Caroline Dering has three children: a son James, who is in Malaya for the British Foreign Service, and two daughters. Her husband has passed on, and Caroline is now responsible for the family. She seems a happy and content soul in this cosy read of D.E. Stevenson’s, set in a small English village, but like all characters in a well-written novel, she has a few problems of her own…her identity has been first swallowed up by a selfish and demanding husband, and secondly by her own children.
“Caroline’s daughters did not know her of course. They loved her but they had no idea what she was like. She was their mother. She had always been the same and always would be. They accepted the fact that she was interested in their affairs, but it had never occurred to them that she might be interested in herself or that they might be interested in her. They had grown up from babyhood with her image before them so they never looked at it.”
Caroline married young, partly for security, and partly to please her parents.
“She was grateful to him…so Caroline had said “yes” to Arnold Dering and had done her level best to make him a good wife. She had sunk her whole personality to be Arnold’s wife but even that was not enough, he was still unsatisfied…. he took everything and still wanted more. Sometimes Caroline had felt that a woman of stronger, tougher fibre might have made a better wife for Arnold, a woman who could have stood up to him and remained a whole person….”
However, Caroline is well liked and admired by almost all of her friends and finds time to reach out to those who are needier than herself.
“It was important to Caroline to do things right, to do whatever she did to the best of her ability. She saw beauty in ordinary little things and took pleasure in it (and this was just as well because she had had very little pleasure in her life). She took pleasure in a well-made cake, a smoothly ironed napkin, a pretty blouse, laundered and pressed; she liked to see the garden well dug, the rich soil brown and gravid; she loved her flowers.
When you are young you are too busy with yourself – so Caroline thought – you haven’t time for ordinary little things but, when you leave youth behind, your eyes open and you see magic and mystery all around you: magic in the flight of a bird, the shape of a leaf, the bold arch of a bridge against the sky, footsteps at night and a voice calling in the darkness, the moment in a theatre before the curtain rises, the wind in the trees, or (in winter) and apple-branch clothed with pure white snow and icicles hanging from a stone and sparkling with rainbow colors.”
(You can see from the above descriptions why I have found a new favorite character in D.E. Stevenson’s novels!) Like all of us, Caroline Dering certainly has her faults; one of them being, she seems wishy washy at times! She is unable to stand up for herself or to make her children toe the line…but she is nonetheless, she is a very appealing character!
One day a stranger finds Caroline picking blackberries. Robert is recovering from the shock of losing his own family due to wartime bombing in London. He is in need of healing, some good friends, and time to recover. He finds it all in Ashbridge, and in Caroline’s circle of friends and family.
“One morning when Caroline got up and looked out of her window she felt a distinct nip in the air…the sun was rising from behind Cock Hill amongst banks of golden-lined clouds but the rest of the sky was a clear pale blue. Winter was coming but Caroline did not mind winter now. She had dreaded it when Arnold was alive.
“There’s gorgeous sunshine in Egypt,” Arnold would say. “Do you realise that, Caroline? Now, at this very moment when this wretched country is shrouded in fog there are places where the sun is shining.” He would shiver ostentatiously and add, “If it were not for the children and this ridiculous little house, hanging round our necks like a millstone, you and I could be basking in gorgeous sunshine.”
These complaints and others of the same kind used to distress Caroline – in fact they frightened her – for she felt it was wrong to complain of the children and the house. Supposing they were taken away! Supposing some awful fate befell the children and the house went on fire and was burnt to the ground! Fortunately the Powers that Be were kind and had not listened to Arnold.”
For someone who married as young and innocently as Caroline Dering had, it is surprising to see how mature she is and how well she handles adversity. However, she cannot prevent it from occurring in the lives of her children… but luckily, Caroline has a sister, Harriet.
Harriet, Caroline’s sister, is a successful actress who isn’t afraid to make her opinions known. Harriet helps Caroline to escape from her demanding household by almost forcing Caroline to visit her in London; Harriet talks some sense into Leda, and Harriet begins to strike up a friendship with Robert. But, wait! Caroline likes Robert too. Can two very different, but mutually admiring sisters, survive the competition of a love interest? Will their relationship survive or will jealousy and envy rule the day?
“I’ve thought a lot about happiness,” Caroline continued. “Perhaps because I saw what unhappiness did to Arnold. I’ve sometimes thought, supposing everybody – every single person – decided to do their level best to make one small corner of the world happier. Would that help?” She spread out a wrinkled pillow-slip as she spoke and smoothed it skilfully.
“Like that,” he said.
She smiled. “You mean ironing out the wrinkles. That’s easy.”
“If you know how.”
“I know how to iron out wrinkles,” she admitted, folding the linen carefully. “If everybody did what they could…made a little happiness here and there, just to start with….and then the circles would spread until they touched and merged.”
Caroline helps her housekeeper, Comfort, ‘iron out the wrinkles’ in her own life. Caroline is not like some who can afford to have a housekeeper; she is not too snobby to care about the trials in the lives of those whom she employs. Comfort is devoted to Caroline, but she doesn’t get along with Caroline’s daughter, Leda.
Leda does not seem to possess the redeeming qualities that her mother has; Leda has no time to appreciate the lesser things in life. She seems to live for her own comfort; she likes attention, and especially, her own way. The one good thing that happens to Leda is that she becomes engaged to someone who is just as selfish as she herself is….but can two selfish people make a successful marraige?
Vittoria Cottage has become one of my most favorite of Stevenson’s novels!
“One moment it was a cold grey afternoon and the next moment it was gloaming. The lights sprang up in the village, first one and then another – then three – four – seven – ten – until nearly every little cottage boasted a square of faint amber light and the village was no longer a bleak, deserted, cowering village but a whole encampment of little homes…warm comfortable homes with tea laid out upon their kitchen tables and a friendly kettle singing on the hob. Caroline’s own lights were especially welcoming. She saw them from afar off and hastened her steps.
Tea was ready in the drawing room, the fire was burning brightly and the curtains were drawn…”