The D.E. Stevenson community has been abuzz for the past few months with the debut of two lost novels, Emily Dennistoun and The Fair Miss Fortune, both published this month by Greyladies of Edinburgh.
Emily Dennistoun was originally titled "Truth is the Strong Thing". There is no date attached to it, but it seems to have been written in the late 1920s, then put away and never published. I have to admit that if I had written this, and then, say, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, I would have stuck this in a drawer and tried to forget about it as well. It is surprisingly overwrought for a Stevenson, even a serious one -- which she does now and then -- although, to rather curious effect, the dialogue at least often has her usual light touch. The plot is a "typical" Stevenson one in which a quiet, reserved heroine, under the thumb of a tyrannical parent, falls in love unexpectedly and must suffer several changes of fortune and twists of plot until we find out how exactly -- for the outcome is never in doubt -- she is rewarded with happiness in the end. With Stevenson, like Vivaldi, it is the journey, not the arrival, that is what makes things interesting and often compelling. Emily Dennistoun is not, though, I regret to say, Stevenson at her best. There are a number of editorial inconsistencies that I expect would have been fixed if she'd meant to publish it, and the prose is very Mills-and-Boon.
"Emily's soul was in tune with the storm, she suffered with it, suffered as only those can whose art lives upon their nerves like a hungry animal. Suffered all the more because she was gentle and sweet in every-day life. She was like the quiet pastoral English country that smiled in the sun. The storm came to her heart and roused its slumbering rage, changing the familiar scene to a nightmare of madness. What did it all mean -- where did it come from? Whither was it going?"
I have to say, though, that I did really appreciate that the heroine is not young -- in her early thirties for the main part of the drama -- and that the hero is not some dark and brooding Rochester-type, but tall and ugly with bright red hair. I think that it takes a bit of courage to buck the trends when one is starting out as a novelist, so I give Stevenson credit for that.
The Fair Miss Fortune, however, is classic early Stevenson. It was written around 1937 -- and was rejected by Stevenson's then-publisher as "too old-fashioned". (Stevenson replied bemusedly, "I am old-fashioned.") Charming heroines -- two of them, identical twins, which was the publisher's kick against the story ("it's been done") -- likeable heroes, characters of both supportive and hindering stripes, misunderstandings, sparkling and easy dialogue, all of Stevenson's hallmarks. One doesn't like to bandy the word "delightful" about too often, but this one probably deserves it!
And here are two knitting patterns to go with them -- for Emily Dennistoun,
a sensible 1920s jumper, don't remember now where I found this. Plain garter rib, yet with hidden depths in the differently-colored trim....
and for The Fair Miss Fortune, from around 1935, a flirtatious ruffled dress of Moorland Tweeds wool -- with "that English flair" so essential, we think, for a D.E. Stevenson knit-along.