Posts Tagged ‘D.E.Stevenson’

A decade ago I hadn’t even heard of D.E. Stevenson, until fellow book bloggers kept nudging me to seek her out. Now I own an almost-complete collection, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve delved into these delicious little comfort reads. Even the relative flops, of which there are a few. (Yes, Crooked Adam, I’m looking at you. And sibling story Gerald and Elizabeth. Not to mention Rochester’s Wife. Gar! I blushed for the author while reading all of these. But I kept right on reading, and I won’t part with these for anything, fully intending to revisit, groan in dismay at the bloomers, and forge ahead regardless.)

Kudos to ACE, the genre paperback publishing arm of Grosset and Dunlap, for resurrecting D.E. Stevenson back in the early 1970s, because without their editions D.E. Stevenson would be even harder to acquire than she is, but regrets for those goopy “romance” covers – soooo bad. I have to admit I hide these when reading in public.

Well, we’ve had a fraught sort of summer this year, what with the local forest fires and all, and though we’ve come out the other side personally unscathed, we still feel rather rumpled in the mind. Hence the comfort reading. Nevil Shute and D.E. Stevenson have gravitated to the bedside stand, among others. Engaging but not particularly challenging. Easy to take up, easy to put down, patiently waiting for the reader to return and step back into the story.

Most recently the books on hand are the comfortably charming Dering family novels. This is only the second time of reading them through since my introduction to D.E.S., and I enjoyed them even more so this time round than the first, because this time I read them in chronological order and everything clicked ever so nicely into place. I also recognised a number of characters from other books, which must mean I am becoming a genuine Dessie, tracing the strands of the spider-web from book to book to book – a delightful side pleasure of reading this not-quite-forgotten author.

Cribbing from previous posts to put together this overview. I’ve gotten very much out of the blogging habit, much to my regret, so trying to get those rusty cogs a-turning again. A little cheat feels justified, and I did so enjoy these books I thought them worthy of mention once again, even if I don’t have much new to say.

Here we go.

Oh! I guess I should mention that there are spoilers throughout, mainly in the transition in focus from book to book. Each installment’s resolution leads to the opening of the next. If you are brand new to these and want to be surprised (if we can describe D.E.S.’s mild dramas as worthy of such a strong term) you might want to click away and come back once you’ve read them yourself. Collectively I would give this trilogy an 8/10 or thereabouts in my personal rating system (see sidebar), keeping in mind that this is in relation of these books in D.E. Stevenson’s body of work alone.

Cover depicted is from an earlier hardcover edition, not the paperback referred to in the heading.

Vittoria Cottage by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1949. This edition: Collins-Fontana, 1974. Paperback. ISBN: 0-00-613-444-0. 191 pages.

Middle-aged Caroline Dering has just been widowed, and, aside from her genuine and seemly sorrow at the death of someone who has shared her life for many years, she is not at all steeped in sorrow. Her lately departed spouse, Arnold Dering, was of a complaining and perpetually malcontented disposition. While his wife and three children were accepting of his character – Caroline thought that he always meant well, and suspected that at rare moments Arnold recognized and truly regretted his deep pessimism –  they enjoyed themselves much more in his absence.

World War II has been over for several years, but England is still very much in coping and recovery mode. Society is fast changing into some sort of new normal, and though things are steadily improving, there is still food and fuel rationing, and a strong atmosphere of “making do”, which makes for some quite fascinating scenarios as we progress through the book and look over Caroline’s shoulder as she goes about her days.

Another older hardcover edition, this one more accurately depicting the “cottage” which really isn’t.

The scene is set for what is to become a series of three novels by descriptions of the village of Ashbridge and the far from cottage-like Vittoria Cottage, ancestral home of the Derings. Though she has merely “married into” the local family, Caroline fits into the local hierarchy almost immediately, and by and large leads a deeply contented life, caring for her children, volunteering for various worthy causes, keeping house and gardening. The children are all grown up, with James away in Malaya, and lovely but discontented Leda (she takes after her father in full) and boisterous Bobbie making their way out into the larger world from the safe haven of their village nest.

Life in quiet Ashbridge gets suddenly quite interesting with the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Shepperton, who is apparently very reluctant to discuss his past, and who arouses even more suspicion because he appears to have no old belongings or clothing, a real rarity at that place and time, immediately post-war – “everything new!” the village gossips whisper with raised eyebrows.

