A Pair from Furrowed Middlebrow

It has been a while since I paid a lick of attention to my blog. I’ve been in one of those moods that comes along every once in a while where I just don’t have the energy to write or post. I’ve been reading a lot – as I realized when I started adding books to the book database to catch up. I’m not really worried about trying to catch up on posts or reviews – if it happens, it happens, but the book database is how I run statistics, so I am determined to keep it up.

In January, Dean Street Press reissued a tranche of D.E. Stevenson books, and I’ve already bought a couple of them, and I’m sure I will end up with all of them on my kindle. I’ve become very fond of Mrs. Stevenson’s books since I downloaded the first one – Katherine Wentworth, I think – on a whim.

Charlotte FairlieCharlotte Fairlie
by D.E. Stevenson
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1954
Genre: fiction
Pages: 255
ReRead?: No
Project: furrowed middlebrow

Charlotte Fairlie, while still under 30, had been appointed headmistress of St. Elizabeth's, a fine school with great traditions. Charlotte soon learned, however, that a headmistress' life is the loneliest of all - a long round of coping with the hidden tensions of the staff room, the handling of over 300 girls and - worse still - their parents. Yet it was one of those parents, Colonel MacRynne, father of young Tessa whose early days at the school had been very unsettled, who was to be the means of her escape from a setting that was satisfying professionally but lonely on a personal level. Miss Stevenson's novel, set in the rolling West Country of England to Targ, one of the remoter of the Western Isles, introduces us to a fascinating new set of characters in a story as warm and human and delightful as any she has yet given us.

Of the two that I’ve read recently, Charlotte Fairlie was my favorite. In fact, in terms of overall books I’ve read by Stevenson, this is up there in one of the top positions. It still can’t match Mrs. Buncle’s Book, which will likely remain in the top spot forever, but I liked it a lot.

I really enjoyed Charlotte, and I loved the girl’s school setting. There was some light drama and intrigue, especially around a particular mistress who was passed over for the headmistress position, and who was engaged in machinations in the background to try to sabotage Charlotte’s success. It’s very different from two of my favorite British girl’s school books – South Riding by Winifred Holtby and A Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie – but it did share some of the same elements, and this setting is like cat nip for me.

It also is partially set in Scotland, which is another thing that I really loved. You can always tell how much affection D.E. Stevenson had for her native Scotland by the way she describes the people and the setting.

This was such a favorite that I’m sure I will reread it. In addition, DSP always does such a great job with the covers for their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, and this one features one of my favorites of all of the covers from this group of releases.

Kate HardyKate Hardy
by D.E. Stevenson
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1947
Genre: fiction
Pages: 214
ReRead?: No

"Do you know anything about her, Richard?"

"Nothing except that she lives in London, is obviously well off and very impulsive. . . . She bought the house as if it were-a bun. She bought it straight off without seeing it."

"She must be mad!"

The arrival of novelist Kate Hardy at the lovely Dower House in Old Quinings, with her staunch ally and housekeeper Martha, has the whole village talking. But Kate is not in fact mad, merely in need of escape from her selfish sister Milly and spoiled niece Minty. Though welcomed warmly by Richard Morven at the Manor House and the charming, widowed Mrs. Stark, Kate likewise finds herself taken for a witch and is then one of the targets of a poison pen campaign-not to mention the rumours that her new home is haunted by its past inhabitant. With the arrival of Mrs. Stark's son Walter, back from his wartime triumphs and finding readjustment to village life difficult, Kate may find that the country allows her as little time for writing as London!

While I enjoyed Kate Hardy, I didn’t love it the way that I loved Charlotte Fairlie.

I did like the Old Quinings setting, and I understand from reading some other reviews that this particular village may figure in one of the Mrs. Tim novels.

D.E. Stevenson does write romance, and while I liked both Kate and her romantic interest, Walter, I didn’t feel like she did a great job showing their romance progressing. I was surprised, actually, when the book wrapped up so quickly, and with a clear indication that they were going to couple up. Kate seemed more convincing as a spinster, and I think I would have preferred it had she decided to stay single.

I have been trying to steadily work my way through my Furrowed Middlebrow backlog because they are always a pleasant way to spend a weekend afternoon. Next up, I think I will read Celia’s House, which I grabbed from the library.

One comment

  1. Ooh these both look great but I haven’t read them yet so I’m going to keep this for when I do. Hope to read more of your interesting reviews soon (no pressure, though!).

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