“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”
~ Scottish Author D. E. Stevenson, to American friend Jewelene Epps Jones, November 1973
from her novel, “Anna and Her Daughters,” 1958…
“You say they’re ‘just stories.’ Well, of course, they are! But I like stories. Everybody likes stories.”
“Everybody with any sense. The storyteller has always been a valuable member of society… Your profession is one of the oldest in the world and one of the most useful.”
“Away!” I cried, laughing.
“It is, really. And we need stories more than ever now. We need stories to entertain us, to help us to forget our troubles, to fill our lives with colour.”
Mmm… to fill our lives with colour. Oh, and how Ms. Stevenson did that.
And to me… how such stories bring little moments of sacred, or like Laura at The Wellspring calls it… playdates with God. Because I find Him there in the beauty of character spilled out in words. Not because they are essentially faith-filled in the way we think of inspirational genre today…but because it is a natural outpouring woven in… In the way of the classics…
The list of her writings seems to go on and on. I know. Because ever since I discovered this delightful author and posted my review of two of her most charming here a few weeks ago (D. E. Stevenson – A Charmer of a Read), I’ve had my local library sending away for various out of print titles from branches far and near… And I haven’t even begun to make a dent in that list.
Where has this secret treasure been hidden all my life? How could I never have heard of her before?
I feel like D. E.’s granddaughter must have felt when — rummaging around their attic one day many years after Ms. Stevenson’s death (1892 -1973) — she discovered two unpublished manuscripts!!
And like the young librarian I wrote about here ( Uncovering the Ghost of Nancy Drew – Page 1 – Published by Highlights for Children – Oct 2003 and Uncovering the Ghost of Nancy Drew – Page 2 – Published by Highlights for Children – Oct 2003) who uncovered the real author Carolyn Keene through a handwritten clue in a reference book.
For as I opened to the title page in a copy of Anna and Her Daughters last week, I found there…in careful penciled penmanship…someone had filled in her initials…
(I grinned. You wouldn’t get that on a kindle…)
Which suddenly filled me with curiosity to know more about who she was as a person. Someone I’m beginning to get a lovely glimpse of through lyrical words and endearing characters come alive beneath her fingers… for you and me.
In simple, but image-evoking openings like this one from her book, Katherine Wentworth…
“There are some days in Edinburgh when rain falls sullenly from leaden skies and the city looks black and grim and unutterably dreary; there are days when the wind cuts like a knife, careering down the side streets, whisking up clouds of dust, tipping off hats and sending them bowling across the road…but when Edinburgh smiles, her citizens forget her vagaries and remember only her beauty.
…I knew the city in all her moods…Today was different — I couldn’t have told you why — the beauty of it caught my heart…”
As she caught mine and swept me into another endearing story of Scotland and quaint cottages by the sea and friendships and families… and made me long to go there!
I keep trying to figure out what category these books fall under. The adult leading characters, the light romance, the backdrop of Scotland and England, the touch of mystery, the characters who love to write, the faith in God so naturally woven in as an accepted part of worldview… they all remind me of the Brontes brought into the 20th Century. Maybe a bit lighter in style… not really gothic…but the same tone in who these people are, what they feel and how they grow. By today’s more graphic approach for adult fiction, these are far more gentle… leaving to the imagination what popular writers today are forbidden to it seems, but still portraying strong stories like those classic writers of old.
Googling Ms. Stevenson last night, I came upon a surprise. I should have guessed. Her father was first cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson!
I learned she was educated at home by a governess, similar to children she often portrayed in her stories… and began to write at the age of eight! Oddly, her father was not too happy about it though (not unlike a storyline in Anna and Her Daughters!) — forcing her to write on the sly!
I read that she married and had four children… and that several of her best-selling stories reflected her own experiences as an army wife. (The Mrs. Tim series, literally adapted from D. E.’s own diaries during WWII.) That she was famous for links between her novels, for many important characters in one would later appear in minor or supporting roles in others.
I was hoping to uncover more about her personal faith. For before we founded a separate genre to tell such fun and beautiful stories of friendship, love and family that grow from prayer and people who look to God… writers like D. E. just wove a natural touch here and there into their books, like anything else that was of truth and value to the characters.
There is not much detail online beyond the essentials… born, died, wrote, loved and lived. But her lovely quote above… about blessings and the gift of storytelling… touches me and follows the clues I am finding in her stories. It speaks to a wondrous legacy that is reaching into a whole new century since her living and dying — and moving new readers who are relishing her simple treasure. To the many reader comments I’m finding on Amazon and other sites commending her stories, and echoing my own thoughts… To a resurgence in her popularity that is gaining and restoring many books to print!
It speaks to my heart today as I think about someday when God may ask… what did you do with the gifts I called you to? And how… I’ve always felt called to storytelling of another kind, with words and with art… yet, in the necessary world of needing a job, maybe neglected for much too long.
Lord, I look to Him now… oh, that You would shine through the work of my hands as you continue to do through D. E.! Mine may not be in the form of novels… but they are stories I feel You are placing in me… Give me wisdom, lead me in the way of Your plan…
I look at the photos of this prolific writer and see… a sweet spirit. I think I see Him written there… for I know I do see Him in the charm of her work. And in the last line here as prayerful legacy in a churchyard…
In the loveliness of the town of Moffat in Dumfriesshire, where she lived for thirty years.
and her thoughts about it…
D. E. said this about her beloved village… “I am now settled in Moffat, a small town in beautiful Annandale, in the country of Dumfries. It is a peaceful spot and a marvelous place for writing. I enjoy a good walk over the hills with my spaniel, and then come home to find tea waiting spread on a table before a bright log fire…”
Love her dancing feet in this photo... 🙂
When D. E. Stevenson died in 1973, she had written over 40 novels, sold over 4 million in Britain and 3 million in America. Her writing was translated into 6 European languages, transcribed in Braille and put into talking books for the blind. She topped best-selling lists in Britain and across the world. To this day, Boston University holds many of her manuscripts. She led a Victorian childhood, tutored by governesses and never going to school. Robert Stevenson, the famous lighthouse builder was her great grandfather. D. E. loved to claim that her novels were her “lighthouses.”
They are still shining today as her popularity is enjoying a resurgence and coming back to publication… You can find her books listed on GoodReads and Amazon (or have your local library send out to other branches) to name a few sources. And I hope you will!
** biographical sources:
© Pam Depoyan
Discovering her delightful Miss Buncle Books recently at Barnes and Noble (as I told here, D. E. Stevenson – A Charmer of a Read), D. E. Stevenson is an “out of the blue” find for me, but after reading four of her books I’m hooked! And, now… I have a feeling many of you will be too… 🙂