Caroline’s lovely younger sister Harriet, a successful actress ducking away to her sister’s home for a respite from a difficult and failed recent stage production in London, brings some sophisticated dash and sparkle to village gatherings, and with the unexpectedly sudden return of James from Malaya, and the trials and tribulations of Leda and her fiancé Derek, the local squire’s son, there is plenty of scope for complications, dilemmas, surprises and sometimes unexpected resolutions.

I thought the characters were very well drawn and (mostly) very believable. Caroline is our heroine, but she is not a perfect person by a long shot; her flaws are well on display, but we forgive her them because she is ultimately exceedingly likeable, as is her sister and most of the other players in this excellent domestic drama. It ends quite abruptly, but this served merely to make me keen to get my hands on the next episode in this extended tale.

Cover depicted is from an earlier hardcover edition, not the paperback referred to in the heading.

Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1950. This edition: Ace Books, circa 1970. Paperback. 282 pages.

Having more or less settled the fates of Caroline Dering and her sister Harriet Fane in the previous novel, Vittoria Cottage, this next installment in the trilogy follows Caroline’s son James, who, at loose ends after his military service and several years spent “chasing terrorists” in Malaya, is looking towards his future.

Deeply in love with his childhood companion Rhoda, he is struggling with her rejection of his marriage proposal. While we suspect that she is in love with James in her own way, Rhoda fears that, as a rising professional painter, marriage would spell the end of her career goals, and that she would be a discontented wife as well as a poorer artist, having to split her focus between two roles, doing neither well.

James takes it very well, all things considered, and hies himself off to the community of Drumburly in Scotland, where he has been invited by his aunt and uncle to reside at the remote Mureth House, a prosperous sheep farm. Jock and Mamie Johnstone have no children of their own, and are hoping that their nephew might be interested enough in farming life to take over Mureth some day.

James has always cherished a desire to be a farmer himself, so the situation looks like a success all around; the story follows some of James’s apprenticeship and details the day-to-day occupations of a hill farmer of mid-20th century Scotland; quite nicely detailed and relatably true in the telling. (I keep sheep, so happily appreciated the ovine interludes.)

We have sheep rustlers and romantic entanglements and, of course, more than a few misunderstandings between various parties, all neatly tidied up as the story progresses, in proper D.E. Stevenson fashion.

Cover depicted is from an earlier hardcover edition, not the paperback referred to in the heading.

Shoulder the Sky: A Story of Winter in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1951. Original British title: Winter and Rough Weather. This edition: Ace Books, circa 1971. 275 pages.

Five years after the conclusion of the Second World War, a young, newly married couple, Rhoda and James Dering Johnstone, arrive at their isolated farmhouse near the fictional Scottish village of Drumburly. Rhoda is an accomplished professional painter, and her husband worries, with some reason, as to how she will adjust to a life as a sheep farmer’s wife, far from the stimulating world she has happily abandoned for true love.

Rhoda drifts for a while, mulling over the dilemma of what she sees as a black and white choice between her perceived role as a wife versus personal fulfillment as an artist. The author handled this theme sensitively and sensibly, though I couldn’t help but think that childless Rhoda, overseeing a small house with the help of a live-in cook-general, had a luxury of a “domestic support system” impossible for those of us in a similar societal-economic position to attain today. Rhoda ultimately returns to the studio, and proceeds to paint a portrait which has far-reaching consequences among the local residents.

Add in several on again-off again love affairs, a missing wife, a bullying neighbour, a misunderstood child, and the challenges of winter storms in an isolated locale, and you have a quietly dramatic novel, very occasionally straying into melodrama, but nicely anchored to reality by the author’s pragmatic asides.

There is one glaringly “coincidental” plot twist which I rolled my readerly eyes at, but I forgave it for love of this writer, as we note and yet forgive the foibles of our dearest friends.

The author set this novel up well, and the details she gives both of farm life and the art world read like they come from personal experience. I thought this particular novel was a relatively strong work for this “light romance” author, rather reminiscent of O. Douglas, what with the Scottish setting and the deep moral dilemmas and all.

Deeply affirmative depictions of marriage form this book, in particular the partnership between the older couple, Jock and Mamie Johnstone. D.E. Stevenson is all about the quiet joys of making things work out and the moral and emotional rewards that follow acting well towards each other, though her characters also struggle in a utterly lifelike way with holding it together when faced with uncongenial people and trying situations.

Fellow D.E. Stevenson readers – there is one thing I want to throw out there. In this last installment of the trilogy, doesn’t it strike you as the littlest bit odd that the very wealthy Nestor Heddle absolutely needs his poor befuddled sister as a housekeeper, and that her jumping ship makes his lordly country life impossible? I mean, couldn’t he just hire someone to fulfill that role? (This is the sort of silly little plot hole which niggles away at me when reading D.E.S.!)

