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Posts Tagged ‘D E Stevenson’

mrs tim of the regiment

I have read only a few D E Stevenson books, not many compared to the enormous number she wrote. I have heard they vary in quality a little, but I loved the Miss Buncle books, Celia’s House and The Four Graces and have more D E Stevenson tbr. I recently received Mrs Tim Carries on from Dean Street press, and I realised I had never read the first Mrs Tim book. So, my first book of 2019 ended up being Mrs Tim of the Regiment on my kindle, a book that seems to have come about out of two books originally. It seems as if originally there were two books Mrs Tim Christie and Golden Days and at some point, they became Mrs Tim of the Regiment. Certainly, the first half of the book has a different feel from the second half – and I must admit I slightly preferred the second half.

I was glad to have something gentle and escapist to settle into around New Year, and I enjoyed spending time with Hester Christie and her family. It actually felt like quite a long book – probably because it was originally two books.

Hester Christie; – married to Tim Christie a captain in an unnamed army regiment – is our narrator, and diarist. The tone especially of the first half of the book is very much in the style of E M Delafield’s The Provincial lady – a light, breezy slightly mocking tone in which she relates her day to day life. She is the mother of two children, Bryan eleven and seven-year-old Betty – and she is assisted in the children’s care by Miss Hardcastle – Bryan goes to boarding school, but the family finances won’t stretch to two lots of boarding school fees. The family live in rented accommodation in a fictional village in the South of England, from where Tim goes to work at the regiment, and Hester keeps the home fires burning, which seems to be all that women in these kinds of books ever do. Annie the family housekeeper is very much part of the household too. Life might seem narrow to us at the start of 2019, but Hester is clearly happy, and her diary is full of small day to day domestic happenings.

“According to this book I have been sowing the seeds of complexes and cultivating inhibitions in Bryan and Betty ever since they were a few months old. Feel much worried about this, but decide that it is too late now to do anything, and that Bryan and Betty must just take their chance.”

Hester is happy enough in her domestic arrangements – everyone it seems knows who she is in the village, and she enjoys catching up with everyone. There are all the village shopkeepers for starters and Nora the other captain’s wife – who is rather annoying and who always manages to crop up whenever she is least wanted. Hester is always trying to keep on top of things, and not quite managing it, but she has her friendship with the latest regimental wife Grace and her irrepressible little daughter on hand to keep her entertained.

Suddenly, the family fortunes take an unexpected turn when Tim is posted to a job in Scotland. Hester and Tim take the family’s old banger Clementine to Scotland to look for a house – naturally the car breaks down – and all the houses seem terrible or absurdly large.

“Betty hugs me, and says, ‘Oh, Mummy, have you found a house? Is there a swing in the garden? You do look old this morning!’ Reply that I feel at least a hundred years old, and that I have found a house, but there is no swing in the garden. Betty’s face falls, so I rashly promise to see what can be done about a swing. She is overjoyed, and tells me that I do not look nearly so old as a hundred; only about sixty or so.”

It is at around this point that the narrative style changes a bit, (I assume at the point the original two books meet). The narrative is still Hester’s diary but the telling of it is much more narrative like – and that Provincial lady style of the first section of the book is dispensed with. More happens in this part of the book too.

They find a house which is pretty much perfect – and return home to make preparations for the move. The family are soon on their way North, without Miss Hardcastle, but with their trusty Annie in toe – with a whole new community to get to know. Here they meet Mrs McTurk, the sister of the dreadful Nora, who is a dreadful snob and talks loudly about the Rolls rather a lot. Betty makes friends with some local children, begins to attend the local school and Hester worries a little about the accent she may pick up.

Just as the family are beginning to settle in, Grace has visited and Bryan has paid his first visit home from school – Tim receives his majority – and it looks like the family will be on the move again.

