I was excited to see that “Listening Valley”, another D.E. Stevenson novel, is being republished and released in January!
Here is the first paragraph from my (old, hardback) copy:
“Most people, looking back at their childhood, see it as a misty country half-forgotten or only to be remembered through an evocative sound or scent, but some episodes of those short years remain clear and brightly colored like a landscape seen through the wrong end of a telescope. It was thus that Louise Melville was always to remember the house with the high wall and the adventure connected with it. Antonia was to remember it, too, but not so vividly, for really and truly it was Lou’s adventure. Lou was the adventurous one.”
Lou and Tonia Melville are sisters. Lou is golden haired, pretty and vivacious. Tonia is dark-haired, introspective and quieter.
“Entrancing,” agreed Aunt Daisy with a sigh. “And how fortunate they are! They go together so beautifully, don’t they? One fair and one dark – and they both have dark blue eyes and rose-leaf complexions. When we were young, you were so much fairer.”
“I couldn’t help it, Daisy,” said the picture lady regretfully.
Lou and Tony are very fortunate to have a loyal Scottish nurse. “…Nanny worried more than ever, for she was aware that she would have to leave them soon, and what would happen to them, then? They did not need her as a nurse, for Lou was nearly eighteen, but they did need somebody to look after them and love them. “I’ll stay on as long as she’ll keep me, thought Nannie (“She” was Mrs. Melville, of course), and as a matter of fact, thought Nannie, I’m pretty useful to her. She’d notice a difference if I wasn’t here to look after things when she’s out.”
Like everyone else, Lou and Tony are growing up, and no longer in need of a nannie. What will happen to them?
Lou and Tony find marriage partners and as always, Stevenson makes her usual informative observations of human nature as portrayed within relationships:
“And that’s why I want to tell you,” said Robert firmly. “I married Antonia so that I could try to repair the damage done to her by you.”
“Robert, what do you mean!”
“We’re speaking quite frankly, aren’t we?”
“You seem to be!”
“I thought that was the idea.”
“But I don’t understand,” declared Lou. “Tonia and I have always adored each other!”
“You adored each other but not as equals. You made Antonia dependent upon you -“
“Robert, you must be mad!” cried Lou, who was completely taken aback at this reversal of the tables.
“You made her dependent upon you instead of trying to bring her forward and encouraging her to stand on her own feet, and then, quite suddenly, without the slightest warning, you went away and left her.”
“Listening Valley” follows mainly through the course of Tonia’s life, through war-time, meeting soldiers, gathering moss (yes, I did write that. Moss.) for first aid, and other happenings:
“Wonderful stuff,” said Miss Dunne. “They use it for front-line dressings because it’s so absorbent – sixteen times more absorbent than cotton wool – and because it’s full of iodine. They can’t get enough of it, really; they’re always shrieking for more. We get as much as we can, of course, but I could do with a lot more helpers. We go up the hill to the moor and wade about in bogs and gather great sacks of it.”
There is much to think about in this novel as the author takes us along on a journey of England during WW2 wartime.
Within the structure of the novel, the author not only explores human relationships and uncovers the resilience of humanity during war-time, but also is not afraid to ask questions that have plagued mankind for centuries:
“Love your neighbor, Jean,” said Miss Antonia again. I said, “We’ve to love our enemies, too, Miss Antonia.” So then she laughed and said, “Why not start with your neighbors? It’s easy enough to love your friends – even the devils do that – and it’s very difficult to love your enemies, but there are plenty of people in between who are neither the one nor the other to practise on and maybe when you’ve practised a bit you’ll get to loving your enemies.” She wasn’t one to preach, mind you. In fact that’s the only religious talk we ever had – if you call it religious – and maybe that was the reason I heeded it more than if the minister and said it….
…The war put me back a good bit.”
“Yes,” said Tonia. “I don’t wonder, really.”
“For to tell the truth,” said Mrs. Smilie seriously. “To tell the truth it’s difficult to believe that even the Almighty Himself could love Hitler and Goebbels and the rest of them.”
“It is difficult,” agreed Tonia.
“I asked the minister,” said Mrs. Smilie, nodding. “M’hm, you’ll maybe not believe I could be so brash, but he was in one day to see me and he took a cup of tea and suddenly it all came over me and I asked him straight out. “Mr. Torrance,” I said. ‘Will you tell me this, for it’s a trouble to me: does God love Hitler?”
“What did he say?” asked Tonia, hiding an involuntary smile.
“I could see he was put about,” replied Mrs. Smilie. “But he’s not one to be easily beaten, and off he went on a long tirade about the powers of good and the powers of evil fighting for a man’s soul, and he brought in bits of the Bible every now and then to show what he meant…”
Tonia’s life changes as she learns how to reach out and ‘love her neighbor’ by providing a home and rest place for soldiers:
“Tonia had asked some of the young officers to come in after dinner… Five of them came…
…it was midnight when they left. Tonia saw them off at the door.
“Come back soon,” she told them.
“it’s been a tremendous party.”
We must have another go at Old Witch.”
“The only thing is we never quite know….”
She watched them down the street, they were still talking and laughing, pranking like schoolboys, jockeying each other. Bob turned and waved, calling out, “So long, Tony?” and Tonia waved back.
“The only thing is we never quite know…” said Tonia to herself as she turned back into the house.
They never quite knew whether they would be able to come and play foolish games with her, or whether they would be spending the hours flying over enemy territory. They never quite knew whether, the next time she asked them, they would still be alive….and they were so friendly and natural….they were just boys.”
Well, without going into too much more detail, for those who haven’t yet read this one and are looking forward to their copy once January rolls around (comfort winter reading!), I will just say, that once again D.E. Stevenson has given us a novel that will absorb, entertain and provide long dark winter evenings with something to look forward to!