 

 

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the blue sapphire d e stevenson 001The Blue Sapphire by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1963. This edition: Collins, 1963. Hardcover. 320 pages.

My rating: 9/10

Yesterday’s post was all supercilious and disapproving of D.E. Stevenson’s 1969 novel Gerald and Elizabeth, but happily I am able to balance that with a much more enthusiastic opinion of this also far-fetched but charmingly engaging 1963 effort.

There are several parallels between the two stories, which makes their comparison and my views of one as “good” (The Blue Sapphire) and the other as “not-very-good” (Gerald and Elizabeth) an interesting micro-study in perception and the ambiguities of personal taste. I won’t delve any more deeply into this aspect of these two books, but will zip right into a brief discussion of the book itself.

Dust jacket blurb:

The blue sapphire is a gem which the Ancients called the hyacinthus and which Solinus described as ‘a gem which feels the influence of the air and sympathises with the heavens and does not shine equally if the sky is cloudy or bright’.

On a beautiful spring day, Julia Harburn sat on a seat in Kensington Gardens enjoying the sunshine. She was wearing a white frock and a large straw hat with a sapphire-blue ribbon which exactly matched her eyes – a strange coincidence, as it turned out, for the blue sapphire was to have a far-reaching influence upon her life. So far, her life had been somewhat dull and circumscribed; but quite suddenly her horizons were enlarged. She began to make new friends – and enemies – and she began to discover new strength and purpose in her own nature. This development of her character led her into strange adventures, some amusing, others full of sorrow and distress. The story is itself a blue sapphire story, of clouds and sunshine.

As pretty Julia sits on her park bench waiting for her tardy fiancé Morland to appear for their teatime rendezvous, she is increasingly worried that she will be “annoyed” by the numerous questionable masculine types who have started closing in on her, like hopeful jackals surrounding a tender little gazelle. Luckily a rescuer appears in the person of tall, handsome and very forthcoming Stephen Brett, newly arrived in London after some years away in South Africa overseeing a gemstone mining operation. At first Julia snubs the friendly Stephen, but she soon warms to his innocent cheerfulness, and the two part on mutually appreciative terms just as Morland grumpily hoves into view.

Julia is waiting to break some rather big news to Morland. She has decided to move out of her father’s house and find a job and take a room in a boarding house. Some years ago Julia’s mother had died, and her new stepmother, while not at all cruel, is making it increasingly obvious that she would be happier if she were the only woman in the household.

Morland loftily dismisses Julia’s intentions of independence, but she holds firm, eventually ending up in an attic room in the fabulously Victorian-styled boarding house of the inestimable Miss Martineau, ex-actress and current patroness to “resting” theatrical folk. Miss Martineau takes a shine to Julia, and sets her up in a job at a posh hat shop, where Julia proceeds to thrive, becoming a very special chum to her new boss, the ex-Parisian Madame Claire, to the deep resentment of Julia’s several jealous co-workers.

Meanwhile Stephen Brett pops in and out of Julia’s life, adding some much-needed good humour and friendliness as Julia finds her way as a working girl and tries to cope with Morland’s moodiness and reluctance to set a date for their marriage. Stephen is embroiled in a complicated situation involving a potential sapphire mine back in South Africa; he finds relief from his worries in his growing friendship with Julia.

A turning point in the plot occurs as Julia receives a letter from her father’s estranged brother in Scotland, begging Julia to come and see him before he dies. Off she goes, against Morland’s advice, to find in her Uncle Randal the loving relationship she has never been able to attain with her own father. But Uncle Randal is declining rapidly, and it seems as though Julia will tragically lose him just when she has found him…

Stopping right here, because this is a sweet story which you will want to finish up for yourself. D.E. Stevenson is in her usual form, mixing unlikely scenarios with sunny-natured heroines, grumpy-but-ultimately-innocuous villains, salt-of-the-earth old family retainers, and a knight-in-shining-armour (or two) who appear(s) at just the right time.

The mixture-as-usual, but just what is needed in a book of this gentle genre. Highly recommended to those of you who like this sort of thing; everyone else, tactfully glance away!

Another Look Book liked it, too. As did Claire and Susan, who recommended it to me in the comments to my last year’s post about this other DES, also featuring the incorrigibly snoopy but divinely maternal Miss Martineau, 1966’s The House on the Cliff.

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the english air d e stevenson 001The English Air by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1940. This edition: Farrar and Rinehart, 1940. Hardcover. 317 pages.