One of their neighbours; Mrs Loudon is wealthy, locally respected woman who Hester soon begins to get very friendly with. Mrs Loudon invites Hester and Betty to her holiday home in the Highlands while Tim is away. Also staying with Mrs Loudon is her cousin Mrs Falconer – who really is quite a character. Here Hester gets embroiled in matters of romance when Mrs Loudon’s son Guthrie appears to have got himself attached to the wrong woman in a certain Miss Baker, who Mrs Loudon is anxious to gently separate her son from.

“‘You don’t think I’m wrong to try to influence Guthrie’s life, do you, Hester?’ ‘She’s not the right person for him.’ ‘She’s all wrong in every way. I’m not that despicable creature, a jealous mother. I’d welcome any girl I thought would make the man a good wife. Someone like you,’ she continues, looking at me, almost with surprise. ‘Yes, somebody exactly like you. And I’d steal you from that Tim of yours if I could, but I know there’s little hope of that – that’s the sort of woman I am. People must marry, and have children – and yet I don’t know why I should think so, for there’s a deal of sorrow comes to most married folks that single ones escape.’”

Then Major Tony Morley – who Hester and Tim already know through the regiment – turns up and becomes a frequent visitor at the house.

All very enjoyable, humorous, shot through with jolly little nuggets of wisdom. Spending time with Hester and her family was a real pleasure – and I look forward to meeting up with her, during the war, in Mrs Tim Carries On.

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thefourgraces

D E Stevenson was a very prolific writer, and although I have only read very few of her books, I get the impression from what I have read of her work elsewhere that the quality of her work varies considerably. The Four Graces is the fourth novel in the connected series of books which begins with ‘Miss Buncle’s Book’, the first three of which are published by Persephone books. I thoroughly enjoyed The Four Graces, it’s charming, a deeply comforting read which I happily gobbled up pretty quickly, but I wanted there to be more, and in that I think lies one of this novel’s minor flaws. The novel would have benefitted from being a little longer, and a couple of the characters more deftly explored. However, I shouldn’t start a review with a negative, and none of that prevents the novel – which cries out for re-issuing by Persephone – from being a really delightful read.

Miss Buncle fans be warned; this novel although starting where The Two Mrs Abbots left off – does not feature Barbara Abbot (nee Buncle) at all. The novel has been described as the fourth Miss Buncle book and a World War Two ‘Little Women’; I don’t think it is either of those things really.

The novel opens with the wedding of Archie Cobbe from Chevis Place, the big house at Chevis Green, who we met in The Two Mrs Abbots. The ceremony is conducted by the vicar Mr Grace, and the organist is one of his four daughters. The two Mrs Abbots – who we know so well, are in the congregation, and that is the only reference to them throughout the novel. Archie Cobbe and his bride Jane Watt only feature very slightly, as does Markie who readers may remember from that novel too, as the story is that of the Grace sisters.

“They had their supper in the kitchen because Joan had gone home and it was easier; and if anyone had seen the Graces sitting round the kitchen table enjoying their evening meal, he would have seen a pleasant sight. The girls talked about the wedding, of course, but their conversation wandered about a good deal and veered to and fro in a manner which a stranger would have found perfectly natural. Sometimes they disagreed with each other and said so, making no bones about it, but they were so much in tune and so fully in accord upon non-essentials. In fact a good hearty disagreement was welcome, adding spice to their talk. Now and then Liz would emit her sudden explosive snort of laughter, and Sal would chuckle delightedly.”

The sometimes vague vicar George Grace, is the head of a delightful, warm and supportive family, a family the reader can’t help but want to spend time with. The four Grace daughters are an endless trial and worry to the widowed Mr Grace, but also a great delight, their relationship is touchingly portrayed, their everyday routines, teases and family banter lend the whole novel a lovely, warm nostalgic air. Liz, the eldest, beautiful, and energetic, having nursed past heartbreaks, is spending these war years working on a nearby farm. Sal her father’s favourite, sensitive and delicate, is a capable determined young woman, on whom the whole family depend. Shy Tilly is the organist we meet in the opening pages; she likes being hidden behind the organ screen, shunning attention. Addie is the youngest daughter, she is also the most independent, and we see much less of her as she is in London, a W.A.A.F sharing a flat and only writing the occasional letter home. Stevenson devotes the majority of her novel to exploring the characters of Sal and Tilly, the story revolves mainly around them, although Liz comes to have a more significant role in the romantic storylines than I was expecting at the beginning.

