Category Archives: Stevenson, D.E.

A Pair of Dean Street Press titles

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.

The MusgravesThe Musgraves
by D.E. Stevenson
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1960
Genre: fiction
Pages: 227
ReRead?: No
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.

The Snow-WomanThe Snow-Woman
by Stella Gibbons
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1969
Genre: fiction
Pages: 228
ReRead?: No

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.

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.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Buncle's BookMiss Buncle's Book
by D.E. Stevenson
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1934
Genre: fiction
Pages: 332
Project: a century of women

Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from fellow residents of her quaint English village, writing a revealing novel that features the townsfolk as characters. The smashing bestseller is published under the pseudonym John Smith, which is a good thing because villagers recognize the truth. But what really turns her world around is when events in real life start mimicking events in the book. Funny, charming, and insightful, this novel reveals what happens when people see themselves through someone else’s eyes.

I’ve read a few other D.E. Stevenson books, but this book takes the prize so far. No wonder it stands as one of Stevenson’s most beloved books out of a whole pile of beloved books.

We start with our protagonist and heroine, Barbara Buncle, a spinster a bit past her prime, worried about making ends meet. Like many women of her time, she has slipped into genteel poverty. She’s prohibited by custom from seeking gainful employment, her dividends have diminished to nearly nothing, and she isn’t sure how she is going to make it through the winter, prices for things like heat and food are so dear in 1934. She needs to come up with a scheme to supplement her meager income. She contemplates chickens, but ultimately decides that she will write a book and sell it to make a tiny bit of extra money.

So she writes, although, as she explains, she has no imagination, so she has no choice but to write what she knows. And what she knows is her village of Silverstream, which she (barely) camouflages by calling it “Copperfield,” and she knows the inhabitants of her village, whom she also (barely) camouflages by changing their names, so Dr. Walker becomes Dr. Rider, and Mrs. Bold becomes Mrs. Mildmay.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be) Miss Buncle has an unerring eye for the human foible, and she gets deeply under the skin of the village inhabitants when the book becomes a runaway best seller. Mrs. Featherstone Hogg (aka Mrs. Horsley Down), a termagant who prides herself on her village status, gets a hold of the book and immediately recognizes the village, and herself and her chorus girl past, in its pages. Miss Buncle has published under a pseudonym, and the entire village is afire with trying to figure out who wrote the book. At the same time, the book seems to be having a queer effect on some of the villagers, and they start bursting out with interesting behavior all over the place.

There were several times that I laughed out loud as I was reading. D.E. Stevenson has written some lovely, lovely characters. Miss Buncle is a delight, as she, too, begins to act like her village counterpart, buying herself a new hat and a dress or two to swish deliciously around her ankles, and generally gaining confidence and abandoning her repressed, spinsterish attitudes. She is astonished at how much money she has made, and is forced to make up a generous uncle to explain her sudden affluence. The youthful granddaughter of one of her neighbors, Sally Carter, is delightful and drawn with both kindness and affection. The doctor and his wife, Sarah, are wonderful. And the publisher, Mr. Abbott, is very funny.

There are several follow-ups to Miss Buncle’s Book. The next in the series (spoiler alert) is Miss Buncle Married, which I have already ordered from Abe Books. I didn’t buy the lovely Persephone copy because it was around $20.00, so I bought a recent Sourcebooks reprint for $3.99 (with free shipping).

For this one, though, a friend sent me her gorgeous Persephone edition. I’ve actually never owned one of the traditional dove grey Persephones – they are hard to get a hold of in the U.S. I do have a few of their “classic” editions, which have the printed cover, and they are nice, but the traditional Persephones are just a pleasure to handle and read. The cover is buttery smooth, the end papers are gorgeous, and the printed paper has such a nice feel. Even though they are expensive, I might sign up for one of their book of the month clubs. I will treasure this one, and I imagine that it will become a book that I reread often as a comfort read.

TL/DR: I loved this book. It was simply delightful.