My rating: 9/10

I liked this novel a lot. It’s hard to believe it was written at the roughly the same time as the melodramatic Crooked Adam (1942), as it is a much more sober and thoughtful sort of thing, reflective no doubt of the author’s own musings in the years leading up to the start of World War II. It is wonderfully atmospheric from start to finish, and the characters pleased me greatly, from the gorgeous blonde Aryan “super-man” and ex-Hitler Youth Franz to fluffy-but-ultimately-wise Sophie and fragile-seeming but tough-as-nails Wynne.

This book is fairly common, and I don’t want to spoil it for those of you still to read it, so I’ll keep this review brief and avoid any spoilers.

It is the spring of 1938, and half-German, half-English Franz has suddenly invited himself to stay with his English semi-cousins, the Braithwaites. No one is quite sure what to make of Franz’s out-of-the-blue advances, and when he arrives their initial reaction is uneasy. Franz is a tall young golden-haired “Greek god” figure of a man, with stiffly formal manners and no apparent sense of humour. After the initial whispered consultations: “I wonder if he’s a Nazi? Don’t talk about politics!” everyone unbends a bit, and as the days pass Franz is seen to make a real effort to find common ground with his English hosts.

Especially lovely Wynne, the Braithwaite daughter, who has been tenaciously trying to get through Franz’s Teutonic reserve while educating him in the niceties of the English sense of humour, common slang, and recognition of and appropriate responses to friendly teasing.

But Dane Worthington, Wynne’s uncle, who has been her legal guardian since her father’s untimely death, cocks a cynical eyebrow in Franz’s direction. Why is he really so keen to immerse himself in English domestic life? For Dane knows, through certain connections of his own, that Franz’s father is a highly-placed official in the Nazi party, and one of Hitler’s personal advisers.

There are many secrets afoot, this golden last summer of peace before the start of the war…

A rather nicely plotted story – though we do get some major clues throughout as to what is really going on – and well up there in D.E. Stevenson’s oeuvre. The themes are serious and treated with respect without being dreary; in places this one reads rather like an O. Douglas novel, unsensational and matter-of-fact, and deeply appealing in a quietly memorable way. Occasionally things slip into melodrama, but all in all the author does a grand job here; it is one of my new favourites of the many DES stories I’ve now read.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s discussion of patriotism, and thought it well-balanced and insightful, though by the time of the writing of Crooked Adam in 1942 the mood had obviously changed to something much more reactive and extreme, on both sides of the ongoing conflict.

The English Air was finished in February, 1940, and, as well as being a diverting light novel, is an intriguing eyewitness snapshot of a specific time and place in the last year of peace and the first year of war.

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crooked adm d e stevensonCrooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1942. This edition: Fontana, 1974. Paperback. 219 pages.

My rating: 6.5/10

You have to hand it to D.E. Stevenson. Even if she didn’t know anything at all about her subject (mental illness in Rochester’s Wife, for example) it didn’t stop her from taking a good old swing at it, cheerfully glossing over the complicated bits by having her characters tell each other, “It’s too specialized to explain. Just trust me.” And of course, they do.

In this case it is schoolmaster Adam Southey who is the clueless one. His headmaster, Samuel Cooke, is a prominent scientist who is working on a secret war machine, a kind of death ray which focus an ultraviolet beam of light on an object – say, an enemy airplane – and causes it to burst into flames. “A Death Ray!” exclaims Adam, only to be lectured by his superior that this is inaccurate: “It’s too specialized to explain to a simple soul like you. Just trust me.”

It is early in World War II, and Adam is disappointed that His Majesty’s Army has no use for him, due to a childhood injury which has left one of his legs shorter than the other. Despite this physical handicap, Adam is fit and strong, and can swing along at a great rate, which is about to come in very handy very soon. He surprises a suspicious intruder attempting to get a look at Cooke’s secret weapon, and ends up accompanying the van carrying the machine to a secret army testing base in Scotland, with some interesting adventures on the way, including an attempted hijacking and a stint of camouflage with a travelling circus.

Once in Scotland, with Marvelous Invention to Change the Course of the War almost ready to demonstrate, Adam’s adventures get even more exciting, as he stumbles upon a Cleverly Disguised Nest of Nazi Spies (complete with submarine access to a secret tunnel), teams up with the local shepherds and fishermen to foil the Wicked Teutonic Menace, and ultimately finds True Love.

