Two E.H. Young novels, Celia and Jenny Wren; two Georgette Heyers; Mollie Panter-Downes' One Fine Day; and two D.E. Stevenson novels, Mrs. Tim Gets a Job and The House on the Cliff. I also got Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes and two more D.E. Stevensons, Shoulder the Sky and The Blue Sapphire.
I was so excited about all of the D.E. Stevenson books because I had just read Mrs. Tim of the Regiment and Miss Buncle's Book, and I wanted more. The first one I read was The House on the Cliff, which Stevenson published in 1966.
(You can see above what my copy looks like in its library binding, but I think this is probably the cover it had originally.)
(And here is the hilariously cheesy cover of the 1978 edition.)
The House on the Cliff is a perfect example of one of my favorite genres, the girl-gets-a-house book. You know the kind of story I mean. It's about a woman who buys or inherits a house. Ideally it should be a beautiful old house in a gorgeous setting, and there should be a community of eccentric neighbors. Sometimes there is a villain who wants to force the woman out, as in Elizabeth von Arnim's The Benefactress. Sometimes there are children who come to live in the house, as in Elizabeth Goudge's Pilgrim Inn. The woman almost always falls in love, but her most important relationship in the book is the one she has with her house.
The woman in The House on the Cliff is Elfrida Ware, and she is a struggling young actress in London, overworked and underfed. The house (spoiler: it's on a cliff) is in Devonshire, and it's not exactly beautiful, but it is strong and old and solidly built. Elfrida inherits it from a grandmother she never knew, and here is what one of the lawyers handling the will has to say about it:
"It's a real house. It has been there, sitting on top of the cliff for hundreds of years; it looks as if it had grown there, like a mushroom ... no, not like a mushroom (they're impermanent); it's more like a fine old tree, deeply rooted in the soil."
And that description explains why I love this kind of book. I love the idea that a house can give you a sense of permanence, that it can connect you to the landscape, that it can be so deeply rooted that you get your own roots just by living here. Elfrida's house is exactly the right kind of house to give her roots. It has everything: a bedroom that looks out on the sea, an ancient kitchen full of blue-and-white china, flower gardens, fruit trees, a farm with pigs and a cow, a stream with banks of primroses and violets -- oh, and it also comes with a cook and gardener who don't even want wages. So basically the ultimate wish-fulfillment house.
(I live in an apartment in a part of the world that doesn't really have cliffs. But maybe I should relocate to somewhere more like this?)
It's not just the perfection of the house that makes The House on the Cliff so satisfying. The story has all of the right elements. There is a character who is scheming to steal the house away from Elfrida, there is a child who comes for a life-changing visit to the house, and there are several men who might be romantic matches for Elfrida, one of whom is thoroughly unlikable. This book also has many of the qualities that I loved in the other D.E. Stevenson books I've read. The House on the Cliff isn't as witty as the Miss Buncle books, but it has the same sense of humor, the same sort of quirky characters, and the same absorbing interest in the everyday details of life. I think that those are the things that keep me searching for more and more books by D.E. Stevenson.