I just finished reading Barbara Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson, published in 1934, and the eleventh book in the Back to the Classics Challenge. This book falls under the category of Humorous or Satirical Classic. I’d never heard of either the title or the author prior to reading it. When I looked up more information on the author I discovered she had written forty-five books and the main character of this one, Barbara Buncle, ends up in a number of other books.
|D. E. Stevenson, 1892-1973|
Barbara Buncle’s Book is the story of Barbara Buncle who lives in Tanglewood Cottage (I find it so interesting that houses all over England have names) in the little village of Silverstream. She wrote her book, as she tells her publisher Mr. Abbott, for one reason:
“for money … You see my dividends are so wretched this year … And then when they didn’t come in — or else came in only about half the usual amount — it gave me rather a shock.”
Miss Buncle, as she is referred to throughout the book, is a 40-something unmarried woman who just blends into the scenery and village around her. There is nothing extraordinary about her.
“Nobody in Silverstream cared what Barbara Buncle thought, the woman was nothing but an idiot.”
But she is a keen observer and puts her observation skills to good use by writing about what she sees. Her book is, for the most part, full of true stories about her fellow Silverstreamites, but she changes the names of the characters (sort of) to protect the guilty! And what a great job she does with the names! She twists them just enough, but not so much that the residents of Silverstream cannot easily identify themselves and everyone else. Before long Silverstream is all in a dither.
When she submits her manuscript for publication, which incidentally becomes a runaway bestseller, the title is Chronicles of an English Village, but Mr. Abbott, her publisher, changes the name to Disturber of the Peace. Oh my, but does this book ever disturb the peace of Silverstream. Miss Buncle isn’t foolish enough to publish the book under her own name and instead chooses “John Smith” as her pseudonym. Almost immediately most of Silverstream are asking rather angrily, “Who is John Smith?”
Nobody suspects that Barbara Buncle is John Smith!
It’s simply brilliant how she twists some of the names.
Silverstream becomes Copperfield.
Mrs. Featherstone Hogg becomes Mrs. Horsely Downs.
Dr. Walker becomes Dr. Rider
Mrs. Bold becomes Mrs. Mildmay
Colonel Weatherhead becomes Major Waterfoot
Mrs. Margaret Bulmer becomes Mrs. Edith Gaymer
Miss King becomes Miss Earle
Miss Pretty becomes Miss Darling
Mrs. Vivian Greensleeves becomes Mrs. Myrtle Coates
Some of the residents believe a libel suit is called for but unfortunately for them they discover no lawyer will take it on. Proving libel is a pretty tough business when actual names aren’t mentioned and what is being said is essentially true.
The story unfolds wonderfully with actual consequences both good and bad. Some of the stories in Disturber of the Peace end up being realized in the lives of the real people of Silverstream.
Barbara Buncle ends up writing a second book, The Pen is Mightier. Fortunately for her she hightails it out of Silverstream, seemingly minutes before it’s published since the identity of John Smith will become obvious in her second book.
The book ends happily and it can be said that the only residents who were hurt by Disturber of the Peace did it to themselves!
Definitely consider putting this one on your “to be read” stack. It is guaranteed to make you smile if not actually laugh out loud. I certainly did.
In the introduction to the book Stevenson refers to a second book about Barbara Buncle, Miss Buncle Married. I hope to find a copy and read it soon.