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REVIEW: Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson

Dear Readers,

“Miss Buncle Married” takes up nine months after the close of “Miss Buncle’s Book” with Barbara Buncle now happily married to her publisher Arthur Abbott. They live fairly blissfully in Arthur’s house near London with the only blot on their happiness being the tiresome round of social obligations both finally admit to each other they find boring. Barbara also dislikes the odd married couple who have done for Arthur all these years but who despise her. Arthur’s solution – that they move to a nice place in the country with a garden and lawns and trees – is genius. Barbara starts the hunt for their perfect place which ends when she discovers a (frankly) derelict wreck of a house in Wandlebury. Barbara sees in it the house of her dreams while her husband sees only a disaster. But they get it cheap and if it makes Barbara happy, Arthur is satisfied.

After intense months of chivvying workmen and charwomen, the house is finally ready and the Abbotts move house to their little slice of English village heaven. Quiet Barbara is flowering out of her shell (I know that makes no sense) as a married woman but she hasn’t abandoned her habit of watching the people around her and succinctly limning their personalities and quirks in her mind. Just as in her former residence, she finds an abundance of interesting – and sometimes annoying – people upon whom to practice her skills.

miss-buncle-marriedThings get personal when Arthur’s nephew Sam begins to spend some weekends with them and meets a local woman named Jerry about whose family Barbara knows more than she wants. Seeing a match in the making, Barbara is forced to exert all her ingenuity to slow it down for reasons she has promised not to reveal. The itching to write has also overcome her much to her loyal maid Dorcas’s distress as Miss Barbara – sorry, Mrs. Abbott – tends to get obsessed at these times. Arthur loves the book but Barbara fears that if it’s published, she and Arthur will have to do another runner when the people of Wandlebury suss themselves out in the characters of her novel. Sam and Jerry’s relationship also worries Barbara enough to meddle in it frightfully. Will everything come right in the end or will the situation blow up in Barbara’s face?

Much of what I enjoyed in the first novel is here again. The little details of life in the 1930s and the – at least as it’s portrayed – more innocent viewpoint of the world flow through the story. Barbara’s search for a house yields a delightful short monologue on the idiosyncrasies of English villages, of village solicitors, of The Archway House that the Abbotts buy and of Barbara’s efforts to bring it back to life. How delightful that Arthur gives her a free hand about everything. I also enjoyed watching the two of them together. They have a solid, comfortable love for each other that glows like a cozy fire on a cool evening. They respect each other as well and though their relationship might baffle young Sam – imagine crusty old (he’s 43) Uncle Arthur getting married at his age?? – I get a feel for the deep affection between them despite not only a closed bedroom door but one that’s practically not mentioned.

This is still a world with governesses for middle class families though there are inklings about how hard and lonely the lives of those governesses could be. The winds of change are blowing through Wandlebury as evidenced by the fact that Jerry supports herself with her business but also in the servant problems Jerry has – a 2 mile walk to the nearest cinema and having to light oil lamps in a house with no electricity have lost her 4 maids thus far. The Abbotts also have some bizarre, free thinking neighbors – he’s an artist, you know, and she’s just an odd duck all around. And the local Lady at the Stately House has some strange ideas regarding matrimony. Barbara captures most of it in her manuscript which it pains Arthur to vehemently talk (they try not to argue) with her about how to change some of it so she isn’t outted again. This time around, there’s more insight into what drives Barbara as an author and I can’t help but think this was Stevenson’s own viewpoint and experiences peeking through.

Once again, Barbara captures the people around her on the pages of her manuscript and her shrewd insight into their lives is – pretty much – on track. And where it isn’t, well it’s probably for the best. Yet there are scenes here that I hate to say I found boring and wondered at the time spent on them. The children of their neighbors get lots of page space but frankly I found them the little savages that Arthur does. In the first book, the oddities of her fellow villagers are described to show how Barbara saw them and used them in her novel. Here there are things described, such as one child’s sort of OCD personality and strange dreams that Barbara didn’t see or knew nothing about and thus that wouldn’t have even made it into her novel. And the frankly strange things these children do and their interpersonal relationships also don’t appear in Barbara’s third book effort. So…why did Stevenson include them in the book? To shine a light on modern child raising of the time?

There’s also one character I didn’t like from the beginning. Each appearance of his made me dislike him more and no amount of familial loyalty or dismissing of his actions excused the fact that he was a little ass. Yet in the end, he gets rewarded and his previous actions white washed. The loyalty of most of Britain for the Royal Family leads to a tedious chapter as well.

It was nice to watch Barbara continue to grow and mature. The fact that she finally has some people in her life who acknowledge it and appreciate it is icing on the cake. But there are incidences and sections of the book which dragged or felt superfluous. The window into a long passed world is fun to look through even if I didn’t enjoy the view of every room in the house. B-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. Throwmearope
    Nov 20, 2012 @ 15:22:24

    Nice trip down memory lane. I read every D.E. Stevenson I could get my hands on back in the day.

    Thanks for the nice review.

    Any Elizabeth Caddells that you’ve reviewed?

  2. Jayne
    Nov 20, 2012 @ 15:50:33

    @Throwmearope: Hmm, no. I’ve never heard of her. Should I hang my head in shame? What types of books does (did?) she write?

  3. bookfan
    Nov 20, 2012 @ 22:08:27

    I bought Miss Buncle’s Book based on your review here and thought it was adorable. This review makes me want to buy this as well. Over the past year, I have read a bunch of books published in the 10s, 20s, and 30s because I love that time in history but there are so few romances published today that are set in that time period. There have been some clunkers of course but several have been really enjoyable. In particular, as you point out in this review, you really get a feeling for the period when you read fiction that is set in the same time period it is being published in.