Despite the simplistic tone of the whole thing, written in a “Gosh! Golly!” schoolboy-adventure-tale-genre sort of way, it is rather an enjoyable romp, and the groaning faux-pas-by-sincere-author moments add to the charming vintage atmosphere. The hero is sweet and true-blue all the way through (“Crooked Adam”, as one of his schoolboy charges murmurs in a scene-setting aside to a friend, is really one of those double entendre nicknames which mean the exact opposite – gimpy leg aside, Adam is straight as they come) and we can only hope that his serendipitous love interest will live up to his nobleness, once the war is safely over.

Though this adventure started off rather slowly for me – this is my second go at reading it, as the first try fizzled out – once I pushed past the “I can’t explain my invention; you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s marvelous” bit by Dr. Cooke and wide-eyed Adam’s acceptance that he’s too dumb to grasp the complexities of science I started to grow rather fond of our sterling-natured hero, and cheerfully went along with the tale until the heroic and neatly tied up end. I’d noticed before that D.E. Stevenson often has no qualms about cold-bloodedly eliminating her bad eggs, and Crooked Adam proved no exception, with the author showing more sympathy with the German Nazis versus the turncoat Englishmen, who get their (fatal) comeuppance.

Yes, one might safely shelve this one with the propaganda novels, I think.

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D.E. Stevenson’s 1961 novel Bel Lamington, featuring a young woman thrust out unprepared into a harsh world, Miss Beatrice Elizabeth Lamington – the “Bel” coming from her initials – left me just slightly underwhelmed.

I had first read the sequel to Bel’s titular saga, 1962’s Fletchers’ End, and references to Bel’s previous stint as a downtrodden secretary rather intrigued me. My eagerness to discover her prior story sent me off to the internet to purchase the book, and though I can’t say I’m disappointed by my latest D.E.S. acquisition, I’m not as thrilled as I’d hoped to be.

Bel Lamington links up with the earlier Vittoria Cottage/Music in the Hills/Shoulder the Sky (a.k.a. Winter and Rough Weather) trilogy, and the last third or so of the book concerns a number of characters whom the author assumes we have already met. Doubtless this was so for most readers at the time of Bel Lamington‘s publication; D.E.S. had her staunch following, and a nod to the readers-already-in-the-loop was doubtless the author’s intention here. But for those of us coming newly to the D.E.S. world some half-century after her heyday it can be a little disconcerting, though I must say it is fairly easy to pick up and follow the story threads.

It never seems like the author intends to leave things out, just that she assumes that we know the histories of the cameo role stars she features beside the up-and-coming ingénues. And Bel is very much a charming ingénue, in every sense of the word. Luckily her stellar qualities are recognized by just enough people to soften the blows that fall upon her tentative entry into a working girl’s world.

bel lamington d e stevensonBel Lamington ~ 1961.

This edition: Collins, 1961. Hardcover. 255 pages.

My rating: 6.5/10

Bel was orphaned at the tender age of three when both parents perished together in an automobile accident –  a “terrible motor smash” – but luckily she was taken in by a loving aunt and raised and cared for with tender affection. Her aunt has now died, and with it the small income they both lived on; there is nothing for it but for Bel to go out into the world and find employment.

She trains as a secretary and finds a job as a typist in a London shipping firm, and is soon promoted to private secretary to the firm’s chief partner, Ellis Brownlee. For Bel is one of those quietly competent types who excels at everything she attempts, and the author gets some digs in at the lackadaisical sorts whose office ambitions are more to do with flirtation and gossip than in dedication to their employers’ interests. Bel is definitely not cut from that pattern, and this inevitably leads to her being ostracized by the other female staff members, in particular the bullying Miss Goudge, who finds meek Miss Lamington a perfect target for her sarcastic jabs.

Bel’s private life is emotionally fraught as well. She is finding London exceedingly lonely, and has not made friends with anyone at all in the eighteen months she has been there. Her one comfort is the tiny rooftop garden she has created outside her top floor window, and lo and behold, this garden brings her into contact with a handsome young man.

Mark is an artist, and his discovery of Bel’s garden when he is scrambling about on the roofs outside his own top floor studio-flat leads to his painting of Bel’s portrait, and his impetuously offhand courtship of this hidden flower, this “charming little mouse” of a girl. Bel is initially bowled over, but soon finds that Mark’s enthusiasms wane as fast as they sprout up, and she sensibly keeps herself out of trouble when Mark’s casual advances become too forceful.

But it is hard to keep smiling, and Bel is descending into the depths of despair when a chance encounter with an old school friend at the exhibition of Mark’s painting of Bel brings her a happy respite, as she and Louise discover that they are kindred spirits.

