D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s Book (1934)
D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle Married (1936)
‘I’m an author,’ she said to herself. ‘How very odd!’ —from Miss Buncle’s Book
Well, Miss Buncle’s Book did not disappoint. After a bit of a slow start spent maundering about the village bakery, we meet Barbara Buncle and learn about her book. This “Chronicle of an English Village” has been written in all naive simplicity in the hopes of earning a few pounds, and is devastatingly accurate in its observations because Miss Buncle “has no imagination at all.” The publisher she submits her manuscript to recognizes that it will sell like mad, and although he is surprised when the author “John Smith” turns out to be a rather unassuming lady, and that “his” witty satire is the product of a supremely innocent mind, he signs her up on the spot.
Of course, the very thinly disguised residents of the village begin to recognize themselves when the book becomes a bestseller, and work their way into various ridiculous complications according to their natures. They even start to fulfill some of the destinies that Miss Buncle (belying her own self-declared lack of imagination) has created for them.
I believe this is why Miss Buncle’s Book has lasting appeal: it gives form to the truth that without imagination, without the stories we tell ourselves, there would be no movement and no development; life would come to a standstill. The imagination comes as an unwelcome disruption for those who prefer to live life as an endlessly recurring sameness, but if we follow its song it may lead us around the corner into an unexpected future.
Such is certainly the fate of Miss Buncle, who, after writing a second book that makes the village entirely too hot to hold her, escapes her confirmed spinsterhood into matrimony—and so we have the sequel, Miss Buncle Married. The happy couple leave the dull round of London bridge parties and settle down in a (different) English village. Naturally, they can’t escape being caught up in some absurd situations, notably when Barbara hears the reading of a will that is meant for someone else entirely. Seized with the novel-writing bug again, she produces a scenario that makes everything turn out perfectly—and then endures agonies as she realizes that to publish it would mean having to jump town again. How can life go on without the assistance of art?
Miss Buncle Married explores another dimension of the imagination (here, the dangers of meddling and the happy consequences of sometimes NOT being able to follow our desires). Like its predecessor, it will never be mistaken for great literature, but is an amusing and not entirely thoughtless way to spend a few evenings. But the great question for me at the end was: how can Barbara not be allowed to publish her book? It felt like a betrayal of her creative impulse, and I’m hoping that in The Two Mrs. Abbotts, just re-released by Sourcebooks, I might find some satisfaction. Look for a review in a few days to find out what I thought.