D A S H P E R S
by Flora Thompson
Foreword by John Owen Smith
It was 1941, during the darkest days of the Second World War. Flora Thompson, living in Brixham, Devon had completed Over to Candleford , her second semi-autobiographical book about young 'Laura' growing up in her native Oxfordshire, and then seems to have decided that her next book should be on a different subject.
She began to write Dashpers , the story of a house and its occupants, but in September of that year she learned of the death of her youngest son Peter in an Atlantic convoy. This, and ill-health over the following winter, appears to have stopped her work, and when she continued writing again in the Spring of 1942, Dashpers was put aside with only four chapters completed. Instead she wrote Candleford Green which was to become the last part of her now legendary trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford.
In Dashpers , Flora sets the scene of an isolated village called Warren in which there was a house somewhat different from the rest. "Against the dingy greyness of the other houses it seemed to shine, for its smooth walls had been painted yellow and it had height and an air of having been built for other purposes than merely to house as many human beings as could be crowded within." This house was called Dashpers.
In Chapter 1, we meet a nameless young girl who visits the village with her mother and is struck by the house to an extent that, for the rest of her life she wants to find out more about its history. And eventually, in old age, she buys the house herself. From this start-point, the author begins to tell us the story of the history of the house as discovered by its new owner.
Chapter 2 tells us of the circumstances under which the house was built in 1829 for Edward and Lydia Fyfield, a young recently-married couple, and the reaction of the villagers of Warren.
In Chapter 3, the Fyfields arrive with their maid, Charity, and we learn of their first day in the house.
In Chapter 4, some six months later at Michaelmas, we start to see problems arising between the Fyfields-she wants to have visitors in the house while he is happier left in peace and quiet to read his books.
Chapter 5 begins when Lydia is expecting their first child, and a boy is safely delivered. But this is where the author stopped writing and, alas, we shall never know how the story would have developed from there.
We are told that Flora had submitted one chapter of Dashpers to her publisher in October 1941, and that they had replied "I am sure we shall like it, although it will of course be rather different from the other two." Obviously this had not been encouragement enough for her to continue with it.
The text shows all the merits of Lark Rise to Candleford , but lacks perhaps the added interest of the latter - we feel perhaps that the location and people involved in it are not 'real,' while we imagine that Lark Rise is Juniper Hill and Laura is Flora. But the same criticism could be levelled at Still Glides the Stream , the final book to be completed by Flora, which was a commercial success.
All we can say is that Dashpers, or what we have of it, gives us yet another example of the style which many thousands of readers across the globe have come to love and associate with the name of Flora Thompson.
John Owen Smith
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