The Felixstowe to Ipswich Coach. 1940 by Russell Sidney Reeve (1895-1970) © Ipswich Borough Council Museum and Gallery/PCF
PREFACE BY ALINE TEMPLETON
The storyline of Miss Buncle's Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meagre income. In this respect she is at one with Miss Pettigrew and Miss Ranskill, two other unmarried women who, not having subsumed their existence into that of a man, have to find a way of looking after themselves. There are some serious moments, for example when the doctor’s children are, very briefly, kidnapped (as a way of trying to force their mother to admit that she wrote the book; which she did not). But the seriousness is minimal – mostly this is an entirely light-hearted, easy read, one of those books like Mariana, Miss Pettigrew, The Making of a Marchioness and Greenery Street which can be recommended unreservedly to anyone looking for something undemanding, fun and absorbing that is also well-written and intelligent.
DE Stevenson had an enormously successful writing career: between 1923 and 1970, four million copies of her books were sold in Britain and three million in the States. Like EF Benson, Ann Bridge, O Douglas or Dorothy L Sayers (to name but a few) her books are funny, intensely readable, engaging and dependable. Miss Buncle’s Book was the most popular of her novels because it has a completely original plot and a charming and delightful central character. There is another reason for DES’s appeal, as Aline Templeton points out in her Preface to the book: ‘Oscar Wilde’s Miss Prism, asked about her lost three-volume novel, explained, “The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” Perhaps part of the attraction is that in DE Stevenson’s novels these rules comfortingly still apply.’ Or, as her granddaughter Wendy, who still lives in DE Stevenson’s home town of Moffat, puts it: the novels are ‘a soothing balm’ at times of stress and exhaustion.
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'Flower vase lit by rays from a table lamp', Vanessa Bell 1934, Allan Walton, V&A