Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oldies But Goodies

So, a few weeks ago I was browsing the shelves at my library to see what Mary Stewart books they have. My eyes glanced upwards and I happened upon a small selection of books by D.E. Stevenson. Stevenson has been experiencing a bit of a popularity boost, with two of her books being republished in 2009, Miss Buncle's Book and Mrs Tim of the Regiment, so I recognized her name immediately and decided to bring one of her books home. Now I have six checked out. Don't you love those vintage covers?



The first Stevenson book I read (and my favorite of the two) is called Blow the Wind Southerly which is apparently also known as Charlotte Fairlie and one other title which escapes me. Miss Fairlie is the headmistress of a girls school in England and is a particularly young headmistress with a somewhat lonely private life. Despite her youth, Miss Fairlie has an even temper and a sensible head on her shoulders. The first half of the novel takes place mostly at and around school. Miss Fairlie has a new student this year, Tessa who is away from her beloved home for the first time, and they form a particular bond. The school year passes successfully, despite discord from a grumbling teacher who wanted to be headmistress and overly strict parents. Tessa invites Miss Fairlie and some friends (children) to visit her at her home in the summer in Scotland (I think!). The path of the tale really becomes clear from this point midway through the book, and the reader can see what is coming, but of course obstacles must be overcome first. All ends well.

The second book I read is The Musgraves. This is a rather more complicated tale with more characters and storylines. Widowed mother Esther has three daughters, one a difficult spinster, one happily married, and one young and fresh, just leaving school. Each has their own storyline and issues. Then there is Walter, Esther's husband's son from his first marriage whom she has only met once - he was not happy about his father's remarriage but has returned to mend hard feelings. Throw in a drama club, a mysterious woman with a scandalous past, and a suspicious young man and you will see what ensues.

What struck me at first about these books, is that they reminded me of books I read in my childhood, that is to say, that they were 'uncomplicated'. The more I thought about it, I wasn't sure if this was the right word, for these books are not saccharine, there are certainly issues and problems to overcome, and unpleasant characters are present and seen by all as troublesome (a take home message, perhaps?). Perhaps the right word is comfortable, for these are books to fall into on a snowy afternoon, they are good books to read when you are tired and don't want to think much. They are there simply to be enjoyed.

As you can see in the photo above I've since borrowed more Stevenson books from the library, even sending a grumpy librarian down to their storage to find Mrs Tim and Vittoria Cottage. I was expecting her to return with old, dusty, falling apart books yet Mrs Tim is in pristine condition! All in all the library has 28 of Stevenson's titles, I consider this a lucky event for me as it seems these books are hard to find and expensive to come by. There is another Stevenson fan locally; I can tell from the catalog that someone else has borrowed their own stack of Stevenson titles. Perhaps they will bring more titles out of storage? I can hope.

If you have a particular favorite D.E. Stevenson book, I'd love to know about it.

14 comments:

Lesley said...

I've actually never heard of this author until now, but I do love the vintage covers!

I know what you mean about 'uncomplicated' - right now I am reading Mrs. Mike, which was written in 1947 and takes place in the early 20th century, and that's the same sense I get from this book. There are complicated issues, but it is simply told.

Do your library books still have the old checkout slips in them? That's one thing I miss about modern books. I used to love seeing when a book had last been checked out, and how many times, the spaces in between checkouts, etc.

bermudaonion said...

I'm totally out of the loop, because I don't even recognize the author's name.

BabelBabe said...

LOVE DE Stevenson. My absolute fav is Miss Buncle which was out of print for many years. I used to repeatedly borrow my library's omnibus of Miss Buncle and Miss Buncle Married. It was the first Persephone book I ordered.

I also love The Baker's Daughter and The Musgraves.

If you like Stevenson, you'll get why I adore Rosamunde Pilcher's "big" books; much that same comfort vibe.

verity said...

LOVE Miss Buncle! And the sequel...

Staci said...

I could so envision the grumpy old librarian having to dig that book out for you!! Too funny and I'm glad that the book got to see the light of day again!! Yay!

jennysbooks said...

I should really make some time to read DE Stevenson. She's my mother's very favorite author - we used to buy my mum DE Stevenson books for every Christmas and birthday (until she acquired them all). I will ask her what the best ones are, and I will let you know. :)

Mrs. B. said...

Those covers look lovely. I'm reading Miss Buncle's Book now and so far it's a lot of fun!

Tara said...

Lesley, I've heard of Mrs Mike! I'll be looking to see what you think of it. These books have the envelopes but not the slips themselves. There are all sorts of interesting markings in them though and plenty of tape on the pages.

Kathy, she published 50? 60? books between 1923 and 1970, based in the UK, and are pretty cozy, family/romance based.

BabelBabe, yeah! I have Miss Buncle from Persephone, and the library has Miss Buncle Married. yeah! I think they have The Baker's Daugher so I'll have to get that. I know why you adore Rosamunde Pilcher because I adore her too! Those big thick family sagas are too yummy.

Verity, yeah!

Staci, She was so grumpy, she was mumbling under her breath, okay over her breath at me! I tried so hard to think of something complimentary to say to her to jar her out of her bad mood but I couldn't come up with anything!


Jennysbooks, really? Oh, I do hope you will let me know what her favorites are! And try one, too! Lucky you having access to all those hard to find books.

Mrs B, I think so too! I've heard Miss Buncle is her very best, so I'm glad I didn't read it first. I'll save it for a rainy day.

Nan said...

I have loved her for a long time. My library's copies are just like yours. This is what their Miss Read books look like too. Happily they are all out on the shelves, not hidden away. I'm thrilled to see the new interest in her. I haven't read the two you mentioned. Vittoria Cottage is a favorite of mine. I used to be part of a DES yahoo group. There was a lot of talk about the covers. Here is a great site, Tara:

http://destevenson.org/

Diane said...

I've never Read DE Stevenson, but how great that your library had these oldies --enjoy!

fleurfisher said...

Isn't it fortunate that some libraries had the wisdom to tuck books like this away when they fell out of fashion? Sadly it didn't happen in my part of the world, and so I am hoping to track down affordable second hand copies.

Tara said...

Nan, lucky you, not having to ask grumpy librarians to get you books! You know, I started Mrs Tim but it is not clicking with me. I don't think I care for the diary format and lack of a traditional narrative. I may put it aside and begin Vittoria Cottage. Thanks for the amazing link - wow!

Diane, thanks!

fleurfisher, Yes, I feel very luck to have access to these books!

melanie said...

I must admit this is the first I've seen or heard of these - but I'm intrigued! I'm going to have to seek them out if I ever make it to the library again (snowed in). :)

Tara said...

Melanie, perhaps you'll find your way to the library in the Spring! What a lot of snow.