The countryside is without a doubt one of my favourite settings in fiction. So books set in the English countryside are always a joy to read for me.
The idyllic life, the neverending greenery, most adorable villages, the unique historic sites, the quirky villagers, and the romance that comes with all these makes the books set in the English countryside a soothing, cosy read for all to enjoy. Not all books set in the English countryside are soothing or cosy, but the descriptions of the countryside are enough to make readers dream of moving to a small village.
I tried to include fine examples of literary fiction on this list of books set in the English countryside, but there are also contemporary fiction, lots of series, classics and humourous feel-good books. I hope they’ll make you travel to quaint villages and help you escape the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.
20 Beautiful Books Set in the English Countryside
Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner
Lolly Willowes is a twenty-eight-year-old spinster when her adored father dies, leaving her dependent upon her brothers and their wives. After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. That secret – and her vocation – is witchcraft, and with her cat and a pact with the Devil, Lolly Willowes is finally free.
An instant success on its publication in 1926, Lolly Willowes is Sylvia Townsend Warner’s first and most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility, a theme that would later be explored by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. An interesting one among books set in the English countryside.
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
One thinks of this one whenthinking of books set in the English countryside. When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.
But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time. A must-readamong books set in the English countryside.
Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
One of the books set in the English countryside for historical fiction fans. When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”
Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. An interesting choiceamong books set in the English countryside.
A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr
A popular novel among books set in the English countryside. In J. L. Carr’s deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life.
But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost. An unforgettable one among books set in the English countryside.
One Fine Day – Mollie Panter-Downes
It is a summer’s day in 1946. The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without ‘those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings’. Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism.
First published in 1947, this subtle, finely wrought novel presents a memorable portrait of the aftermath of war, its effect upon a marriage, charting, too, a gradual but significant change in the nature of English middle-class life. A short classic among books set in the English countryside.
The Warden – Anthony Trollope
Mr Harding is a good man, the warden to an almshouse which provides a peaceful home to twelve old men. The young and zealous John Bold is also a good man, but he believes he sees in Harding’s comfortable existence an injustice which must be exposed. The law, the church and the self-righteous national press all have their say in the scandal that ensues, causing a crisis in the hearts and minds of many in the quiet country town of Barchester.
The first book in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles, a must-read among books set in the English countryside.
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid-nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical. An excellent classicamong books set in the English countryside.
Village School – Miss Read
An uplifting seriesamong books set in the English countryside. The first novel in the beloved Fairacre series, Village School introduces the remarkable schoolmistress Miss Read and her lovable group of children, who, with a mixture of skinned knees and smiles, are just as likely to lose themselves as their mittens. This is the English village of Fairacre: a handful of thatch-roofed cottages, a church, the school, the promise of fair weather, friendly faces, and good cheer — at least most of the time.
Here everyone knows everyone else’s business, and the villagers like each other anyway (even Miss Pringle, the irascible, gloomy cleaner of Fairacre School). With a wise heart and a discerning eye, Miss Read guides us through one crisp, glistening autumn in her village and introduces us to a cast of unforgettable characters and a world of drama, romance, and humour, all within a stone’s throw of the school. By the time winter comes, you’ll be nestled snugly into the warmth and wit of Fairacre and won’t want to leave. An excellent choiceamong books set in the English countryside.
A House in the Country – Ruth Adam
An exciting oneamong books set in the English countryside. Six friends have spent the dark, deprived years of World War II fantasising—in air raid shelters and food queues—about an idyllic life in a massive country house. With the coming of peace, they seize on a seductive newspaper ad and take possession of a neglected 33-room manor in Kent, with acres of lavish gardens and an elderly gardener yearning to revive the estate’s glory days.
But the realities of managing this behemoth soon dawn, including a knife-wielding maid, unruly pigs, and a paying guest who tells harrowing stories of her time in the French Resistance, not to mention the friends’ conscientious efforts to offer staff a fair 40-hour work week and paid overtime. And then there’s the ghost of an overworked scullery maid . . .
Based on the actual experiences of Ruth Adam, her husband, and their friends, A House in the Country is a witty and touching novel about the perils of dreams come true. But it’s also a constantly entertaining tale packed with fascinating details of post-war life—and about the realities of life in the kind of house most of us only experience via Downton Abbey. A good choiceamong books set in the English countryside.
Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer – Molly Clavering
For the ones looking for humouramong books set in the English countryside. In what is surely Molly Clavering’s most autobiographical novel, two middle-aged women writers, close friends and neighbours, offer one another advice and support while navigating life in a lively Border village. Lucy Lorimer, the more successful author, with her four children, in-laws, and grandchildren gathered for a summer reunion, must try to avert disaster in one daughter’s marriage, help a daughter-in-law restless with mundane married life after flying planes in the war, and deal with the awkward reappearance of an old flame. Unmarried Grace (‘Gray’) Douglas, meanwhile, has struggles of her own, but is drawn delightfully into her friend’s difficulties.
In real life, Molly Clavering was herself for many years a neighbour and close friend of bestselling author D.E. Stevenson. First published in 1953, Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer is not only an irresistible family story, but undoubtedly provides some indication of the inspiring friendship between these two brilliantly talented women. This new edition includes an introduction by Elizabeth Crawford. A gorgeous oneamong books set in the English countryside.
