Review 1854: The Weather at Tregulla

Una Beaumont (again, the publishers got the name wrong on the cover) is 19 and very much still a sulky teenager. She finds her home in a small Cornish village to be absolutely boring. Her father, Captain Beaumont, had promised her that she could live in London and study to be an actress. However, her mother has unexpectedly died and her money was entailed, so the Captain can no longer afford to send Una. Even her distraught father notices that she is more upset by this than by her mother’s death.

The weather in Tregulla is tumultuous, at least in regard to several love affairs. Una meets Terrence Willows, an artist leasing a cottage in the neighborhood, and his sister Emmeline. Terrence is a bit of a bounder, but Una immediately falls in love with him. Emmeline has the kind of looks admired by Una’s friend Barnabas, and she has in fact moved to the area in hopes of getting him to marry her, even though she hadn’t met him before. She is tired of the chaotic existence of her brother and his friends, but when she thinks of Barnabas, she always thinks of his parents’ estate first. Barnabas, although believing he is cautious, is smitten. Finally, his brother Hugo is in love with Una.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to like this novel as well as I did others by Gibbons. I didn’t like Una, and the novel has several more unlikable characters. However, Gibbons is a great storyteller and satirist, and her characters are believably written. Further, some of them improve, particularly Una.

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Review 1849: Much Dithering

Jocelyn Renshawe is a young widow who has always done what is expected of her, that expectation arising from two older ladies, Mrs. Pallfrey, her aunt, and the Honourable August Renshawe, her mother-in-law. She leads a quiet life, mostly doing good works. At the beginning of the novel, she is about to suffer a visit from her mother, Ermyntrude.

Ermyntrude is the most selfish being in this novel, which is full of them. She finds her daughter a bore, and her only reason for visiting her is because she is what Lambert calls a “baby-stealer” and what we would call a cougar. She is interested in cementing her affair with Adrian Murchison-Bellaby, whose parents have just taken a house near the village of Much Dithering, where Jocelyn lives. Ermyntrude wants to show Adrian’s parents how suitable she would be as a wife. However, when Adrian meets Jocelyn, Ermytrude is unable to see that he falls in love with her daughter.

In a thunderstorm on the way back from one of her good deeds, Jocelyn accepts a ride from a stranger who is having trouble finding Much Dithering. He is Gervase Blyth, who has unexplained business in the area.

Soon, Jocelyn unaccountably has three men in love with her. But the one she prefers is most likely to force her out of her protective shell.

It’s not very hard to guess the outcomes of this entertaining light novel, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read. Its characters’ foibles are all too human, but still funny. This was a perfect light read for me from my Classics Club list.

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Review 1755: The Snow-Woman

For nearly half a century, Maude Barrington has been grieving for her three brothers who died in World War I. To the rest of the world she has been cold, letting friendships fall away, living with just her maid Millie, and having just a few neighbor acquaintances.

Then one day, an old frenemy, Lionel Crozier, invites himself to tea. Thinking of him as malicious, Maude doesn’t know what to expect but is not surprised when he arrives with a hugely pregnant young woman from a lower class named Teddie Parker. Soon, the girl begins to give birth on Maude’s couch.

Once Teddie has been dispatched to the hospital, Lionel tells Maude he wants her to come to France, where an old friend, Charles, a famous expert on modern art, is dying. Although Maude has done nothing for years, she agrees to go, and thus begins a kind of opening up, where she reconciles with old friends.

This experience continues when she arrives home and gets more involved, through Millie, with Teddie and her family. The result is the revelation of long-held secrets and a new life for Maude.

Although I wondered why Maude wasn’t curious about how Lionel knew Teddie or why he would have brought her to Maude’s house, and although I also wondered at some point where the novel was going, it turned out to be thoroughly satisfying and heart-warming. Another win for Gibbons.

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Review 1721: Winter and Rough Weather

According to the Foreword of Winter and Rough Weather, it is related to two other books by D. E. Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage and Music in the Hills. It has been a long time since I read Vittoria Cottage, and none of the characters in Winter and Rough Weather rang a bell. I finally had to look up my old review to find the link between the two is James, who is a minor character in this novel.