Change is in the air, and the change that war inevitably brings to everyone, is heralded in this novel by the coming of visitors to the vicarage. Captain Roderick Herd stationed nearby becomes a frequent visitor at the vicarage, which of the sisters will he end up with? It is interesting how Tilly never feels entirely comfortable about Roddy, I wasn’t sure of him myself, that may be deliberate on D E Stevenson’s part, although that kind of ambiguity doesn’t entirely fit with the tone of the novel. Roddy is not as well fleshed out a character as I would have liked, which given that he is one of two ‘love interests’ in the book, is a small weak point. Into the happy informal Grace home comes Aunt Rona, a dreadful domineering, elegantly dressed, chattering presence from London, who upsets their routines and idle friendly companionship. Rona, a widow, has rather decided upon marrying Mr Grace, and his daughters are not sure is up to resisting her. The other long term visitor, who beats Rona to the better of the two spare bedrooms, is William Single, an awkwardly large archaeologist, who comes to lodge for the summer. William is a more rounded character than the mysterious seeming Roddy; he’s older, hugely likeable, quiet, wise and caring.

“Roderick looked small beside Mr Single; you could hardly hope to find two men more different in appearance, manner and personality. A St. Bernard dog and a terrier was the nearest comparison Tilly could find… and as a matter of fact Roderick was much more like a terrier than an eagle. Could you have brown terriers, wondered Tilly, as she shook hands with him. He sat down and accepted a cup of tea, and explained at some length that he happened to be coming in this direction and remembered that he had forgotten the umbrella. William Single had not disturbed the atmosphere of the room, but this man did. There was a sort of electricity in him thought Tilly.”

Stevenson, of course is very good at English village life, and with a fete at Chevis Place, village gossip, and rows over church flowers amid the interminable queuing for rations the inhabitants of Chevis Green and Wandlebury are affectionately portrayed. Two of the sisters are given what we can only assume are happy endings – although I do think there may be a bit of ambiguity here about one of them, and Aunt Rona is rather amusingly dealt with by Liz at the Chevis Place fete. Readers of The Two Mrs Abbotts can content themselves in the knowledge that Archie and Jane are happy, and although the world is on the brink of change, some things at least stay the same. Overall I enjoyed reading this novel enormously, and if not for those small flaws it would have been a definite five star read, nevertheless it is a satisfying, comforting read.

