D.E. Stevenson “The Four Graces”

D.E. Stevenson at age 6

Well. FINALLY someone is waking up!

D.E. Stevenson’s books have been slo-o-o-o-wly getting republished. “Mrs. Tim of the Regiment” (originally published in 1932), came out in 2010, a book that some have called her fictional autobiography. Written from the inspiration of her own diary as a British officer’s wife, the novel is an entertaining read.

“Miss Buncle’s Book” (originally published in 1934), came out in September of 2012 and was quickly followed by “Miss Buncle Married”. “The Young Clementina” (first publication in 1935), came out last July, and  “The Two Mrs. Abbots” will be released in January of 2014 (YAY! can’t wait to read this one).And NOW, “The Four Graces” is available for pre-order , and will be released in July of 2014! (YAY!!! jumping up and down).

D.E. Stevenson’s books have been a source of enjoyment and inspiration to me over the years.  Although out of print for years, my local library had a good stock of them, and what I couldn’t find there, I could find within our library system.  Meanwhile, I began to collect as many as I could find for my own home library.  Finding a D.E. Stevenson novel was a rare treasure.

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930’s. (From http://destevenson.org)

From what I could find in internet research, D.E. (Dorothy Emily) Stevenson was born in Scotland in an era where women were not encouraged to pursue education beyond secondary school. She was educated at home by governesses for at least part of her upbringing, but ‘hid’ her writing from both her parents and governesses. According to Wikipedia (not always a trustworthy source — so you may want to pursue more of her life with your own findings), Stevenson wanted to go to university (we Americans call it ‘college’), but her father wouldn’t allow it because she was a woman.

(maybe, in her case, a university degree worked out best after all…if she had been working in an office or hospital somewhere in London or Edinburgh, it is doubtful she would have churned out the more than 40 novels she is accredited with penning!)

“DES was strongly attracted to writing, even as a child, despite her parents disapproval. She loved to read and write and was not above hiding out in an attic room where she could pursue these passions undisturbed.” from http://destevenson.org/

What did women do, when home and hearth and children were not enough to fill one’s hours? Well, according to several biographical websites, D.E. Stevenson took walks, came home to tea in front of the fire, and wrote books:

“D.E. Stevenson said this about Moffat:  I am now settled in Moffat, a small town in beautiful Annandale in the county of Dumfries. It is a peaceful spot and a marvelous place for writing. I enjoy a good walk over the hills with my spaniel, and then come home to find tea waiting, spread on a table before a bright log fire.”  from http://dalyght.ca/DEStevenson/des_monahan/moffat.html

My daughter has now started reading them. She just finished “Celia’s House”, and together we chuckled over the reading of the will in the initial chapters of the book and the ensuing uproar, resulting in Alice (Humphrey’s wife), having to take to her bed with a cup of tea and a headache.

I have turned to D.E. Stevenson when nothing else would satisfy.  It isn’t merely that she tells a good story (and some of her books aren’t really very *exciting*, if you are looking for drama), but she has interesting things to tell, about Scotland, about London, about customs, fortitude during World War 2, personalities and interactions, and lovable characters.  She almost always has at least one character draw their own conclusions inwardly and often the reader can learn more about human nature just reading her books.

“It’s just that I’m so worried about Rosalie,” (…said Mother). “When I think of the future I wonder what will happen to her.  Will she ever be able to stand on her own feet?  Life bears hardly on people like Rosalie.”

I was still a bit cross so I said, “Yes, it’s better to be tough and callous and selfish.”

“Oh Jane, what a dreadful thing to say! It isn’t like you!” She hesitated and then asked, “Was it Mrs. Millard?”

“But she didn’t mean it,” I said hastily. “She says things like that – things that she doesn’t really mean…”

…”Well, anyway,” I said bitterly. “It’s worked in Helen’s case, hasn’t it. Helen has got exactly what she wanted by being tough – and callous – and selfish.”

(from “Anna and Her Daughters” by D.E. Stevenson)

D.E. Stevenson won’t give you long narrative descriptions or complicated plots… in fact, she often repeats plot structure (or presents the same dilemmas for a character to wrestle with), within several of her novels.  However, she will do that in varying settings and using different characters, so, to me, each read was a pleasant and fresh read.  And her subtle and understated wit, in itself makes her novels enjoyable!

“It was even more of a surprise to Sam, when he went downstairs, and sat down at the well-appointed dinner-table to an excellently cooked and adequately served meal, to find that the crusty old beast was a charming host, and that Uncle Arthur and his new wife were delightful together, teasing each other in a very pleasant way, and cracking jokes and enjoying themselves as if they had been quite young, like himself, instead of quite old with one foot in the grave.

What’ll I be like at forty-three, he wondered, as he joined in the fun and took sides with his Aunt-by-marriage in baiting the Senior Partner of his firm – shall I be like Uncle Arthur?”                                                                from “Miss Buncle Married”

Several of the characters in the novels show up and intersect in later books. Some of the novels have sequels, some don’t. “Miss Buncle’s Book” is a favorite of many, and even though some terminology may be puzzling to American readers, still offers a chuckle to those who read about her play on words and keen sense of ‘making fun’ of our neighbors (and ultimately, reaping the consequences and having to flee).  Or, try “Katherine Wentworth”.   I just read that one again recently and found some fresh insight after reading about the sibling relationships in that novel!

I hope, if you haven’t tried her books, that you will pick up one or two and enjoy it with a pot of tea this winter!

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About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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One Response to D.E. Stevenson “The Four Graces”

  1. Hope Owsley says:

    Great post. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving the message about D.E. Stevenson. She’s delightful and I look forward to reading many more of her books. Have you read Penny Plain by O. Douglas? It reminds me of D.E. Stevenson’s style. I love your blog.

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