Post-Xmas Children’s Party

Coming to the end of this year's Xmas books on Clothes in Books - so here is a delayed Xmas party... 

Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

published 1934

Miss Buncle Jan party


Christmas came and went, Silverstream went to church and gave each other small and somewhat useless presents just as it always did at this season of the year. 

The Featherstone Hoggs’ children’s party was fixed for the second week of January. They gave one every year, usually on Christmas Eve and a large and elaborately decorated Christmas Tree was the piece de resistance; but this year, with all the excitement over [the novel] Disturber of the Peace, and the drawing-room meeting, the children’s party had slipped out of mind.

Mrs Featherstone Hogg disliked the children’s party intensely, she only gave it because it was the ‘right thing’ for the most important lady in the neighbourhood to give a children’s party, and because Lady Barnton from Bulverham Castle could always be induced to come to it and bring her small nieces when she could not be induced to come to any other of Mrs Featherstone Hogg’s various parties or At Homes.

In spite of Lady Barnton, Agatha always approached the Children’s Party with reluctance. It was such a bore, she always said, it was so noisy, the children made such a mess.

So, when a few days after the New Year Agatha suddenly enquired with an amiable smile whether they were going to have a Children’s Party this year, Edwin [Featherstone Hogg] looked up from his marmalade with surprise (they were at breakfast)…. He was pleased, he did not analyse Agatha’s motives… Last year he had dressed up as Santa Claus and had been a tremendous success, in fact the success of the evening. It was too late to be Santa Claus this year, of course, but he would think of something else to amuse them, something entirely new.

commentary: The motive for this lady giving a children’s party is one of the most absurd things I read in any book in 2017, completely unbelievable, gasp-inducing and jaw-dropping. It is a slight spoiler, so I will put it at the end of the post, but I can’t resist explaining it there for the benefit of anyone who is not intending to read Miss Buncle.
I read this book a long time ago, but was curious to read it again, and it is exactly as I remembered: Absurd, predictable, funny, entertaining, very badly-punctuated. No wonder it was a best-seller. DE Stevenson wrote similar books all her life.

Miss Buncle is a kindly and poverty-stricken spinster. She decides the answer to her problems is to write a book, so she looks around her and writes a novel based very closely on her village and its inhabitants. The book - published under a pseudonym - is a huge success, but many of her friends and neighbours are absolutely horrified by how they are portrayed in the book. They are desperate to find out who wrote it, and to get the book withdrawn. Meanwhile, various plotlines from the book start to come true in the village.

Well, that’s all you need to know, isn’t it? It is a good idea, nicely executed. There are some ridiculous scenes, and the whole thing is a fairytale, but it is very entertaining.

There is a questionmark over how naïve Miss Buncle is, and part of the success of the book-within-the-book is that its readers don’t know if it is faux-naievete or knowingness. There is an implication that some scenes can be read as rather risqué. And, for example, there is a Lesbian couple who are treated very sympathetically. (Rather as in ER Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books).

For several years on the blog I did April Fool’s Day posts on imaginary books, books-within-books – see round-up post here with links. Blogfriend Susan D suggested Miss Buncle for a future entry, as well as directing us to this amazing website. A brilliant suggestion. Just warning you…


***SPOILER


Mrs FH suspects the doctor’s wife, Mrs Walker, of having written the offensive book. She invites the children and their nanny to the party, and then arranges for the tiny twins to be abducted. Mrs Walker (who has not, of course, written the book) is then induced to sign a document confessing to being the author and asking for the book the be suppressed. She is desperate, and will sign anything. The children are then returned to her.

I know.

You thought, didn’t you, that English villages in the 1930s were quiet places, with only honest to goodness ordinary Golden Age murders going on. I think Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane would have had qualms about this plotline.

Children’s party picture from the NYPL collection.























Comments

  1. Oh, it does sound as though there are some ridiculous parts to this, Moira! Silly, indeed. Still, I like books that give a solid depiction of a place and time. And there's nothing wrong with a book that entertains, even if it isn't wholly believable...

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    1. Exactly Margot - she does what she sets out to do, which is to write a book her readers will enjoy...

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  2. Blimey, Moira! Couldn't resist reading your spoiler. What a bonkers plot twist . . . I think this will be one that you have read for me. I enjoyed reading about it more than I would enjoy actually reading it, I suspect.

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    1. I definitely read it for you. And in the circs, I would advise anyone to read the spoiler because it is so - bizarre.

