Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson (1942)

In his Introduction to Spring Magic, Alexander McCall Smith writes that D. E. Stevenson’s books,

‘…eluded the sort of classification that reviewers and scholars like to engage in. They are not simple romances; nor are they anything that would today be recognised as thrillers. They are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognisable and unambiguous ending. The appeal that they have for the contemporary reader lies in the fact that there is no artifice in these books…These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainty and conflict. Some books can be prescribed for anxiety – these are in that category. And it is an honourable and important one.’

Spring Magic is a delightful story with likeable characters and a sprinkling of humour. It is gentle in that it isn’t a nail-biting thriller, but it does have a certain amount of tension that kept me turning the pages and staying up late to finish it. 🙂 Set during the Second World War, the story takes place in both the Highlands of Scotland and later in London, and it doesn’t ignore the social upheaval and uncertainty of that time.

Twenty-five-year-old Frances Field had lost both her parents before she was four years of age and had gone to live with the Wheelers, her uncle and his wife, in London. They were old-fashioned, had no children of their own, and didn’t want a child in the house, but there was no one else to take her, so to them she went.
As Frances grew older, Mrs. Wheeler found her to be very useful and as she herself was very lazy and professed to be an invalid, Frances basically took on the running of their large house.
When the war started Frances was keen to help in some way but Mrs. Wheeler ‘couldn’t manage without her.’ One day Dr Digby came to attend the ‘invalid’ and as Frances saw him to the door, he told her that there was nothing the matter with her aunt except laziness. He suggested to Frances that she should take a holiday. She had slaved for her aunt for years and had been blind to the fact that her aunt was always well enough to do anything she wanted. It would do her aunt good if she had to hustle around a bit.

‘It was odd that she had reached the age of twenty-five without having decided what sort of a person she was – or wanted to be. It was because she had never had a chance to follow her own inclinations nor to develop her personality.’

Frances felt invisible. She had a yielding personality and as she did not like scenes, she allowed herself to be dominated and repressed by her aunt. Dr. Digby had planted a seed in her mind and when the bombs began to fall on London she made her decision to leave. She wanted to go somewhere where she could think. She had seen a picture of Cairn, a coastal village in Scotland, at the Academy in London and had made up her mind that someday she would go there. Now was her chance.

The beauty of the place, the eccentricity and charm of the local folk, the friendship of three army wives, and a potential romance help her get back her own soul. She had never had to make her own decisions and at first found choosing between even small things difficult to do, but in this new environment she found freedom and became accustomed to making her own decisions and knowing her own mind.
This is only the second book I’ve read by D. E. Stevenson. I think the first was Sarah’s Cottage but that was about twenty years ago and I can’t remember much of it but I liked this one so much that I’ll be looking out for more of her books. Her characters were interesting and explored more fully over the course of the story. She contrasted two particular characters by their attitude to work and how that attitude extended to their relationships – a careless, slack outlook wasn’t confined to just one area of life; it permeated across into other areas.

Some favourite bits:

‘An epidemic of whooping-cough which was racking the children and disturbing their parent’s nights seemed much more real than the war.’

‘Miss Stalker was a small woman with a large nose and thick black eyebrows – it was her nose and eyebrows that you saw first – the rest of Miss Stalker seemed to be attached to these striking features.’

‘I don’t know whether you have realised what an extremely altruistic person I am. I have always been renowned for the way in which I sacrifice my own interests to the interests of my friends. For instance, when I was six years old I was very ill after eating a whole box of chocolates which belonged to my sister – I did it merely to save her from a similar fate.’

‘Several girls had fallen rather heavily for (him) – nice girls too – but he had not even noticed the fact; he had remained heart-whole.’

9 thoughts on “Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson (1942)

  1. I enjoy most of Alexander McCall Smith’s own books so I am happy to be guided by his feelings on an author and quite frankly, I am looking for a book that is a gentle comfort right now, having recently finished several “heavy’ books. I agree that this category is necessary, honourable and important and I have downloaded this onto my Kindle. I absolutely loved the only other book by her that I read, “Miss Buncle’s Book” and expect this one to be just as rewarding. Thank you again Carol for timely book reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Cate, I’ve been wondering how you were. It was a good book for me – just getting over a dose of flu which has left me with not much brain. I’ve been reading some heavier books as well, so one that was a bit more on the gentle side was a good tonic. X


  3. Pingback: April Blether | journey & destination

  4. I’ve heard of D.E. Stevenson in the last years, from other bloggers, but I had never read one of her books — until now. I am reading Anna and Her Daughters on Audible. I know my daughter has read a few and maybe she suggested this particular title to me. I’m not very far into it yet.

    McCall Smith’s thought that hers are “gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainty and conflict” strikes a chord with me in this era that seems to be in that category in an exponential way. I know I need some vicarious human interaction, through involvement in stories where humans are necessarily more face-to-face in their interactions, and also fairly honest and sensible. Even in their cross-cultural encounters their cultures are more like than not, compared to the world today.

    Thank you for this review. I will probably read this book, because I like stories set in Scotland, where some of my ancestors are from, and I have even been there, for a whole five days, so I can imagine the setting at least a little.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The English Air by D.E. Stevenson (1940) | journey & destination

  6. Pingback: Bel Lamington by D.E. Stevenson (1961) | journey & destination

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s