Jock and Mamie Johnstone are preparing for the arrival of their nephew, James Dering Johnstone, and his bride Rhoda. James and Rhoda will be occupying Boscath, the farm adjoining the Johnstone’s Mureth, except separated by a river that can at times be raging.

Rhoda has abandoned a promising career as an artist to marry James and at first finds herself unhappy in their remote farm that doesn’t have a telephone and can be cut off by weather. After a while, though, she makes friends in the area and begins painting again and teaching a promising youngster named Duggie, who is the son of Lizzie, the Mureth cook.

This novel has a firm sense of place in the border country of southern Scotland and has a host of mostly likable characters. It is about everyday post-war life there, although it has a few subplots—Adam and Nan Forrester, the village doctor and his sister, both have unhappy love affairs. The neighboring farm to Mureth, Tassieknowe, has been bought by a rich man whom everyone dislikes and who is running his farm poorly.

I enjoyed this novel and mean to look for the other one, Music in the Hills, which I believe comes before this one.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1710: Classics Club Spin Result! The Woods in Winter

I might have saved The Woods in Winter for a chillier time of year, but its number was chosen for me for the latest Classics Club spin. It’s a lovely tale.

Ivy Gover (not Gower, as it says on the back cover of my Furrowed Middlebrow edition), three times a widow and a charwoman, is living in a tidy but small North London flat when she receives a letter. Not being able to read well, she takes it to her employer, Miss Helen Green, who tells her she has inherited her great-uncle’s cottage out in Buckinghamshire for her lifetime.

Ivy abruptly moves to the country but not before stealing a neighbor’s dog that she has heard barking for months and finds living in its own dirt. Although the cottage is primitive and has a hole in its thatch, she moves right in and begins befriending the local animals. For she has a touch with wild things and for healing, as Lord Gowerville finds out when she magically cures his dying dog. The next day, he sends someone over to fix the thatch in her roof.

As Ivy befriends the birds, a fox, and eventually a boy, her neighbors also have their adventures. The vicar is suddenly taken with Pearl Cartaret, one of two sisters who open a tea shop. Helen is sometimes nearby pursuing an affair with an elusive young man. Angela Mordaunt, a “spinster” brought up by her mother more as a well-bred boy than a girl, catches the eye of Sam Lambert, a kind farm laborer.

This novel was the last one published (in 1970) during Stella Gibbons’ lifetime and displays a longing for the England of 40 years before, when most of it is set. I just loved it. It is funny yet astringent, has some engaging and other very lifelike characters, and contains lyrical descriptions of the countryside around Ivy’s cottage as well as a conservationist conclusion. Ivy herself is a spunky individualist. I liked her a lot.

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Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

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Review 1621: Bewildering Cares

Camilla Lacely has been asked by a friend to tell her more about her life in a letter, so she decides to keep a diary for a week. Aside from daily entries, though, this diary reads more like a first-person narrative.

Camilla is the wife of a vicar running a household on very little money, attempting to attend numerous meetings every day, and trying to help parishioners so they don’t all bother her husband with concerns as silly as what the railroad schedule is. Her cares range from how to afford a new hat to how to provide dinner for an unexpected visit by the archdeacon to how to be more attentive to her religious thoughts and prayers.

This novel is touching and amusing, although I occasionally found it bewildering. As an unreligious American from another time, I didn’t always understand the references or jokes. Because of its focus on religion, I had more difficulty with it than with other novels from this period.

The novel does have a plot. It concerns the furor of the village residents when the unbending, self-righteous curate gives a sermon preaching pacifism. Since this novel takes place in the early days of World War II and many villagers have relatives in the war, this sermon causes an uproar.

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Review 1614: A Pink Front Door

Stella Gibbons’s books always start out seeming to be froth, but there is an edge to them, I’ve found. Still, she handles her characters’ foibles with compassion.

In A Pink Front Door, her heroine, Daisy Muir, is engaging, but she has one big flaw. She tends to make the problems of a set of misfits her own, much to the discomfort of her husband, James. At the beginning of the novel, she’s trying to keep one silly friend, Molly, from running after men, in particular an Eastern European refugee named Tibbs, who keeps losing both jobs and his lodging. Lodging is difficult to find in post-war London, and the next thing Daisy knows, she has Don, a man she barely remembers from Oxford, at her front door. Don and Katie and their three young children have just lost their lodgings, and Don hopes Daisy can help.

