It’s old news at this point, but I was so sad to hear that DSP won’t be publishing anymore titles under their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. Fortunately, it does appear that the titles they already published are going to remain available.
Last year, Liz Dexter at Adventures in Reading spearheaded a Dean Street in December reading extravaganza, and I’m hoping that she does it again this year. I usually spend most of October reading scary books & mysteries, and this year was no different. However, for the fall Read-A-Thon, I decided to do something different and dip into my backlist of Furrowed Middlebrow titles. I was looking for some easy reading, and that seemed to be just the ticket.
I ended up finishing the first book, The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson, and coming pretty close to finishing the second, The Snow-Woman by Stella Gibbons.
by D.E. Stevenson
Publication Date: January 1, 1960
Project: a century of women
How old you can grow in three years! It is only a fraction of time but to Esther Musgrave it seemed longer than all the rest of her life put together. In three years she had become an entirely different person-or so she felt. Following the death of her beloved husband, Esther believes she will never be happy again. But soon, her "natural buoyancy" and the problems and adventures of her three daughters-difficult, unmarried Delia, cheerful and practical Margaret, and young Kate just out of school-bring her pleasure and purpose anew. The local Dramatic Club's troubled new production, the arrival of an attractive widow with a hint of scandal about her, the return of Esther's long-estranged stepson, and Kate's perilous rendezvous with a young ne'er-do-well whom Stevenson fans will recognize from her earlier bestseller The Tall Stranger -all provide drama, laughter, and joy to the reader as well as to Esther herself. First published in 1960 and set in the Cotswolds, The Musgraves is one of D.E. Stevenson's most lively and entertaining tales of family and village life. This new edition features an autobiographical sketch by the author.
D.E. Stevenson is classic comfort reading for me, which is one of the primary reasons I chose to read The Musgraves. There has never been a D.E. Stevenson book that I didn’t like, although none of them have quite lived up to the greatness of Miss Buncle’s Book for me. The Musgraves is a middling Stevenson for me, better than some, not so good as others.
I love the way that Stevenson will reintroduce characters from earlier books. This one, apparently, included a character who was a bit of a ne’er do well in The Tall Stranger, which I have not read. He is not redeemed in The Musgraves. I’m wondering if he ever gets the kick in the pants – leading to some positive character changes – in any of her later books. The Tall Stranger is available through the KU library, so I will probably pick it up at some point. I would read this one again.
by Stella Gibbons
Publication Date: January 1, 1969
I suppose I was lonelier than I knew.
It's the 1960s, and Maude Barrington, now in her seventies, has kept life firmly at bay since the deaths of her three brothers in World War I. But when an unexpected visitor convinces Maude to visit old friends in France (and an old nemesis, who persistently calls her "the snow-woman"), she is brought face to face with the long-suppressed emotions, sorrows, and misunderstandings of the past. Upon her return to London, she finds her frozen life invaded by a young mother and her son (born on great aunt Dorothea's sofa, no less) who have been more or less adopted by her long-time maid Millie. And Maude finds the snow of years of bitterness beginning to melt away.
In The Snow-Woman, first published in 1969 and out of print for decades, Stella Gibbons has created one of her most complex and poignant, yet still very funny, tales-of aging, coming to terms, and rediscovering life. This new edition features an introduction by twentieth-century women's historian Elizabeth Crawford.
I have read several Stella Gibbon books, including The Woods in Winter, which I read last year during DSP December.
This is a very late Gibbons, published in 1968, but it feels like it is set much earlier than that – more in the 1940’s. This is probably because the main character has never really recovered from the death of her 3 brothers in WWI. Her life pretty much stopped in 1920, with the end of the war, and never really picked up again. She is now quite an elderly woman, having outlived most of the people she knew as a girl and a young woman.
The title is a propos, because she has been frozen in place for decades. This book is about a quite unexpected thaw, half a century later. I enjoyed it, although not quite so much as The Woods in Winter.