BBC Radio 4, 23-27 December 2012
First published in 1931, Three Houses looks back
on the author's childhood living in three different places. The first is The Grange, where her grandfather, the artist
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, set the tone for artistic movements of the late Victorian era. The second and third homes are
Thirkell's parents' home in Kensington Square and the Burne-Jones' seaside retreat on the coast, where Angela's cousin Rudyard
Kipling lived across the green in a house in Rottingdean before moving to his more well-known abode at Bateman's.
Given Thirkell's background, the reminiscence contains a fair amount of name-dropping:
we learn of the visits of fellow-artists Millais, and how they reacted to the young Angela. But Thirkell also had the
ability to conjure up the feeling of a place: although opulent, the family houses were sometimes forbidding places, especially
for someone growing up in them under the shadow of a celebrated relative. On the other hand Thirkell captures the innocence
of a Victorian childhood; houses were places of discovery, both imaginative and social. From the book we discover the
influences that shaped the novelist's later work.
Sian Thomas's reading was lyrical yet clear-headed, communicating to listeners the
author's pleasure in looking back at her early life, yet never ignoring the unsavoury elements.