Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson

After reading The Secret History and feeling dirty every time I put it down, I knew I would need something much gentler, feel-good and escapist to help cleanse my sullied soul. Into the breach therefore stepped Miss Buncle’s Book, which I had been assured from various quarters was absolutely delightful and loveable and everything else a book should be. I had high hopes on opening it, especially as the endpapers, a beautiful pastel coloured print of a Vanessa Bell fabric design, sung of 1930s sun filled drawing rooms and afternoon tea on the lawn, which are always good associations upon which to begin a book.  By the end of the first page I knew I was in love, and despite sitting on a sweltering beach in Greece listening to the waves lapping the shore (sorry) whilst reading it, the descriptions of the characters and the setting was so convincing and endearing and atmospheric that I felt like I was back in England and walking the streets of D E Stevenson’s beautifully portrayed country village of Silverstream, home to Miss Buncle and her assorted rag bag of neighbours.

The basic premise is wonderful; poor overlooked and underappreciated Miss Buncle, a middle aged spinster who lives comfortably in Tanglewood Cottage with her maid Dorcas, relies on her dividends coming in regularly in order to live in the manner she has been accustomed to since childhood. It’s the early 1930’s, however;the Stock Market has taken a tumble, and Miss Buncle’s dividends have gone down with it. Finding herself with no income, and no feasible means to earn anything (hens have already been discounted), she decides to write a book. Unfortunately she believes herself to possess no imagination, and so she decides to simply write about what she knows; the goings on in Silverstream, and the characters of her various neighbours. However there is an added twist of a magical Golden boy who arrives in the latter half of the book, whose magic enables the inhabitants of Silverstream to cast off the shackles of respectability and live out their wildest dreams, imagined for them by Miss Buncle.

The book is duly written and published by the charming Mr Abbott, who hits upon the name of Disturber of the Peace for Miss Buncle’s incendiary volume, which soon becomes a national bestseller. However, once the book has penetrated Silverstream, and the villagers realise it is they that have been lampooned within its pages, all turns sour and they are determined to hunt down the traitor in their midst who has laid them all open to ridicule. Miss Buncle begins to panic as the overbearing lady of the manor Mrs Featherstone-Hogg, who takes real umbrage at her less than flattering portrayal as the bigoted busybody she is, threatens legal action and mobilises the local community to take action. Despite Miss Buncle admitting her authorship, no one will believe that the silly little spinster from Tanglewood Cottage could ever have written a book, and they insist in pointing the blame directly at the intelligent, no-nonsense ‘outsider’ of the village, Sarah, the Doctor’s wife, who also happens to be the only villager not mentioned in the book. However, when things turn nasty, Miss Buncle realises she has to put an end to all the trouble, and clear Sarah’s name, but how?

In the meantime, the book is doing its rounds amongst the villagers, and whether they recognise themselves in it or not, all of them are changed in some way by reading it. Confronted by their true natures in some cases, and by the things they wish they had the courage to do in others, love, adventure and change begin to sweep through the village, stirring their sleepy souls to achieve their dreams. Miss Buncle herself isn’t immune to the effects of her novel, which truly does disturb the peace of Silverstream, in many ways for the good of its inhabitants, for whom life will never be the same again. This is all thanks to the remarkable capacity for observation and deep understanding of others Miss Buncle has, which no one has ever bothered to realise before, prefering to pigeon hole her as a useless middle aged fool, when really, she has them all down to a tee, and understands them better than they understand themselves.

The book is filled with a great variety of hilarious and eccentric characters, from the pompous Mrs Featherstone-Hogg and her browbeaten husband, to the kindly and sensitive Dr Walker, the catty golddigger Vivien Greensleeves, old romantic Colonel Weatherfield, and the devoted lesbians Miss Pretty and Miss King, plus many more, all of whom come delightfully to life on the pages. The dialogue sparkles, the atmosphere is wonderfully cosy, like being wrapped up in a quilt with a hot water bottle on a cold winter’s day, and despite the threats of the Silverstream residents, you know that nothing bad is going to happen, and you can just sink into the soft and comforting world of Miss Buncle, content in the knowledge that all will work out for the best, and everyone who deserves one will have a perfectly happy ending. Miss Buncle herself is an inspiration; the perfect underdog, she is an example of how dreams can come true, and that you should never underestimate what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. I loved this book so much, and I only wish the irritatingly expensive, out of print sequel Miss Buncle Married had been included as part of the Persephone edition, because I so want to read more! Highly recommended for when you want to escape the world for a few hours – this will become a comfort reading classic for me. It’s the literary equivalent of a nice cup of tea and a sit down – just what you want after a hard day at work. Or, in my case, a hard day sunbathing. ;)

In other news I had the great pleasure of meeting Elaine of Random Jottings at the V&A today; what a lovely lady she is and we had a wonderful chat about books and life and all manner of things! It was so wonderful to finally get the chance to meet her and I do so love it when I meet people I know from online and find they are just as warm and funny and intelligent as they come across from their writing. Plus Elaine was so kind as to bring me her copy of Juliet Gardiner’s The Thirties, which is a real doorstopper and I can’t wait to read it – perfect background reading for all of the 1930′s fiction I’ve been reading of late!