Back at the office things are not going well at all. Bel’s mentor and protector Mr Brownlee has left on an extended overseas business trip, leaving Copping, Wills and Brownlee under the supervision of the over-emotional and verbally-abusive Mr Wills. Hand in glove with the manipulative Miss Goudge, Mr Wills ensures that Bel’s office days are numbered, and when the inevitable happens, she flees to Louise for refuge, ending up in Scotland, where everything gets itself all sorted out.

Fletchers’ End ~ 1962.

This edition: Fontana, 1971. Paperback. 256 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

Spoiler alert: If you want to read Bel Lamington without knowing the results of her romance in book one, you should read no further. Here, I’ll pop in the cover illustration of Fletchers’ End to give you a chance to click away.

fletchers' end d e stevenson

Still here? Excellent. Here’s the next installment.

Bel and Ellis Brownlee are wed, and are now living in Bel’s tiny London flat and both working at Ellis’s office. They are also looking for a proper place of their own, preferably in the country but within easy commuting distance of London so Ellis can be handy to his shipping firm. Nothing suitable can be found, until Bel’s friend Louise sees potential in a dilapidated old house in a jungle of weeds, one Fletchers’ End in the village of Shepherdsford.

The absentee owner is desperate to sell, and Ellis and Bel purchase the house for a bargain price, though they are destined to make up for the initial savings in the ensuing renovation costs. This now becomes one of those “house books”, where the building is a character in its own right, and ultimately rewards its rescuers by becoming a warm and welcoming haven.

Bel’s adventures in renovation and restoration keep her occupied for the better part of the narrative, though there are side plots in the romance of Bel’s dear friend Louise, carried forward from the first installment, and the sudden appearance of the house’s previous owner, a young and handsome naval officer.

Mark-the-philandering-artist from Bel Lamington makes a brief appearance as well, as does the younger Copping from Ellis’s firm.

But not much really happens in this one, unless, of course, one appreciates the overwhelming busy-ness and architectural challenges and intrinsic rewards involved in a house renovation. The romance gets sorted out most satisfactorily, and all seems set for a happy ending when Bel and Ellis are suddenly faced with the possibility of having to walk away from Fletchers’ End: a will has been discovered which puts into question the legality of the house’s sale. Oh dear, whatever will happen now?!

Yes, it all comes out all right in the end.

(Was there ever any question?)

Nice parallel story of the elderly Mrs Warmer (what an apt name) who has been caretaking Fletchers’ End, and who stays on to provide a motherly presence in Bel’s kitchen, to the envy of all and sundry.

In both of these novels much is made of Bel’s timidity, her gentleness, and her overwhelming humility. D.E. Stevenson puts forward the argument that humility – true humility of spirit – is a worthy trait and should be viewed with respect. She therefore endows her heroine with appropriate rewards for her goodness and meekness. Though Bel occasionally shows that her inner core is of the toughest steel, her continual mildness is sometimes just the tiniest bit irritating; I can understand why Miss Goudge of the first book found her such a fitting target for perpetual scorn.

A very moralistic pair of tales, Bel Lamington and Fletchers’ End, with the author making very clear her opinions of how virtue and innate goodness should be rewarded, and how those who offend against the meek and well-meaning should be cast off into the outer darkness. All in all, a satisfying sort of point of view for this sort of blissfully simple fiction, for aren’t we all, fellow readers, on the side of the angels ourselves? 😉

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the house on the cliff pb cover d e stevensonThe House on the Cliff by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1966. This edition: Fontana, circa 1960s. Paperback. 224 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

What a blissfully easy read, second time around this year for The House on the Cliff. Looking at my handy-dandy reading list, I see that I first read it way back in March of this year, while in the throes of dance festival season (my teen daughter was a competitive dance troupe member until this autumn) which seems aeons ago now, as we’re as close as touching to mid-November.

And though I still retained a reasonably accurate memory of the plot line, many of the details were completely erased from my brain. Not such a bad thing in a comfort read, I maintain, because much of the charm in those is their re-readability. I see I rated this one quite highly back in March, and I’ll keep it there, for though it is a slight thing, it is very pleasant, and that has merit enough for me.

Young Elfrida Jane Ware – twenty-one-ish, I believe – is having a rough time of it. Elfrida has grown up as a child of the theatre, accompanying her second-rate actor father and third-rate (despite beauty and intelligence) actress-mother-turned-seamstress from posting to posting, knowing only the backstage world as she grew up, until one day her father disappears, leaving Elfrida to eventually scramble into an acting career herself, in order to help support herself and her frail mother. “Dead”, her mother claims; “Run off!” whispers the theatre community; but no matter which is was, Elfrida has been popped in at the deep end. She’s been working bit parts here and there, but she’s not exactly star stuff herself, though she’s managed to snag a key role in a failing comedy, along with theatre star Glen Siddons, whom she has a serious (though, she thinks, hidden) crush on.

