We Live by Hope: A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

Hope is a thing with feathers, according to Emily Dickinson.

And Max Porter.

Hope floats, according to the film title.

Pope writes in his “An Essay on Man” that “Hope springs eternal.”

In Aeschylus’s play, Prometheus says he gave to humans the gift of blind hope.

Pink, in her new collaboration with Khalid “Hurts 2B Human,” sings that “hope flows away.”

And hope is the one thing, quite ambiguously, left in Pandora’s box of evils. Is hope also considered an evil? And, if so, should we be glad that it was held in the box? Or is hope a good thing, left behind in the box and now separated from evil?

Tom Birkin, the narrator of J.L. Carr’s novella A Month in the Country, spends the summer of 1920 in the small English town of Oxgodby when he is hired to restore a medieval mural in the town’s church. It is Tom’s hope that by spending a summer in this quiet town that the horrible memories and shell shock he suffered during World War I and the failed marriage with his wife Vinny will begin to fade away:

The marvelous thing was coming into this haven of calm water and, for a season, not having to worry my head with anything but uncovering their wall-painting for them. And, afterwards, perhaps I could make a new start, forget what the war and the rows with Vinny had done to me and begin where I’d left off. This is what I need, I thought—a new start and, afterwards, maybe I won’t be a casualty anymore.

Well, we live by hope.

It is the connections that Tom makes with the other people in Oxgodby during this idyllic summer that help him to lose his stammer and his facial twitches.  The Ellerbeck family feeds him and welcomes them into their home; Charles Moon, who is also doing work for the church, is a fellow veteran who understands his wounds; and Alice Keach is the pastor’s wife with whom he spends many hours talking.  The bucolic setting also goes a long way to healing Tom who came from the noise and bustle of London.  Carr’s version of hope is the positive kind, the one that leads us to take action, like Birkin did, towards something new and joyful.

This was the perfect summer read for an afternoon sitting in my garden oasis with the birds singing in the trees, the frogs croaking in the pond and my neighbor’s horse neighing in the distance.  Listening, contemplating, hoping…


Filed under British Literature

22 responses to “We Live by Hope: A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

  1. A lovely review. I really must read this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Isn’t it just the most gorgeous book? I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Perfect reading for a lazy afternoon in the sun.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kaggsysbookishramblings

    It is a beautiful book, isn’t it? I’m tempted to read some of his others although I think they’re very different from this one!


  4. I saw Jacqui’s post and was glad to be reminded of this lovely novella. Your post has also lifted my spirits after a trying time recently, personally and in the global sense: hope seems to be something that our leaders seem to consider a dirty word, something to be suspicious of, to be suppressed if it should ‘spring eternal’. Let’s hope it’s more resilient than the divisive, hate-filled bigots.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for a fine review prompting me to move this book further up my TBR pile. Love your intro here in your post. I’ve also read JacquiWine’s review and would like to ask you the same question: have you watched the film adaptation of this novella, with Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh? If so, what do you think of it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! I just found the movie on YouTube and my plan is to watch it tonight. So I will let you know. I hope you enjoy the book!


      • I’m looking for it via our library. Thanks for letting me know, as I just watched the film on YouTube. Curious to know what you think.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I thought the movie was charming but the book is definitely better. They don’t quite develop Birkin’s relationship with the people in town like the book does. My husband also watched it with me and his remark was that there didn’t seem to be much to the film—that something was missing. So I gave him the book to read.


      • I found the film quite moving. Even without words I could tell what’s in Birkin’s mind. I’m waiting for my copy from the library to come in. I want to see what I’ve missed. I’m sure a lot. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  6. Rohan Maitzen

    What a lovely post – and it sounds like the perfect summer afternoon read. I think we all need a bit of hope in our (reading) lives right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. elisabethm

    I’m currently reading Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, but I should read this one as well. I was also wondering about Pandora’s box with hope left inside. I think that perhaps it managed to escape after all, because in spite of all evil, there is hope too, otherwise it would be unbearable.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Liz

    Lovely to read your and Jacqui’s reviews of this – I have it on my shelf and will try to dust it off before the summer is out. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Summer 2019: Reading and Reflections |

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