Also, Penny of Life on the Cut Off is the lucky winner of Stone in a Landslide – congratulations!!

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50 comments

  1. This is such a coincidence, as I’ve just finished re-reading Miss Buncle’s Book today! I first read it, several times, many years ago and I love the story, but I’ve always had a problem with DE Stevenson’s way of writing. I feel she writes like a child and I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not! And why, oh why could her editor not have supplied full stops at the ends of sentences where she puts only commas (a mortal sin in writing, as far as I’m concerned. There are several ‘sentences’ which are actually three in one, divided by commas, which really jars on me. I spend a lot of my working life teaching pupils where sentences end!)
    However, her stories are sweet and charming and I try to overlook these faults. I loved re-reading it and I agree, I wish Miss Buncle Married were readily available. It’s so annoying to think that I had these two and The Two Mrs Abbotts years ago and gave them all to a charity shop! I could save a fortune on Persephones if only I’d known!

    1. How funny! Yes her writing is very simplistic – not much style there – but I didn’t mind that, because the story was simple, and fancy prose would have ruined the tone and the atmosphere I think. Oh gosh – D E Stevenson and I are of the same school of superfluous commas so I can’t comment on that!
      What a shame you gave those copies away! You were sitting on a fortune! It’s so frustrating that so many books like this are difficult to get hold of – I’m sure there are tons of unwanted copies lying around in houses where their value is not appreciated!

  2. What’s the cover meant to be? For a minute I thought there must be two books with this same title, and one of them was about imps in fairyland. :p

    1. Ha! It’s the ‘Golden Boy’ who wakes up the village in the second half of the book Miss Buncle writes. Rather odd, I know…but that’s what the cover of ‘Disturber of the Peace’ was supposed to look like so I suppose that’s where the book designer got that idea! I prefer my Persephone edition, I have to say!

  3. Miss Buncle’s Book is high up on my wish list after seeing only positive reviews. Having now read a couple of the Mrs Tim books, I adore D.E. Stevenson’s writing and am sure I will find Miss Buncle delightful! Let’s hope Persephone and Bloomsbury keep reissuing her novels as it is so difficult to find most of her works.

    Can’t wait to hear what you make of The Thirties. My library still hasn’t bought a copy and I’m becoming increasingly desperate to read it.

    1. I really want to read the Mrs Tim books too – ones to look out for as I now know I really enjoy her writing for its comfort value! I’m sure you’ll love Miss Buncle and I urge you to read it soon! I too am hoping for many more reissues – Miss Buncle Married especially. Hopefully reprints will also drive down the price of second hand copies, making them generally more available for us impoverished bibliophiles!

      It might take me a while to get through it, but I’ll be sure to report back when I’ve finished!

  4. This book is a family favorite. I read it at least once a year, for all the reasons you describe. In fact, one of my sisters and I, when are wardrobes need replenishing, we say that all we have is ‘coverings for the body,’ a Miss Buncle -ism.

    Miss Buncle Married is also good fun and there is a third, that takes place during the war. It’s called The Two Mrs. Abbotts. Good luck tracking it down!

    1. How wonderful that you’ve had it as a family treasure for so long…I wish I had discovered D E Stevenson earlier when her books weren’t so hard to get hold of! I’d love to get hold of the sequels but I think it will be a struggle to find reasonably priced copies unfortunately!

  5. As always, a perfectly lovely review, Rachel.

    Some of the Persephone titles make perfect summer reading and I think this one will have to make it into mine.

    Delighted that you had such an enjoyable time meeting Elaine; I was in the V&A last week but that was when you were on holiday.

    1. Thanks Claire! They do, don’t they – I know you will definitely enjoy this. I’ve just read the Persephone Forum’s latest post and now I want to dig out my dusty old copy of Mariana, as that truly does sound like perfect summer reading.

      Oh that’s a shame! I hope you had a good time!

      1. My thoughts exactly! Now I’m in a dilemma choosing between Miss Buncle’s Book and Mariana for my summer Persephone…

        I had a lovely time, thank you. The Grace Kelly exhibition was wonderful and my fashionista auntie was agog and inspired (she designs and makes a lot of her own and my baby cousin’s clothes; she replicated one of the evening dresses for a party she was going to last weekend!)

