Friday, March 10, 2017

Celia's House by D.E. Stevenson

Celia's House is vintage Stevenson. The house is one of the main "characters" (as in Amberwell) and is often described in human terms: It was a lovely afternoon and Dunnian House slept peacefully in the sunshine... (p. 13) and The years passed, but Dunnian showed little signs of change. There was electric light in the old house now, and four bathrooms, and there was a new garage behind the stables that held two cars, but Dunnian had assimilated these modern improvements without losing character or dignity. (216)

The book starts at the turn of the century and ends in the middle of WWII. (It was first published in 1943.) Celia is a lively spinster who wants to ensure that the house is inherited by someone who will not just live there, but love it. So she re-writes her will to the consternation of all her relatives, except her moneyless nephew Humphrey

For a moment Humphrey felt quite alarmed. Would he and Alice be able to "live up to" the place? They were used to a different standard of life and to all sorts of makeshifts and expediencies; this would be quite a new experience with new responsibilities and new problems to solve... and then he remembered the children and his heart was suddenly at peace, for the children would make the old house into a home and that was what it should be. Dunnian had been built by Old Humphrey Dunn, not as a sort of glorified hotel in which to entertain strangers, but as a family house for his children and his children's children. (p. 91)

The rest of the book details Humphrey's life at Dunnian House, especially the personalities and life decisions of each of his children. Not a lot of plot, but delightful nonetheless. Biblical and literary allusions are sprinkled throughout. When the young people decide to put on a Shakespeare play, every one of them is familiar enough with A Midsummer Night's Dream to know which part would be best for them. (Imagine any group of young people knowing that today!)

One thing I enjoy about Stevenson's books is that she often shows the shallowness of romantic love and emphasizes friendly enduring companionship. Oliver, a neighborhood playboy, falls in love with Debbie because he can see himself settling down with her and being happy when the first frenzy of love is over. Jerry has a similar revelation about Sam in Miss Buncle Married.

A good quote: People are apt to take you at your own valuation. I mean, if you lie down on the floor and look like a doormat, people can't be blamed for wiping their boots on you. (p. 455)

Please note: The "sequel" to this book is Listening Valley. The young American soldier who is introduced in the last pages of Celia's House reappears in Chapter 20 of Listening Valley. Many of the allusions to family names in Listening Valley make more sense if you've read the first book. BUT Listening Valley can be read as a stand-alone because the story line is completely different. It is not as satisfying as many of Stevenson's other titles because it is not as light-hearted. And the whole "listening valley" theme is not that convincing. It was published in 1944 and many of its characters have been frightened and damaged by the war. Others are very unhappy due to the unkindness of others. And unlike most of her books, Stevenson takes a cavalier approach to marriage in this one (as she did in Shoulder the Sky) when she includes a man who kindly divorces his wife so she can be happy with another. Ugh!



Carol in Oregon said...

I keep waiting for more of DES' books to become available on the Kindle lending library. Thanks for this review!

Mary Hill said...

I wish authors would be careful with crafting stories to ideals. I know real life is important to display in literature, but there are stories that are equally wonderful that emphasize couples who stay true to their relationships.