The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
One of the books set in the English countryside for historical fiction fans. Sarah Perry’s award-winning novel, set at the end of the nineteenth century and inspired by true events.
Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears. A good choice if you want to watch the film later amongbooks set in the English countryside.
Heat Wave – Penelope Lively
Pauline is spending the summer at World’s End, a cottage somewhere in the middle of England. This year the adjoining cottage is occupied by her daughter Teresa and baby grandson Luke; and, of course, Maurice, the man Teresa married. As the hot months unfold, Maurice grows ever more involved in the book he is writing – and with his female copy editor – and Pauline can only watch in dismay and anger as her daughter repeats her own mistakes in love. The heat and tension will lead to a violent, startling climax. One with amazing proseamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M. Delafield
Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there’s her husband Robert, who, when he’s not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling reluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky servants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our Provincial Lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with. A short and humorous oneamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift
One of my favebooks set in the English countryside.A luminous, intensely moving tale that begins with a secret lovers’ assignation in the spring of 1924, then unfolds to reveal the whole of a remarkable life.
Twenty-two-year-old Jane Fairchild has worked as a maid at an English country house since she was sixteen. For almost all of those years she has been the clandestine lover to Paul Sheringham, young heir of a neighbouring house. The two now meet on an unseasonably warm March day—Mothering Sunday—a day that will change Jane’s life forever.
As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane—about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers—expands with every vividly captured moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery, and through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring, deeply affecting work of fiction.One with amazing proseamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Mrs Fytton’s Country Life – Mavis Cheek
Angela Fytton – wonderwife, supermother, bedroom vamp and business partner – has been unceremoniously dumped. Like many a good wife before her she has been swapped by her husband for a younger model. One day, she knows, her husband will return. Meanwhile, she yields herself up to the notion that country life is pure and good and that country people are next to angels – but on moving to her country idyll, she discovers this is very far from the truth. A cute oneamongbooks set in the English countryside.
The Country Life – Rachel Cusk
Stella Benson sets off for Hilltop, a tiny Sussex village housing a family that is somewhat larger than life. Her hopes for the Maddens may be high, but her station among them, as au pair to their irascible son Martin – is undeniably low. What could possibly have driven her to leave her home, job and life in London for such rural ignominy? Why has she severed all contact with her parents? Why is she so reluctant to talk about her past?
The Country Life, Rachel Cusk’s third novel, is a rich and subtle story about embarrassment, awkwardness and being alone; about families, or the lack of them; and about love in some peculiar guises.A contemporary oneamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson
Major Ernest Pettigrew is perfectly content to lead a quiet life in the sleepy village of Edgecombe St Mary, away from the meddling of the locals and his overbearing son. But when his brother dies, the Major finds himself seeking companionship with the village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali. Drawn together by a love of books and the loss of their partners, they are soon forced to contend with irate relatives and gossiping villagers. The perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, the Major must ask himself what matters most: family obligation, tradition or love?
Funny, comforting and heart-warming, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand proves that sometimes, against all odds, life does give you a second chance.An uplifting oneamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Some Tame Gazelle – Barbara Pym
Barbara Pym is a master at capturing the subtle mayhem that takes place in the apparent quiet of the English countryside. Fifty-something sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede live a comfortable, settled existence. Belinda, the quieter of the pair, has for years been secretly in love with the town’s pompous (and married) archdeacon, whose odd sermons leave members of his flock in muddled confusion.
Harriet, meanwhile, a bubbly extrovert, fends off proposal after proposal of marriage. The arrival of Mr. Mold and Bishop Grote disturb the peace of the village and leave the sisters wondering if they’ll ever return to the order of their daily routines. Some Tame Gazelle, first published in Britain nearly 50 years ago, was the first of Pym’s nine novels.An excellent choiceamongbooks set in the English countryside.
Milton Place – Elisabeth De Waal
One for the Persephone Books fansamongbooks set in the English countryside. Milton Place (PB. No. 131) is that rare thing for us – a book published from typescript rather than from a previously printed edition. It was untitled, as The Exiles Return had been. It is about a large house in the country in the early 1950s: Anita, a young woman who had lived in Austria throughout the war years and was now exhausted and unhappy, comes to stay with the owner of the house, an elderly man named Mr Barlow.
They form a wonderful companionship, much to the dismay of his two daughters. So far so Howards End meets King Lear. But the book is also about the love affair between Anita and Mr Barlow at one end of the spectrum and Anita and his grandson Tony at the other. For some the love affair will be the central theme of Milton Place, for others, it will be the survival – or not – of the English country house, and for yet others, the crucial theme will be that of England after the war and how it goes forward into the future.An interesting choiceamongbooks set in the English countryside.
All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison
The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember, though the Great War still casts a shadow over the cornfields of her beloved home, Wych Farm.
When charismatic, outspoken Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to write about fading rural traditions, she takes an interest in fourteen-year-old Edie, showing her a kindness she has never known before. But the older woman isn’t quite what she seems. As harvest time approaches and pressures mount on the whole community, Edie must find a way to trust her instincts and save herself from disaster.A rather new contemporary fictionamongbooks set in the English countryside.
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Are there anybooks set in the English countryside you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?