Bel Lamington duology by D.E. Stevenson

Bel LamingtonBel Lamington
by D.E. Stevenson
Series: Bel Lamington #1
Publication Date: November 8, 1961
Genre: fiction
Pages: 236
Project: a century of women

Bel Lamington finds London a very lonely place – until a charming young artist literally drops in on her rooftop garden…

Bel Lamington, an orphan daughter of an Army colonel, is brought up in an English village and flung into the whirl of London life to earn a hard living as a secretary while attempting to navigate romance, unexpected friendships and urban life. Shy, sensitive, and innocent, she is unaware of the pitfalls that surround her.

But when Bel is offered a chance to leave London and venture to a fishing hotel in Scotland for a much needed holiday with an old school friend, things begin to change. There she learns that you cannot escape from your troubles by running away from them…

Fletcher's EndFletcher's End
by D.E. Stevenson
Series: Bel Lamington #2
Publication Date: June 28, 1962
Genre: fiction
Pages: 331
Project: a century of women

The joys and contentment of newly-wedded life, set against the tranquil beauty of the English countryside, are the subject of this volume by the beloved novelist, D.E. Stevenson. The author of Bel Lamington continues the heartwarming story of the gentle heroine who came to London and fell in love with her employer, Ellis Brownlee.

Shortly before Bel’s marriage to Ellis, her friend, Louise Armstrong, goes house hunting for the Brownlees and discovers a charming but neglected old stone cottage in the Cotswolds. Bel adores the house, called Fletchers End. Equally enthusiastic, Ellis buys the place from the absentee-owner, Lieutenant Commander Lestrange, and, after a picture-book wedding, the happy couple move in.

As she embarks on her new life as a devoted wife, Bel loyally guides Louise through her own romantic tribulations. She also enjoys sharing with Ellis the excitement and satisfaction of decorating their first real home, as well as unravelling the mysteries of the old stone cottage.

But with the unexpected arrival of Lieutenant Commander Lestrange, the peace of Fletchers End is suddenly threatened…

These two very light, old-fashioned romances are available on Kindle Unlimited. Originally published in 1961 and 1962, they tell the story of Bel, young and somewhat impoverished woman living and working in London, and her travails. The first book gets her married off, and the second book deals with the purchase of a first home, renovation, a tiny bit of drama, and the romantic life of her best friend, Louise.

There isn’t a lot of substance to the pair of books, but they are extremely sweet and I liked all of the characters a lot. The friendship between Bel and Louise is quite lovely and is unmarred by the sort of jealous nastiness that can sometimes pass for tension in books of this sort. Bel is a working girl when the books begin, and she is extremely capable at her job. While they were published in the early 1960’s they had a more old-fashioned feel to them to me, more 1950’s or even 1940’s in atmosphere. There wasn’t any real focus on the rapid social change occurring during the 1960’s.

These two simple little books don’t offer the same though provoking social commentary as something like South Riding, but they were free and a pleasant way to while away a few hours reading something entirely unchallenging.

Stevenson is having a bit of a renaissance these days, between her Miss Buncle and her Mrs. Tim series. Neither of those are available for free, so I haven’t dipped into them yet, although I do plan to read them at some point. I suspect that they are better than the ones that I have read, which are enjoyable, if a bit pedestrian, light romance. They are very comfortable books.

Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson

Katherine WentworthKatherine Wentworth
by D.E. Stevenson
Series: Katherine Wentworth #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1964
Genre: fiction
Pages: 279
Project: a century of women

A pretty, courageous young widow, faced with the task of bringing up three children and making her way alone in the world is the appealing heroine of this touching love story executed with D.E. Stevenson’s characteristic freshness and charm.

The thirty-ninth novel from the beloved author of The Blue Sapphire, Bel Lamington, and Fletcher’s Eng — this new work centers around Katherine Wentworth, married at the age of nineteen to a man with whom she was very much in love. Widowed after only four years of happiness with Gerald, Katherine is left to bring up her stepson, Simon, as well as her own twins, Daisy and Denis.