Daisy remembers “little Katie” from university, the most promising student of her year. Later, Katie reflects that she became stupid with love and made only a poor third. Don, however, is only a few months from finally taking his exams to qualify as a chemist, and Katie hopes to find a quiet place where he can work. If he passes, he can take a good job and they can begin a better life, but until now, they have been living in cramped, noisy, unpleasant quarters.

Daisy thinks of a former neighbor and friend of her father, Mrs. Cavendish, a horrible snob who has an entire upper floor free. Mrs. Cavendish, like many of the upper classes, has fallen on comparatively hard times and has lost her last servant. She agrees that the family can move in but insists that the hard-pressed Katie spend some time every day cleaning in exchange for the low rent that is all they can afford. The house is inconvenient. Katie must haul all their water and coal upstairs. It is also not laid out for children. But it is quiet, and Don is finally able to work.

While Daisy is embroiled in the difficulties of her friends’ lives, Molly has homed in on James and has begun dropping by Daisy’s house especially when Daisy isn’t there, making tea for James and babysitting James Too. James himself, usually tolerant of Daisy’s projects, has begun to lose his patience.

Gibbons has an eye for social follies and foibles, and she employs it here with effect. I enjoyed this novel and was touched by its conclusion.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1604: The Stone of Chastity

The Stone of Chastity is a bit of comic froth, poking fun at small village life. It is a farrago of nonsense populated by eccentric characters.

Nicholas Pounce is a recent Oxford graduate who has yet to find a purpose in life and isn’t trying very hard to find one. So, his uncle, Professor Pounce, announces that Nicholas can be his unpaid research assistant in a special project.

Professor Pounce has found an intriguing reference to folklore in an old diary. It asserts that there is a stone in a brook in the village of Gillenham, the Stone of Chastity. If a chaste woman steps on it, she can get across the brook, but if an unchaste woman steps on it, she will fall into the water. Note that no one seems to be testing the men.

When Nicholas and his mother arrive at the Old Manor in Gillenham, the house the professor has taken, they find Professor Pounce already in residence along with a sultry beauty, Carmen Smith, whose presence is unexplained.

The first thing Professor Pounce does is make up a questionnaire and have Nicholas distribute it throughout the village. Although the professor asks if people have heard about the stone, he also asks about the recipients’ chastity and seems unable to understand that the villagers may be offended.

They are, and a lot of resentment begins to build, especially among the cohorts of Mrs. Pye, an angry and fanatical Nonconformist. Also offended is the vicar’s wife, who has the Boy Scouts collect all the surveys and destroy them. The professor only gets one back, but it contains electrifying information: not only has the recipient heard of the Stone of Chastity, she has it in her scullery!

I have to admit this novel is funny, although much of its humor is slightly politically incorrect these days. It is funny enough that even this recap is making me laugh. Aside from the silly subject matter, it pokes fun at the rustic villagers as well as the researchers, although it bases a lot of its humor on class.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1581: Somewhere in England

When I received a review copy of Somewhere in England from Furrowed Middlebrow, I realized that it was a sequel. So, I ordered the previous book, the delightful Nothing to Report, to read and review first.

To introduce the plot of Somewhere in England, I have to include a spoiler or two for the previous book. The novel begins with 18-year-old Pippa Johnson, who is about to take a position in a war hospital established in the family home of Mary Morrison, the main character of the previous book. In between novels, Mary Morrison married Kit Hungerford, who had purchased her family home. Now, Mary Hungerford is administering the hospital.

The first part of the novel has to do with Pippa meeting the hospital staff and villagers. It is more concerned with the social side of things than the war work as we meet familiar characters again. Elisabeth, who made her debut the summer of 1939 in the previous book, is a nurse whose fiancé has died, and she is rude to young Pippa. Lalage is friendly and will make a good nurse, but her sister Rosemary and mother Marcelle continue with their selfish ways. Most people, though, are occupied with some kind of war work.

The second part of the novel returns to the point of view of Mary, who is constantly dealing with difficult situations all the while worried for her husband overseas.

I enjoyed this novel, but it is hard to describe. It was fun to revisit the characters of Nothing to Report and see how they’re doing during the war. I think that as a sequel it stands well enough alone, but my enjoyment was enhanced by having read Nothing to Report first.

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