middlemarch (George Eliot was recommended above) which, according to its rarely used subtitle is A Study of Provincial Life. It was great and full of richly drawn characters from all walks of life.
posted by eve harrington at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2010

Can't believe nobody's mentioned Jude the Obscure yet. Partly about a village in Wessex, partly about a thinly disguised version of Oxford (which was then and still is, in its own way, a village at heart). Probably many DH Lawrence novels would fit the bill too. But your list doesn't specify whether you want a list of novels about charming English villages or tortured English villages. Hardy and Lawrence novels fall into the latter category.
posted by blucevalo at 9:23 AM on March 31, 2010

Emma by Jane Austen
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
posted by djgh at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. You improved my list a lot!
posted by zzazazz at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2010

Depending on your definition of "English," I highly recommend The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, about village life in the island of Guernsey during approximately the first half of the twentieth century. I'd never heard of it before a friend sent it to me, but my wife picked it up out of curiosity and couldn't put it down, and then I did the same. (I wrote a little about it here.)
posted by languagehat at 2:53 PM on March 31, 2010

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