DE Stevenson

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When I finished reading Miss Buncle Married – I felt I wanted to read the next book – The Two Mrs Abbotts right away. I found out that Persephone are probably publishing it at some point but I wasn’t sure I could wait. A quick look online revealed old copies fetching rather high prices – I know D E Stevenson books can be quite sort after these days. So I did a quick search on the Birmingham Library Catalogue – there was one book – I requested it. That was back in February – and I had almost forgotten all about it. Then I received an email while I was away in Devon, the week before last – saying the book was waiting to be collected. I went after work last Monday, knowing it would have to be my next read. I started it very late on Wednesday night, reading slowly the next two days after work, trying to savour it – but just gobbled up about 200 pages this afternoon to finish it.
Since the events of the second “Miss Buncle book” several years have passed. It is now 1942 and people are living with the everyday realities of wartime. Barbara Abbott – who was once Miss Buncle – now has two young children, Simon and Fay. She and her husband still live in Wandlebury – the faithful Dorcas still in attendance. Jerry (Jeronina) Abbott is married to Arthur Abbott’s nephew Sam, Sam is fighting the war in Egypt and Jerry must manage things on her husband’s estate Ganthorne with the help of her former governess Markie. These include a family of dirty London evacuees living in an estate cottage, soldiers billeted on the estate, and rumours of a German spy in the vicinity.
Meanwhile Barbara is drawn unwillingly into a rather regrettable love affair between Lancreste Marvell (who readers may remember from Miss Buncle married) and a fairly unpleasant girl called Pearl. There is also an adorable storyline involving a very successful romantic novelist, dominated by her sister.
Barbara Abbott – takes a bit of a back seat in this novel, we see far more of Jerry, Markie and the other characters. Fortunately they are all as lovely as Barbara, and although this novel is not quite as fabulous as Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married, it is wonderfully charming and hugely readable, and just absolutely hit the spot for me the last few days. D E Stevenson may not be a great literary talent, but I think her writing may be quite underrated she creates a charming yet believable world, and her characters are adorable. She can be very funny too, and really very observant of people, with a good ear for their voices.

“There’s nothing to do but think about her all the time. If only I could get my orders. Why haven’t they sent me my orders? D’you think the war office has forgotten all about me Mrs Abbott?”
Barbara had no idea whether or not this was possible and was about to make a noncommittal reply, but Simon got in before her.
“Perhaps they don’t need you,” he suggested
“Perhaps they think they can win the war without you” added Fay.
The Wretched Lancreste looked at Simon and then at Fay – and, being met by the stare of two pairs of innocent eyes, he looked away again.
“oh no, it can’t be that,” said Barbara hastily – far too hastily, for of course she had merely made it worse. She was really at her wits end by now and entertained wild thoughts of putting the children to bed, and getting rid of them.”

I will definitely buy a copy of this if and when Persephone publish it – just to add to my collection – as I just know these are books I will come back to. I was rather bereft at finishing it today – which I think is exactly how I felt when I finished Miss Buncle Married

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From Persephone books
Miss Buncle’s Book, Persephone Book No. 81, is about a woman who writes a novel about Silverstream, the village where she lives, under the pseudonym John Smith, and is then involved in the comedy as her neighbours try to discover the identity of the viper in their midst. Eventually she is forced to leave, and having married her publisher Arthur Abbott, moves to his house in Hampstead. The Abbotts then move out of London, which is when Miss Buncle Married, begins. Early on Arthur thinks: ‘But I really hope, in a way, that [Barbara] won’t want to write … because this place is delightful – simply charming – and if she starts writing about our neighbours, we shall most probably have to leave Wandlebury – just as she had to leave Silverstream – in a hurry.’
DE Stevenson’s great-granddaughter Fiona Bevan writes in the Persephone Afterword: ‘It is the truthful depiction of people, and the exposure of their faults, that makes Barbara’s writing dangerous.’ For, although witty and readable, DE Stevenson can be sharp and caustic, indeed occasionally verges on the cruel when she lampoons some of her characters. However, she is also intensely sympathetic to the less fortunate, for example the reader knows that Miss Foddy, the governess to the neighbouring children, faces a bleak future where ‘it is so extremely difficult for a woman of my age and uncertified qualifications to find a post‘ and DE Stevenson never forgets ‘the potentially bleak outlook for women who cannot marry into a secure life.’ Yet despite moments of seriousness, Miss Buncle Married is overall a funny, touching and interesting novel that most Persephone readers will enjoy very much.