  4. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 05:04:45

    @bookfan: I’m so glad you liked “Miss Buncle.” It is a darling book. We’ve reviewed some other 1930s things here that you might like. http://dearauthor.com/tag/1930s/

    You also might want to check out the mysteries that MM Kaye wrote. I’ve only read 2 of them so far but both have romances and both have been steeped in period feel. http://dearauthor.com/book-author/mm-kaye-2/

  5. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 09:02:50

    Sourcebooks plans to reissue another of Stevenson’s books, “Young Clementina” next July. Based on how much I’ve enjoyed these two, I hope they’ll continue with more.

  6. Germaine
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 10:36:57

    Thanks for reviewing another of D. E. Stevenson’s books. I always enjoyed her books and still have a lot of them on my shelves. I pull them out every couple of years for a well deserved re-read. It’s nice to read about normal people who have normal problems and solve them without a whole lot of drama. Her books dealing with life up to and during World War Two are worth reading. Amberwell was especially good. It’s about life in the country during the war, and there’s a chapter about bringing a little baby from London to the village after his mother is killed during the Blitz. The description of the night time train trip is harrowing.

    Elizabeth Caddell’s books are written in much the same style as D. E. Stevensons, but they’re set more in the 1950′s – 1970′s. Some of them deal with the life of ex-pat British living in Portugal. Those are my favorites.

  7. mbg1968
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 11:29:07

    Thanks for recommending these books. I read them both on the positive review here and enjoyed the discovery!

  8. Solange Ayre
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 12:41:01

    I love many of D.E. Stevenson’s books, but the Buncle books are two of my favorites. Note that “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” directly follows this one. “The Four Graces” is also connected as it follows one of the characters and is set in Wandlebury. I’ve been able to find most of Stevenson’s books at various local libraries; luckily there are a few nearby that keep older novels.

  9. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 13:24:17

    @Solange Ayre: I would love to get my hands on a copy of “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” but the prices! Some used copies of her books are reasonable but others are outrageous. And I’m not sure many libraries near me would have them.

  10. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 13:25:10

    @mbg1968: You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed them.

  11. Throwmearope
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 08:21:12

    @Jayne:

    Caddell wrote romance, some romantic suspense, lighthearted, but a tad more realistic than D.E. Stevenson. Sorry for the delay in the reply.

    Keep on reviewing, I enjoy reading them.

  12. Shaheen
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 09:49:37

    There are quite a few of Stevenson’s novels on Audible, including The Two Mrs. Abbots, if you don’t mind listening to them.

  13. Amy Kathryn
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 13:44:24

    I agree with you, Jayne, about this sequel. It was slow in parts but I still enjoyed it. I put in a request for interlibrary loan of The Two Mrs. Abbotts since I am not ready to leave Barbara to her own devices yet.

    I am going to look into the MM Kaye mysteries.

  14. Jayne
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 18:14:45

    @Throwmearope: Are there any titles you’d recommend to start with?

  15. Jayne
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 18:16:23

    @Shaheen: Ah, I’ll look into that. Thanks for the information.

  16. Throwmearope
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 07:54:07

    I think The Corner Shop is my all time favorite Caddell. The hero is very believable, cantankerous, whiny, but honorable and intelligent. The heroine isn’t nineteen, but the HEA doesn’t seem like she’s settling for the hero. I’d like to see your take on it.

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  18. Mia
    Jan 29, 2014 @ 19:30:03

    I recently discovered D.E. Stevenson and have read everything of hers I can get my hands on! It’s not easy to get her books through my local libraries. I’m especially wanting Mrs. Tim Carries On, but it’s a pricey rare book. Hoping to stumble upon it on a used book sale one of these days! It’s interesting how Stevenson’s plots can be a little disjointed, but the characters are always delightful. I highly recommend Mrs. Tim of The Regiment.

  19. Jayne
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 02:27:40

    @Mia: I have my fingers crossed that all of her out-of-print books will eventually be released. It might be the only way I can afford them either!

  20. Emilia
    Apr 06, 2014 @ 19:08:14

    I noticed you didn’t mention Jerry’s brother, who was the reason for a lot of trouble for Jerry on Barbara’s side. While I loved Miss Buncle, this book was quite annoying. There were some annoying characters, like the Marvell children. But one of the most irritating features of this book is the constant repetitions. For example: “”For Heaven’s sake, stop it!” he said, trying to speak quietly. “For Heaven’s sake, stop it, Dorcas!” Or here: “Oh, well,” said Jerry, smiling adoringly at her masterful young man, “Oh, well […].” Or this example: “If it’s Crichton,” said Sam grimly, and he rose to his feet, “if it’s Crichton […].” And this: “The beastly coward!” said Sam, angrily. “The beastly coward […].” After hundreds of these repetitions, I was ready to throw the book at the wall—since Mr. Stevenson was not available! It boggles my mind that Stevenson could be so brilliant at times, then go on an on with some silly, tiresome description. There was one character I wish had been developed: that of old Mrs. Thane. She had some very good lines, full of wisdom! I just finished “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” and loved it. If you enjoy Miss Buncle Married, I think you’ll love this. (PS: It is interesting to notice that if PC was already ruling the world then, the books would probably be called “Ms. Buncle’s Book” and “Ms. Buncle, Married”—which would make them ridiculous, since the woman was clearly not married in the first—Miss, therefore—and then she married her editor—becoming naturally Mrs. Abbott!)

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