Katherine’s struggle to raise her children wisely is one which will move every reader deeply. Told in first person, the story sensitively evokes the personality of Katherine’s husband, whose many outstanding qualities are now perpetuated in his children. When Simon, growing to manhood, suddenly becomes heir to the family fortunes, he faces the difficult decision of either moving to the estate of his domineering grandfather or giving up the inheritance to remain free, as his father did before him.

While Simon wrestles with his problem, Katherine finds romance entering her life in the person of Alec Maclaren, the brother of an old friend. Thrown together on a vacation in the Scottish Highlands, the two realize in each other’s company a new zest for living, and soon Katherine is faced with a future that promises she will no longer be alone.

As in her many other works, D.E. Stevenson has again created a realistic world of warm, believable people whose company brings delight to the reader.

I’ve had Dorothy Emily Stevenson on my list of authors to try for at least five years. I already own two of her books: Miss Buncles Book on kindle, and Mrs. Tim of the Regiment in paperback. I can’t really say what made me finally read this Kindle Unlimited offering – probably just because I will be cancelling the service in November, and I figured I might as well get as much out of it as it can before it goes. At this point, I have identified four D.E. Stevenson books that are available in the KU library: this one, the sequel called Katherine’s Marriage, Amberwell, and Anna and her Daughters. I have already downloaded Katherine’s Marriage, because I must know what happens next for Katherine, Simon, Den and Daisy, and Alec.

Katherine Wentworth, both the book and the character, are simply charming. This is a book where little happens, but it is still such a satisfying read. Katherine is a young widow, raising her stepson, Simon, who is 16 during most of the book, and her 7 year old twins, Denis and Marguerite (Den and Daisy). At the beginning of the book, she runs into an old school friend, Zilla, while having a day on her own, which really starts the book in it’s romantic trajectory.

Katherine is neither perfect nor smug – she is a simply wonderful character. She’s sensible, loving, kind, and cheerfully makes do with what must be quite a small income. Her husband, Gerald, died very unexpectedly, leaving her both grief-stricken and impoverished in a genteel fashion. During the course of the book, they discover that Simon has become the heir to the large estate, that Gerald fled from as a youth. Simon is enticed there, where the family attempts to buy his acquiescence with offers of affluence.

One of the things I liked about this book is that the main characters are just genuinely nice. Simon is a nice kid – flawed, of course, as boys of 16 are, taken with the trappings of wealth, but his step-mother, Katherine, who is probably only 10 years his elder, is just such a generous and sensible person, and she has done such a fine job caring for him after his father died, that his ethics and integrity are well-grounded enough to withstand the pressure. The love interest, Alec (spoiler alert) is also a lovely man, a wealthy Scottish lawyer, not bothering to be jealous over Katherine’s past and the fact that she loved her husband. His proposal to her is simply touching.

‘Oh dear, I’d forgotten you were so rich! Everyone will say I’m marrying you for your money. All your friends will be sorry for you—have you thought of that, Alec?—they’ll say you’ve been caught by a designing widow with three——’

‘Let them say! I don’t care a tinker’s curse what anybody says—besides we’ll be married before “they” know anything at all about it. You don’t mind what people say, do you?’

‘I think I do—a little.’

‘Silly,’ said Alec, giving me a gentle squeeze.

‘Not silly,’ I told him. ‘I wish I had a little more money of my own. You’re marrying a beggar-woman, Alec.’

‘When we’re married I shall endow you “with all my worldly goods,” so you’ll be reasonably well off.’

‘I wish I had money of my own—now. For one thing I should like to be able to give you a really nice wedding present.’

‘You can,’ said Alec. ‘I want a half share in the children.’

There were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I couldn’t speak.

‘I hope they’ll be pleased,’ continued Alec in doubtful tones. ‘It’s bound to be a bit of a shock to them—we must be prepared for that. You’ll have to watch them carefully; don’t let them brood about it and get all sorts of wrong ideas into their heads. Daisy and Denis will get used to it, if we give them plenty of time, but I’m worried about Simon.’

I’m pretty sure that this isn’t one of Stevenson’s better known offerings. It’s a small book, full of small moments, but it was a lovely thing to read on a quiet Saturday in October.