 

 

It almost goes without saying that I loved Miss Buncle’s book – I say almost – because there are in the world those who are not aware of the wonderful books published by Persephone and so therefore may not have read Miss Buncle’s book as DE Stevenson books seem pretty hard to come by these days. I received this book for Christmas and have been looking forward to it enormously. It didn’t disappoint, in fact I fairly gulped it down. It looks like a fairly thick Persephone book, one that may have lasted until at least tomorrow night – but alas it was a much quicker read than I had anticipated and the pleasure of reading it all too soon over. I now feel quite bereft that I have finished it so quickly. I would have probably finished it hours ago – had I not deliberately slowed myself down – gone for walk, watched some TV etc.
One of the main delights in this novel for me was in the relationship between Barbara and her husband Arthur Abbott, although sometimes slightly confounded by his dear Barbara – ultimately he gets her in a way that no one else ever has or ever could. I was amused and charmed by how meek little Barbara turns into a veritable lion when she come across something she want so very badly as she wants The Archway House in Wandlebury.
As the Abbotts settle into their new life in Wandlebury, Barbara begins to involve herself in the lives of her neighbours. With her usual quiet perceptiveness she picks up on things; she learns a secret, one she even feels unable to share with Arthur – a secret which causes Barbara no end of worry. Arthur stumbles across an old friend of his from the trenches and Sam Abbott – Arthur’s nephew falls in love. Wandlebury is a wonderful setting – one in which Barbara and Arthur Abbott fit perfectly – they are surrounded by a host of marvellous characters – some wonderfully humorous creations of DE Stevenson, who give Barbara Abbott much to think about and are wonderful fodder for her imagination. Barbara and Arthur are rather afraid of her imagination – after what happened in Silverstream – they realise Barbara’s writing could be dangerous to their happiness.
This book was a complete joy – and I am desperate to read The Two Mrs Abbotts – the third in the series but it is pretty hard to find, and expensive, the cheapest on abebooks today being nearly £28. I only hope that following the success of the Miss Buncle books Persephone decide to do the decent thing and put her fans out of their misery.

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This is only the second D E Stevenson book I have read, most of her books are now out of print, and they are hugely sort after and very difficult to find. Therefore even though this is a registered bookcrossing book, I am keeping it  for now – instead of passing it on ( bad bad bookcrosser!) and if I do come across another copy I will then let it travel on.

I absolutley loved this book. The book opens in 1905 with the first Ceila Dunne – 90 year old owner of Dunnian house. She informs her astonished younger nephew Humphrey that she will be leaving Dunnian house to him, and not to his elder cousin who is fully expectant of the bequest. The house and money is to be for his lifetime, and then should pass to the next Celia Dunne – someone as yet unborn, as Humphrey’s 3 children are Mark, Joyce and Edith. The first Celia dies, and Humphrey, Alice and their children move into the house, they have two more children, and have a neice Deb come to live with them too. We then watch these children grow but as everybody grows older Dunnian remains unchanged. The books ends in 1942 in the middle of the second war.
D E stevenson has created characters you instantly love, Dunnian house almost a character in it’s own right. This was the kind of book I feel sorry to finish, as I have loved spending time with the people in it.

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From Persephone books: The storyline of Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meager income.

This is a charming light read, perfect for a bank holiday. Barbara Buncle is a naïve woman who is regarded with not very much seriousness by those around her. As she is in need of money she writes a book about the people in the village where she lives. The people – on the whole – hate it, and turn themselves inside out trying to work out who “John Smith” – the author – really is. Barbara is just about the very last person they consider – if they even consider her at all. Meanwhile Miss Buncle is both amused and puzzled by the furor she has unleashed in the villagers, and as the reviews roll in and the book becomes a bestseller, the fuss shows no signs of dying down. Some of the villagers hatch a rather sinister and seemingly unlikely plot, when they think they may have hit upon the culprit. Sharing Miss Buncle’s secret is Mr Abbott her publisher, in whom she finds a delightful new friend.

This really was a lovely book, and I had to go off and search abebooks for the two book that DE Stevenson wrote to come after it. Unfortunately the cheapest ones on abebooks were between £25 and £50.00, and the cheapest on Amazon was £15. So it would seem they are hard to get hold of : ( Maybe the wonderful Persephone will bring them out one day – fingers crossed.

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