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    2. Now that I have read "Miss Buncle's Book," I have to say that for me the most bonkers part was that the doctor's wife didn't walk into the den of kidnapper-wannabes with a riding crop. It's not as though she were dealing with professional child-snatchers; I'd have started laying about with extreme prejudice and not stopped until the kids were produced unharmed.

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  3. Actually it was quite reasonable for Mrs. FH to think the doctor's wife wrote the book, from Mrs. FH's perspective, as I recall: the doctor's wife was the only person she could think of who was alone long enough to write in secret. There is a certain mad logic to it all. I loved both Miss Buncle books and I am certain I have a copy somewhere.

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    1. As well, she is suspect because she has access to all the village's secrets, through her husband the doctor.

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    2. Thanks both - indeed, it is not ridiculous for people to believe the doctor's wife to be the secret author. What is outrageous is to abduct her children! What was she going to do with them....?

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  4. Thanks for the link to my DES site. Which reminds me, I completely forgot to add Disturber of the Peace to the Invisible Library.

    Ah, but aren't you a tad hard on MBB? It is intended to be pretty much tongue in cheek. For example, the date between Miss Buncle and her publisher, Mr. Abbott, at the marvellous, stupendous movie that they both dislike (so he knows she's the woman for him).

    Well, of course, I'm a massive DESophile. :^))

    Here's to a happy, book-filled 2018.

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    1. Thanks Susan, you certainly piqued my interest in DES. And despite my complaints, I thought it was a splendid book, highly enjoyable, and I'm not surprised it was so successful!

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  5. Moira, I have taken to reading your blog with another window open to openlibrary.org so I can immediately check the availability of whichever book you're discussing.

    Score one for Miss Buncle! I so love free ebooks; my e-TBR pile would defy the law of gravity in real life.

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    1. You are very good at finding books online, I'm always impressed. And this one is a winner...

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  6. I read this a few years ago and liked it a lot - quirky and charming. It is somehow a little bit related to "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day" - the 1930s and the comeuppance of the dowdy spinster - but it's also an Agatha Christie type of book. Miss Buncle's village is very much of the St Mary Mead type. And I remember it made me reflect on the lesbian couples who are present in a lot of books from the period, though never explicitly commented on. And of course, with a lot of men having been killed in the war and a lot of women having to fend for themselves, at the same time as living on one's own was still a bit daring, two women renting a flat or setting up house together would have been entirely natural, so who would cast a stone on such a couple and say that it is more than a convenient house-sharing arrangement? But I realised that quite a few of Christie's women living together actually ARE couples.

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    1. Very interesting angle, Birgitta. In some between-the-wars books where there is a strict moral tone it's quite a surprise to come across the lesbian couple - as you say, they turn up often. However, this is not a book with claims of a high moral tone - it is one of the joys of it, and quite surprising. Despite my complaints, it's great fun.

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  7. "Miss Buncle" is a nice title for a book, I think. Sometimes novels with absurd plots sound sane and worth reading, if only to see how the author carries it off.

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    1. Prashant, you are right, this is an excellent title, and it does transcend the rather strange plot. Definitely worth reading!

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  8. I do wonder if the 'someone writes a seeming 'roman a clef' novel that is not true but everyone locally thinks is true' is a genre in itself. There was a West End stage play from the end of the '50s called BOOK OF THE MONTH which was turned into an excellent British Film comedy called PLEASE TURN OVER. In this one a teenage girl writes a Peyton Place type novel about suburbia using her family and family friends as models and causes all sorts of trouble. It's great fun because the makers used the idea of a film within a film where we see both real life and a rather trashy looking movie version using the same actors. One of my favourite bits has Leslie Phillips as the shy, nervous local GP who has difficulty talking to women who appears in the novel version as...well...Leslie Phillips. His waiting room is full of beautiful women who are awaiting his amourous attention, and when the heroine arrives at his office he leers at her and purrs 'I'm a little busy this afternoon, but if make an appointment I'm sure that I can squeeze you in..."

    ggary

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    1. That sounds excellent - I have just gone straight over to find a copy to order. The Leslie Phillips line is irresistible. I see it is from the makers of the Carry On films...
      I also did an entry earlier this year on Vin Packer's The Girl on the BestSeller List - a much darker look at the same phenomenon, very melodramatic. The discussion BTL became completely distracted by my use of the word bonkbuster - very familiar to some, and completely unknown to others! http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/the-girl-on-best-seller-list-by-vin.html

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  9. I read this earlier and have returned. You know how weird I am about reading spoilers, I don't even want to read them when I know I won't read the book. But I did and it was funny and interesting.

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    1. Every book you don't have to read leaves room for another noir melodrama!

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