Now her ailing mother has quietly died, and through her grief Elfrida gamely soldiers on, until one day when her benevolent landlady shows her an advertisement in the newspaper asking for news of Marjory Thistlewood – her mother’s maiden name. When Elfrida visits the lawyer’s office named in the advert, she is astounded to find that she has inherited her grandparents’ country house, Mountain Cross, a not-so-shabby two-storey stone-built gentleman’s home on a sea cliff in Devonshire.

the house on the cliff dj d e stevenson

Here is someone’s vision of Elfrida’s house. In the book it is surrounded by neglected gardens, which appear to be missing here, though it does have the appropriate stunning view of the sea. At least there are no couples clinching on this dust jacket, or on the Fontana cover above. For this heroine is very good at standing alone, and avoiding passionate advances with firm grace. Some other covers I’ve seen in my internet travels are rather more trashy, showing the heroine in full embrace with an unspecified male companion. (Coming back to add that there is one passionate embrace, but as it is very much a last page sort of thing, it doesn’t necessarily represent the heroine’s usual habits.)

The search for her mother was meant as an attempt at reconciliation from her estranged parents – Marjory had eloped with Elfrida’s father against all parental advice – and since both of Marjory’s parents and Marjory herself are no longer living, Elfrida gets the estate.

Unluckily there is only the tiniest of cash inheritances, but Elfrida decides to go off anyway and try living in her new possession, hoping to scrape by on her meagre inherited income. In this she is encouraged by one of the junior partners in the law firm, one Ronnie Leighton, who knows Mountain Cross well from his own childhood. Ronnie and Elfrida get along like old pals from the first time they meet; the reader may draw what inference they like from this convenient kindred spirithood!

To Mountain Cross goes our heroine, abandoning her life on the stage with only the briefest moment of regret, and that for the glamorous Glen. She falls in love with her ancestral home, and everyone about falls in love with sweet Elfrida, relieved that she is not some flighty actress, but a new version of her gentle mother, whom everyone remembers fondly.

Everything goes most swimmingly, in fact, until the visit of a cousin from Canada, who has lost out on the inheritance through his own carelessness. Walter Whitgreave is on the hunt for a stamp album which he claims is off sentimental value only, but a search is unsuccessful, and Walter wanders away muttering forebodingly. (Cue dramatic music.)

Then who should show up on Elfrida’s doorstep but Glen Siddons himself, along with his eight-year-old son from his tragically ended youthful  marriage. The child, Patrick, has been fostered out since his mother’s death, but Glen has collected him at last. Though Glen is playing the doting father and  promises to take an interest in Patrick at long last, we sense that this is not going as well as it could be.

The cast of characters includes a slightly fantastical married couple who decide to stay on at Mountain Cross for love alone (Elfrida cannot afford their wages), a handsome local bachelor who has checked out his new neighbour and found her most appealing, and various local characters (“characters” in every sense of the word) who bend over backwards to ease Elfrida into country life. What with the three young men (Ronnie, Glen and neighbour Lucius), not to mention the adorable Patrick – also smitten with our heroine – Elfrida’s retreat is becoming rather full of male presence; we know romance is inevitable, but which one will it be?

I’m not telling, though I did drop a rather obvious clue early on. Oh, and the stamp album reappears, with prefect timing. The villains wander away, leaving Elfrida in possession of her house on the cliff, and her happy new life.

(And there are pigs. And a friendly milk cow. Though no ducks. Read the book, and you’ll get the reference to ducks. A minor note, but I’m rather fond of ducks myself, so their mention piqued my interest.)

How very sweet! <happy sigh>

I wonder if some of the appeal in this not-very-complex story is Elfrida’s gallant disposition, her quiet but witty sense of humour, and her refusal to make a complete fool of herself even while enmeshed with forthcoming and handsome young men? One gets the feeling that this young lady knows a lot more than her swains (bar one) give her credit for. We wish Elfrida well from first to last, enjoying with quiet vicarious pleasure her acquisition of lovely house, thoroughly nice new friends, and well-deserved romantic partner.

Shall I read another, or should I go for something a bit more intellectually demanding? It’s been hectic round here lately – all in a good way – just dreadfully busy – so I suspect another easy-on-the-tired-brain D.E.S. may be coming to bed with me tonight. Which one, though? Hmmm…

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the young clementina d e stevensonThe Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1935. Original/alternate titles: Divorced From Reality and Miss Dean’s Dilemma. This edition: ACE, 1975. Paperback: 0-441-95048-5. 320 pages.

