I was going to write about all four books -- and all six Misses -- in this post, but I ended up having more to say than I thought I would. So I'll start with the two D.E. Stevenson books, Miss Buncle's Book and Miss Buncle Married.
(This is not how I imagine Miss Buncle. Even after she gets a new hat.)
(This is a better cover, a 1930s/40s edition that I found in this fantastic collection of D.E. Stevenson cover art. I'm still amazed that the internet contains a collection of D.E. Stevenson cover art!)
Miss Buncle's Book is the coziest of this group, about the sleepy village of Silverstream, where Miss Buncle lives. Miss Buncle is "a thin, dowdy woman of forty" with no money, a terrible hat, and an inability to express herself in conversation. But she also has a gift for seeing everyone exactly as they are and then writing her observations down. She publishes a novel set in a thinly-disguised version of Silverstream, and in the novel the two sides of her personality are reflected: she bases a character on herself, a quiet old maid, but she is also represented in her book by a Golden Boy, a magical godlike character who walks through the village and changes everyone's lives. In the actual village of Silverstream, it's Miss Buncle who transforms the village -- by writing her book and showing the villagers what they are really like. So this is a book about a book, and it's totally metaliterary. For one thing, Miss Buncle's book is written in the same style as Miss Buncle's Book, if that makes sense. Miss Buncle is supposed to have written her book in deceptively simple language that makes the satirical portraits of her neighbors even funnier. And D.E. Stevenson combines simplicity and satire in the same way. The difference is that Miss Buncle is a more innocent writer: she writes the truth about her friends without seeing that it's funny, whereas D.E. Stevenson is definitely in on all of the jokes. And the jokes are very funny, like E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia books, only with a metaliterary twist. Oh, and later, Miss Buncle writes a second book in which the character based on her writes a book, and the metaliterariness (if that's a word) gets completely out of control.
(This is the most recent edition of Miss Buncle Married.)
(But look at this cover from the 1970s! It's like an old Harlequin Romance.)
I'm not going to worry about spoiling the ending of Miss Buncle's Book, because the sequel is called Miss Buncle Married, so you already know how it turns out. Miss Buncle Married finds the former Miss Buncle trying to navigate her world without publishing novels about it. She does seem to wield a frightening power in the first book -- she can control people's lives with her writing! In the second book, she's trying to avoid using her artistic power because of the repercussions that she suffered earlier. But she can't stop observing people and meddling with their lives. She befriends a pompous artist and his wild children, and she tries to direct the course of the romance between her nephew-in-law and his girlfriend. But things don't go quite the way she plans them, which leads to some hilarious scenes in this book, and also to some disturbing ones. In the end -- and now I am going to give away the ending of the book -- Miss Buncle decides that the best way to control other people is to be a wife and mother. This is the part that Teresa from Shelf Love found so off-putting, and I agree, although I see why Stevenson ends the book this way. But: "She had a man -- all her own -- with his life to make or mar; a house -- the house of her dreams -- where her lightest word was law," and soon she will have a child "to cherish and control." Wow, D.E. Stevenson. That's a disturbing way to put it. It doesn't mean, though, that I'm not dying to read the third Miss Buncle book (I'll never be able to stop calling her Miss Buncle, even though the third book is called The Two Mrs. Abbotts), which should have a new edition out in the U.S. next year.