D.E. Stevenson’s Summerhills: the Highlights
Amberwell and its sequel, Summerhills by D.E. Stevenson, are two books that I read and enjoyed immensely as they were full of nice characters, rural places, and people trying to do the right thing, which is why Stevenson’s books are comfortable friends, who I like to visit. For example, the character of Mr. Orme, the local curate, is absolutely wonderful. In both Amberwell and Summerhills, Mr. Orme is a reverend who is good and decent, wanting to leave the world in a better state than it was in before he arrived on the scene. Mr. Orme takes in Anne Selby, one of the Ayrton children, and her daughter, who were in an abusive and then destitute state, and he then helps them to feel safe and valuable in his home.
Another character of interest in the novel is Poppet, an older lady who is lively and twice as ornery as her younger neighbors, which can be both bad and good:
You can’t imagine us young; but we were, you know. We were just like you when we were young. We had hearts and legs—though we didn’t show them so conspicuously as you do. We had a lot more leisure of course because we didn’t need to wash the dishes or make the beds, but I’m not sure that it was good for us. We had too much time to think about ourselves, to be introspective. I know I had. . . . I read novels by Ethel Dell and Florence Barclay instead of washing the dishes and it wasn’t nearly so good for me. (Stevenson 135-136) .
I love how Stevenson can take hard subjects, WWII and the changes Britain was experiencing in the late 1940’s; the fact that the landed gentry had to sell their homes because of higher taxes and the death of their sons, and that D.E. Stevenson could carve out a story that has joy, laughter, and good ends in the midst of such losses. Stevenson's stories show that life may not be perfect, as the character of Dennis Weatherby states, “. . . for goodness’ sake remember that [sometimes] it all goes like mad in the wrong direction,” but that life can still be wonderful in the face of tragedy and difficulties small and great. The reason I enjoy Stevenson is because she shows that joy is often just a step away from tragedy and that joy can be found in a rural village with nice folks who may not be adventurous, but that are certainly interesting, but more even than that, kind.
With a penchant to “Change this room,” as Martin Short’s character in the Father of the Bride II says, I envied the character of Arnold and his ability to “[explain] what was going to be done, and described what the bathrooms would look like when finished, in a manner which left little to the imagination.” (Stevenson 197) . If only I could so easily express my plans and ideas for a remodeling overhaul—only in the novels!
The quiet British humor in Summerhills is delightful. For example, when a committee commences to plan a wedding, it is said, “The committee agreed. It was a very agreeable committee.” (Stevenson 330) . For some reason, these two sentences set off a quiet chuckle within me. Another example is when a young woman is being pestered about her admirers and teasingly replies with:
It’s Mr. Lumsden [an older man who is a head contractor in the novel]—if you must know. Mr. Lumsden is a perfect darling; I’m crazy about him. We share our elevenses and have long talks about toilet equipment—but it’s quite, quite hopeless because he adores his wife.
Somehow, when I hit "elevenses and toilet equipment," I get the feeling I am about to fall off the couch laughing!