    2. You should read both Claire!

      Grace Kelly is a lovely exhibition – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I wish I was a fashionista type, and could make dresses…one day I want to take a course and learn and then make all of my own glamorous dresses!

  6. Ooh one of my favourites, and as Claire says, a fantastic review. I hear on a grapevine that Persephone are publishing the next Buncle book next year – isn’t that exciting?!

    And how lovely to meet the lovely Elaine :)

  7. Oh, my! I was just catching up on all your posts after a time away and there on the end was my name. Thank you so very much! I know I will enjoy Stone on a Landslide and am so excited to win it. A lovely surprise after your review.

    Mrs. Buncle’s Book sounds delightful and I can imagine sitting on a Grecian beach, waves lapping, townspeople twittering about back in Silverstream. Ahhhhhh!

    Again, thank you. A lovely surprise to return home to.

    1. You are so welcome Penny! I was delighted when your number came up on the random generator as I know you will really enjoy this. I’ll be sure to send it out this weekend.

      It really is delightful – I know you would love Miss Buncle’s Book!

    1. Oh thank you Penny! I fancied a change and this painting is just so fresh looking, I thought it would be perfect. I’m so glad you like it!

  8. Oh, Rachel…this sounds too wonderful!

    I’ve convinced a friend in our circle to give Persephone titles a try and a couple of weekends ago she was telling me just how much she loved this book. Miss Buncle is coming down from my shelf but sadly it will be read not in Greece but in Porta Backyarda…sigh.

    1. Darlene this would totally be up your street – I KNOW you will adore it. How wonderful one of your friends has fallen in love with Persephone…I haven’t managed to convert anyone yet!

  9. Well this is the ‘lovely’ but slightly overwhelmed at all the lovely compliments elaine here! a real pleasure to meet you at last Rachel and The Thirties will be my return on the tickets for the exhibitions both of which I enjoyed enormously.

    I loved the Miss Buncle books and hate to tell you this but I have Miss Buncle Married and the Two Mrs Abbots and my discovery of these copies was sheer luck. I was manning a bookstall at a fair organised by my sister in Leicestershire and sorting through the books came across a really battered old copy of the Two Mrs Abbots which I decided to take home, not knowing it was in anyway connected to Miss Buncle.

    Then a few weeks later a temporary bookshop opened in a corner of Colchester, only had a few months lease, and I was rummaging through a box of books there when I came across about nine DE Stevenson and among them Miss Buncle Married. I got them all for a fiver!

    I then checked out their prices on Amazon and nearly fainted….

    1. You deserve them all Elaine! I’m so glad you enjoyed the exhibitions and I am certain I will enjoy reading The Thirties just as much!

      Elaine you have had such luck with finding copies of hard to find books – I remember reading your tale of how you found all the L M Montgomery books in a box and bought them for a fiver – I went green with envy!

      At least you know you’re sitting on a fortune if you ever need to make some quick cash!

  10. Now I have no wish to make anyone jealous. I wouldn’t be so cruel! :) But I must ell you all that this morning, while searching for my Dorothy Whipples (I eventually found them! :) ) I came across ‘Miss Buncle Married’ in an upstairs bookcase!
    Did all you DES fans know that there is a Yahoo group, where they read and discuss her books? The people there are very nice.

  11. I have ‘found’ your blog by looking at Elaine’s blog, Random Jottings. I shall now order Miss Buncle’s Book – I’ve had this on the “shall I, shan’t I?” list for some time and I know I shall love it! I’ve read Elaine’s blog for some time, so now I shall add your blog to the list of Very Readable Blogs (I only look at a few blogs otherwise I’d never get anything else done!)
    Margaret P

    1. Hello Margaret, thanks so much for reading and I’m glad you want to keep reading my blog – what a lovely compliment!

      I’m so pleased Miss Buncle’s Book is going to shortly be in your possession – I’m certain you’ll love it as you’d have to be very hard hearted not to!

  12. Just to add to Verity’s note, yes, Nicola Beauman of Persephone books told us at the Miss Buncle’s Book/Persephone/Dessies Tea in Edinburgh last month that MBB is going into its 3rd printing (having sold out the first 2) and that Miss Buncle Married is planned for Persephone’s list.

    The Tea was arranged by Persephone when members of the Dessies (the yahoo group Geraldine provided a link for) from 4 countries/2 continents gathered in Edinburgh for a D E Stevenson gathering (which may give you a hint as to what avid fans we are).

    One other note: The Two Mrs. Abbotts (3rd in the series) has the full text only in the hardback version. For reasons known only to the Fontana editors, the paperback editions have some chunks removed, though most of the text is intact and an abridged paperback is better than no Mrs. Abbotts at all.

