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Adam Thorpe: Ulverton

Thorpe’s first novel is the tale of a village through the course of history, from the Civil War in 1650 to the present day in 1988. Twelve stories are told, each one having no direct relationship to the previous one except for being set in Ulverton. Of course, these are not the great but ordinary people – a man returning from the Civil War, a vicar worried about the Quakers, a farmer worried about having an heir, a woman having an affair, a woman whose son is about to be hanged for theft, a practical joke played by a carpenter on his exploitative boss, the aftermath of a labourers’ rising, a woman photographer, an old labourer reminiscing, including about some of the previous stories, recruiting in World War I, an artist’s attempt at immortality and, finally, a television documentary.

All this could seem very boring, though anyone who has read classics from Cobbett’s Rural Rides to Richard Jefferies to Akenfield will know that there is a long tradition of this type of writing. What Thorpe does and does well is to give us a loving portrait of the rural proletariat in England over a long period and the changes and misfortunes that they have had to suffer. Each story is different and each story tells of a different facet of rural England and each story works. Indeed, this is a very much underrated novel and should be read by anyone even vaguely interested in the character of England.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Secker & Warburg