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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Author D.E. Stevenson

by C.J. Chase


With a deadline of the day before Halloween (does that make October 30 All Hallow’s Eve eve?), I considered tying my post in with the holiday. But how to do that? Horror? It’s a genre I avoid. I think I’ve read one book and seen nary a movie that could meet such a classification. (Oh, the horror!) Well, then maybe a discussion of fantasy creates that appear in fiction and mythology such as unicorns and minotaurs and dragons. Except, while I have somewhat more familiarity with them than horror, fantasy is still not a favorite of mine. Well, then, what about a post on villains? Oh, yeah, already did that...

Then the other day my youngest was rummaging through the bookcase and pulled out a worn, dog-eared novel by D. E. Stevenson. Oh, the memories that flooded my mind of gentle stories set in a now-gone era. And then followed an idea for a Fiction Wednesday post. Good-bye Halloween theme. (In truth, it wasn’t a sacrifice for me. I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. I mean, a “holiday” where we put kids in ghoulish costumes and send them to extort candy from strangers under threat of doing mischief if people don’t comply? What are we trying to do – raise a generation whose highest ambition is to become IRS agents?)

publicity photo of D.E. Stevenson
Born at the turn of the (last) century, Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892-1973) was a Scottish novelist of over 40 books. It’s hard to classify her work in modern genre terms. They are part coming-of-age, part sweet romance, occasionally part family saga…well, you get the idea. Some are dark and angsty. Others light and humorous. She even wrote one futuristic novel. They’re really just stories about people set mostly in the Britain of her lifetime.

Stevenson married a British officer, James Reid Peploe, in 1916 while he was coalescing from wounds sustained in WWI. Her first novel, Peter West, published in 1923, was not well received, and it would be nearly 10 years before she published a second. Talk about second book blues! However, the success of Mrs. Tim of the Regiment (1932, based in large part on her diaries as a military wife) turned her into a full-time author.

I’ve never seen a reason why she published under her maiden name. Was it because an officer whose wife became a (horrors!) novelist would have caused all sorts of awkwardness in class-conscious Britain? Or did her publisher or Ms. Stevenson herself prefer to emphasize her connection to the even more famous Stevenson author, Robert Louis Stevenson (her father’s first cousin)?

My first D. E. Stevenson reading experience was Celia’s House followed by Listening Valley when I was a teenager. The books deal with WWII, but the endings felt unfinished to my late-20th century sensibilities – until I looked at the copyright dates and realized she wrote them in 1943 and 1944 respectively. Realizing that at the time Ms. Stevenson wrote those books she had no idea how the war would end, gave me an appreciation for the uncertainty people of her time faced.

I’ve read perhaps a quarter of Stevenson’s books. Finding them can be a challenge. Libraries may have some (alas, my local library only has two – and yes, I’ve already read them). Used copies offered on the internet often run in the $10 to $20 range, though first editions of her most popular works can list for much more. Fortunately, I’m not the only fan, and some books have been re-released in the past several years, including inexpensive Kindle versions.

If you like early to mid-twentieth century British settings populated with interesting characters, Stevenson is an author you might want to try.  

Do you sometimes read "old," out-of-print books by now-gone authors? Do you have any favorites (authors or books) you'd like to share? 

5 comments:

  1. Well, C.J., I've never heard of D.E. Stevenson, so I appreciate you giving us the low-down on her.

    Yes, I do read old out-of-print books, but I have to be in the right mood. Like on a lazy summer afternoon when it's too hot to do anything else and you don't have air conditioning. (like us)

    How fascinating to read a book that was written in the middle of a certain period where we know the outcome but the author didn't.

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  2. Anita, when we lived in our Victoria-with-potential, we discovered newspapers wrapped around old pipes in one of the bathrooms. The newspapers were from the mid-30's, and there were articles about the rise of Hitler in Germany. It was kinda eerie to hold them and realize that the last time the (then) residents read them, they had no idea who that madman was and what he would do to the world in just 10 years time.

    D.E. Stevenson's books are probably poised for a comeback given the rising interest in early 20th century time periods. Start with your library. I think most places I've lived the libraries have had a few copies of her works. Some of her books have overlapping characters, but few of them are really sequels of earlier books. (I.e., Listening Valley has a couple of characters from Celia's House, but they don't come into the book until very late. If you've read CH, it gives you a nice update, but if you haven't you don't miss anything.)

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  3. I don't think I heard of her either, unless I read one and forgot (I'm old) but you have piqued my interest and i'll be watching for her titles. It reminds me of other 'old books' we had around the house when I was growing up. Those covers, for sure! My mom's favorite author was Elizabeth Gouge - Green Dolphin Street and more. I really should pick that up and read it!

    thanks C.J.! Hope your gang is doing great!

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  4. Deb, seeing the D.E. Stevenson book in my house made me think of other author (a contemporary of Stevenson) my mother introduced me to when I was a teenager. I may have to do a post on her someday and see if anyone else here read her books...

    Good times. Good memories.

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  5. I hadn't heard of her, but now I'm going to keep my eyes peeled! Ah yes, those covers...

    Fun post. Thanks for the intro to a new (old) author!

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