Miss Buncle Married

In D. E. Stevenson’s novel, Miss Buncle’s Book (linked to my review), Barbara Buncle is a quiet single lady in 1930s England who needs to make some money. So she writes a book about what she knows–her neighbors. She changes their names and some of their activities. Her book becomes a best-seller. But some of her neighbors recognize themselves and their town. And some of them are determined to find out who is behind the pseudonym “John Smith.”

At the end of that book (spoiler alert), Miss Buncle marries her publisher, Arthur Abbott. They move to Hampstead Heath, away from the heat caused by Barbara’s book.

Miss Buncle Married opens with the newlywed couple enjoying married life, but not the city. They’re expected to be out almost every night, playing bridge with friends and attending events. They long for a quieter home life. So Barbara starts looking at houses in the country.

Barbara finds the house of her dreams in Wandlebury. Arthur isn’t sure about the fixer-upper. But Barbara has everything redone nicely, and they love their new home.

It’s not long before they meet their new neighbors. The pastor’s wife who loves to gossip, thinking it gives her and “in” with her neighbors, when really they hold her at arm’s length because they don’t want to become her subjects. A large, temperamental artist, his languid wife, and their three children, two of whom have claimed Barbara’s back yard as their playground. Mrs. Chevis-Cobb, the society matron who changes her will when her relatives displease her. Jerry, a young woman who supports herself by caring for horses.

Arthur’s nephew, Sam, comes to visit the Abbotts regularly and begins to mature nicely.

Of course, the reader wonders, “Will Barbara write another book? And will it get her into as much trouble as last time?” I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Barbara is presented in both books as somewhat naive and innocent, yet with amazing insight in some ways. She doesn’t mean to meddle, but her attempts to help people present some quite funny episodes in the book.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

He . . . looked at his wife, and, as he looked at her, he smiled because she was nice to look at, and because he loved her, and because she amused and interested him enormously. They had been married for nine months now, and sometimes he thought he knew her through and through, and sometimes he thought he didn’t know the first thing about her—theirs was a most satisfactory marriage.

Jerry found Barbara very soothing and comforting during this difficult time. It was not necessary to confide in Barbara to gain her sympathy—you just talked to Barbara about odds and ends of things, and you came away feeling a different creature.

“It’s turned out all right after all,” she said contentedly. “Things usually do, somehow. You worry and fuss and try to make things go the way you think they should, and then you find that the other way was best. I’m going to try not to worry about things anymore.”

As with the first book, this is a secular work, and thus I wouldn’t agree with everything here, like many classics. It’s a clean story, but there are some oddities, especially with the strange family next door.

But all in all, this was a sweet, funny story. I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Patricia Gallimore. The picture above is from the audiobook cover as well, which I like much better than the book cover.

Miss Buncle’s Book

D. E. Stevenson was a Scottish writer who lived from 1892-1973. Her books were best-sellers in their time and continue to be read widely today.

In Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle is a single lady in her thirties. Due to a dwindling income, she decides to write a book to try to earn some extra money. She doesn’t have any imagination, she insists, so she writes what she knows–her neighbors in the town of Silverstream. She changes their names and has them interact in different ways. She sends the manuscript in under the pseudonym John Smith.

The publisher loves her novel, though he can’t quite decide whether it’s written satirically or straightforwardly. Either way, he feels the book will do well.

And he’s right: the book becomes a bestseller.

The only problem is, most of the inhabitants of Silverstream recognize themselves in the fictional town of Copperfield. Some think the book is great fun. Others are offended at the way they are portrayed or at their secrets coming out. Everyone agrees that “John Smith” must live among them—how else would he know them so well? So the hunt is on.

Meanwhile, the book has an effect on its readers. Some recognize their flaws and change. Colonel Weatherhead enjoys the novel but doesn’t see the parallels with his neighbors. He particularly enjoys the colonel in the book who dramatically proposes to his neighbor in the garden. But after finishing the book, Colonel Weatherhead finds himself restless. He’s never been discontent with his life before. But now he seems lonely. And somehow he never noticed before that his neighbor is both nice and attractive. Maybe he should call on her. . . Thus life for some begins to imitate art.

Barbara herself gets lost in her thoughts sometimes as to whether she’s in Silverstream or Copperfield. Her counterpart in the book, Elisabeth Wade, is much more confident. So Barbara begins to act as Elisabeth Wade.

But the discontented readers are worked up to a fever pitch in their search for John Smith and their desire to make him pay for what he has written about them.

Overall this was a fun book with a very satisfactory ending.

Having read much about writing and publishing the last few years, some of the comments on those subjects had me smiling.

Barbara’s publisher: “What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.”

Miss Buncle did impress him because she wasn’t trying to.

Mr. Abbott could have cheated Miss Buncle quite easily if he had wanted to. Fortunately for her, he didn’t want to. It was not his way. You make friends with the goose and treat it decently, and it continues to lay golden eggs.

Miss Buncle after signing her contract: “I’m an author. How very odd.”

Miss Buncle on receiving her first print copy of her book: “She had spent the whole morning reading her book, and marveling at the astounding fact that she had written every word of it, and here it was, actually in print.

“And why to me?” inquired Mr. Abbott with much interest. “I mean why did you send the book to me? Perhaps you had heard from somebody that our firm—­”

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “I knew nothing at all about publishers. You were the first on the list—­alphabetically—­that was all.” Mr. Abbott was somewhat taken aback—­on such trifles hang the fates of bestsellers!

Dorcas [the maid] was beginning to get used to living in the house with an author. It was not comfortable, she found, and it was distinctly trying to the temper.

­Authors! said Dorcas to herself with scornful emphasis—­Authors indeed!—­Well, I’ll never read a book again but what I’ll think of the people as has had to put up with the author, I know that.—­Preparing meals, and beating the gong, and going back ’alf an hour later to find nobody’s ever been near them, and the mutton fat frozen solid in the dish, and the soup stone cold—­and them ringing bells at all hours for coffee, “and make it strong Dorcas—­make it strong!” and them writing half the night, and lying in bed half the day with people toiling up to their bedrooms with trays.—­Authors—­poof! said Dorcas to herself.

“Dorcas, I could never give up writing now,” she said, incredulously (nor could she, the vice had got her firmly in its grip, as well ask a morphinomaniac to give up drugs). “You don’t know how exciting it is, Dorcas. It just sweeps you along and you’ve no idea of the time—­”

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Patricia Gallimore. She portrayed all the characters so well, from the sly Mrs. Greensleeves to the morose Mr. Bulmer and the haughty Mrs. Featherstone Hogg and so many more.

This is not a Christian book, so of course I wouldn’t agree with everything the characters do.

This book is the first of three about Miss Buncle. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the next one some time in the future.