Reading D. E. Stevenson is simultaneously profoundly entertaining and heart-wrenching.
Her books reside in Scottish hills, in rural English villages, in the souls of people I can still identify. Gossipy villagers, retired military, silly girls, and hard-working clergymen. The archetypes are present in modern literature as well as society -- the church ladies who are always throwing a fundraiser, the neighbor slighted by some paltry ordeal, the befuddled academic who finds himself perpetually out of place.
I am attracted to these books for their colorful characters. I'm also drawn to what seems to be a slower pace, one unconnected by technology. Not everyone in Stevenson's books has a phone, they write letters, and women go to the market on specific days. The Four Graces takes place during wartime rationing, which probably seems rather romantic in retrospect, but must have been upsetting and tedious at the time. It also takes place in Chevis Green, one of Stevenson's tiny British hamlets out in the countryside, briefly featuring some of the characters from The Two Mrs. Abbotts. The story follows the four Graces (the Reverend Grace and his daughters: Liz, Sal, and Tilly) and their friends and family as they balance life, love, and unwelcome relatives. It's a charming story, and it also hit my nostalgia buttons in very strange places.
In this time period, knitting a sweater was not a waste of time. In fact, you never get a sense of wasted time within these pages: time is spent. Never wasted, no more than the fish scraps saved to create a fish pie or the pieces of old towel used to patch clothing and linens. People make things in this book, even if it's just darning a sock, fashioning a piece of furniture, cooking a meal, or fostering friendships. Time is invested
, even in leisure activities. I love it.
Maybe it's just symptomatic of being perpetually tossed around by life, but I sometimes long for the time to sit down and actually fit something instead of feeling obligated to constantly be busy. People work hard in Stevenson's books, but they are allowed to do so at a slower pace without being rushed along an assembly line. As a result, Stevenson awards those she sees fit with happy endings, or just endings, and it's ultimately quite satisfying.