My rating: 9/10.

Completely met expectations, up to and including the blush-inducing ending, which lost the story its single “you’ve got to be kidding!” point. Golly, D.E. Stevenson often bobbles in those last few pages, doesn’t she?!

Well, really, the ending’s not that bad. Just…hmm…maybe just a little bit rushed? And a little too good to be true? But hey! – that’s why I’ve come to quite adore D.E. Stevenson. This story in particular is escape literature at its delicious, romantic, improbable, suspend-your-disbelief for hundreds of pages, period-piece-vintage best.

Okay, here’s a brief overview of the set-up of this novel. It’s very nicely done indeed; one of the author’s melodramatic (versus her more placid and thoughtful) minor masterpieces.

I wonder how a hermit would feel if he had spent twelve years in his cell and were called back to the world to take up the burden of life with its griefs and worries and fears; if he had passed through the fire of rebellion and achieved resignation; if his flesh had been purged by sleepless nights and his mind had found the anodyne of daily work. Would he feel afraid of the world, afraid of the pain awaiting him, afraid of his own inadequacy to deal with his fellow men after his long, long years of solitude? Would he refuse to listen when the world called, when his conscience whispered that his duty lay outside his cell, or would he gird up his loins and go forth, somewhat reluctantly, into the world which had turned its back upon him for twelve years?

My mythical hermit is standing at the parting of the ways, and so am I. Two roads are open to me, one lonely but well known, peaceful and uneventful; the other full of dangers and difficulties which I cannot foresee…

Our narrator is middle-aged Charlotte Dean, inhabitor of a dreary London flat, efficient and self-effacing librarian at a quiet geographical library – repository of “any book that adds to the geographical knowledge of the world” – recluse from that very world. Her only friend, aside from her kind employer, Mr. Wentworth, and her dedicated charwoman, Mrs. Cope, is her diary, in which she records her daily doings as she has done from childhood.

Ah, childhood. Happy days, indeed, when Charlotte was the beloved child of the Parsonage in green and flowery rural Hinkleton, running wild with her bosom friend, Garth Wisdon, equally beloved child of the Manor. Charlotte and Garth were inseparable, and their friendship was not at all disturbed by the advent of Charlotte’s small sister, Clementina – “Kitty”, as she was soon named. Not then, not in childhood. But as the years passed and friendship ripened to something deeper, Kitty had her part to play in the dissolution of the bonds that held Charlotte and Garth together…

The Great War tore Garth away from Hinkleton, and upon his return it is, unexpectedly, Kitty who becomes the new lady of the Manor, while Charlotte remains at home to care for her failing father, and then creeps off to London when his death leaves her alone and penniless.

For some strange reason Charlotte and Kitty are no longer the close friends that they were in childhood, and Garth openly sneers at his once-beloved “Char”. She meets them only occasionally, and so is rather surprised to be asked to act as godmother to her young niece Clementina  – named after her vivacious mother – and to visit at Hinkleton Manor for the occasion. But Garth is still dismissive and sarcastic, and Kitty disturbingly self-centered and complaining, so Charlotte returns to her quiet life with no thought but to regain her hard-won peace of mind, and to leave the dead past buried.

Then, twelve years after her flight to London, Charlotte’s world is turned topsy-turvy by the dramatic re-entry of Kitty into her life, and she faces the dilemma referred to at the start of the story…

For another look at the story, and an enthusiastic recommendation, a visit to Fleur Fisher‘s review will be in order.

I greatly enjoyed this grandly melodramatic and deeply romantic tale. Most engaging and deeply readable, and for that I’ll even forgive the rushed and too, too predictable “surprise” ending, my one perennial gripe with this author’s style. She builds up her story wonderfully well, rockets it along in fine style, and then chops it off with a hurried ending, almost every single time. Grrr. (And do please ignore this complaint; it’s a very minor one, and in no way puts me off reading these books with genuine enjoyment.)

I can see why this novel is so highly thought of by D.E. Stevenson devotees; she’s in fine form throughout. I do believe this one has just been re-released on July 2, 2013, so it should be readily available, just in time for your summer reading pleasure. Here’s the Amazon.com link, which includes an excerpt of the first chapter.

And I’ll say once more, this is a very vintage romance, written in the 1930s, with all of the expected clichés. It is, perhaps, even a bit old-fashioned for its time; it rather reads like something out of the closing years of the century before. With that in mind, enjoy!

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