    1. Oh how exciting! Thanks for confirming that Susan!

      How wonderful that so many of you from around the world have been brought together by your love of D E Stevenson! The power of books to unite people never ceases to amaze me!

      That’s good to know about the Fontana editions – I was tempted to snap one up a while back but I’m glad I didn’t as I hate knowing I’ve missed something!

  13. Everything I’ve heard about this book has been good and I am saving it when I need a good gentle read. The bad thing is reading a book like this and then wanting to read more of the author’s work when it is OOP–very disappointing not to get your hands on it! By the way–very cool you were able to meet Elaine. I’m so envious that lots of British bloggers seem able to meet up–I don’t think I live anywhere close enough to anyone here in the US. And looking forward to hearing about The Thirties–I’d be interested in getting my hands on that as well–maybe it will be published over here sometime soon.

    1. Yes, it’s definitely a book for when you are in desperate need of a cosy read, and after you’ve initially read it, I think it will become one you go back to time and again for a pick-me-up. That’s so true though and I feel the same about many Persephone books – I always want to explore the authors further and then sadly realise how difficult to find their other titles are, and expensive too! Oh well, it makes second hand book shops more exciting when you have more names to search for at potentially bargain prices!

      It was lovely meeting Elaine, I am lucky to be in London which is easy for many bloggers to get to even if they don’t live here. It’s a shame you have none near you – the US is so big I suppose it’s difficult to organise meet ups and things. You might be waiting a while for my thoughts on The Thirties – it’s easily 1000 pages long!!!

    1. Sadly that’s not my edition, but the first edition, whose cover I thought was so lovely it would be a shame not to show it! I should think that copy would be worth several hundred pounds!

      I hope you do read it one day Claire!

  14. It’s interesting to me that Persephone is now publishing Miss Buncle. I came across Persephone some years ago (I live in the US), loved their books, and recommended Miss Buncle to them. I got a nice note back saying that they knew about the book but it wasn’t something they wanted to add to their catalogue – at least not then. I’m glad the timing was right for them to bring it out.

    A great ’30s book that is nonfiction is “Orchids on Your Budget – Living well on what have You”. I believe the author’s name is Hillyer. It’s about how to construct a budget that pays the bills for all your necessities but which allows for the luxuries that matter to you, whatever they are. Essentially, be frugal in the things that don’t matter so much to you so you have money for the things you like. She was writing mostly for women who were poorer because of the Depression, and for single women too. She also wrote a book called, “Live Alone and Like It,” and some others.

    “Orchids on Your Budget” is dated in some ways but very fresh and vivid and practical in others. It’s an American book so who knows if it made it across the pond.

    1. Hi Judy, thanks for reading and commenting – it’s always lovely to hear from someone new!

      How interesting! Perhaps you planted the seed there…I’m very glad you mentioned Miss Buncle to Persephone as I know I would never have found it otherwise.

      Those books look spectacular! I just looked them up on amazon and they were both recently republished in smart matching paperbacks by Virago. I will be asking for them for Christmas, seeing as living alone and being poor sum me up perfectly! Thank you for mentioning them!

    2. I had exactly the same experience, Judy. I have always loved MBB and MBM. My granny owned them both (along with other such riches as all the Jalna books and piles of Daphne du Maurier!). I work just around the corner from the Persephone bookshop and emailed Nicola Beauman a few years back to recommend Miss Buncle. I received a nice but perhaps slighly snooty note back saying that she felt Miss Buncle was just a little bit too run of the mill for Persephone…bet she is eating her words now it’s in its third printing! I have an old hardback copy of Miss Buncle Married but have never come across The Two Mrs Abbotts…something to look out for in second-hand bookshops or at the village fete.

  15. I’ve just finished Miss Buncle Married and loved it! And I can confirm that Persephone is going to reprint it next year — I recently read Miss Buncle and Miss Pettigrew, and I loved them both so much I emailed Persephone and begged them to publish more. They were kind enough to respond and confirm that they would be publishing Miss Buncle Married next year!

    And hopefully we can persuade them to publish The Two Mrs. Abbots. . . luckily I was able to request a copy via ILL and won’t have to wait that long.

  16. From what I heard at the Moffat Book Events release of Miss Buncle Married, it seems fairly likely that The Two Mrs Abbotts is on Persephone’s schedule for sometime in the next year or two.

    Did any of you get to the Greyladies release of two never before published D.E. Stevenson books, The Fair Miss Fortune is one title? Greyladies is a small publisher based in Edinburgh. The release of the “New” DEStevenson books took place May 7, 2011. I am eagerly waiting my copies which should be “in the post”.

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