Even in Light Novels, the Characters Read the Classics

The Four Graces Stevenson 51o4TBLTbrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My light reading lately has included some charming novels by D. E. Stevenson, best known for Mrs. Tim of the Regiment (Bloomsbury Reads) and Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married (Sourcebooks and Persephone).

I have been chuckling over The Four Graces, the delightful story of the four daughters of Mr. Grace, the absent-minded vicar of a church in the charming village Chevis Green.  Published in 1946 and set during World War II, the Graces enjoy themselves, despite the inconveniences of rationing, blackouts, and clothing coupons.  My favorite character, Sal,  the homemaker of the family, is constantly standing in line for fish, stretching meals to feed her father’s pet young men and a middle-aged archaeologist, and  smoothing the feathers of local characters like Miss Bodkin, upset over a misunderstanding about doing the flowers at church.  The other sisters are also agreeable:  vivacious Liz works on a farm, quiet Tilly is the church organist, and clothes-conscious Addie, who is in London doing war work, is obsessed with finding something to wear besides her uniform.

But everything is thrown off course when Aunt Rona, surely one of the most obnoxious characters in literary history, moves in with them after the windows of her London flat are shattered by a bomb. She criticizes the sisters, insults the servant, and sets her cap at the vicar.  The evenings are hell, because she talks non-stop and they can’t read or talk nonsense to each other.

Tilly, especially upset by overbearing Aunt Rona, goes to bed early to read.

Sal knew that she would not sleep so she took Emma to bed with her, hoping that the well-known story would soothe her troubled spirit and dissipate her worried thoughts, but it was no use at all; the worries kept flooding in and she found herself reading whole pages without taking in the sense.  She put down the book in despair and allowed her thoughts full rein.

emma jane austen penguinEmma is one of my favorite comfort reads, too! Although some  disapprove of willful Emma, I find the book very funny and have read it so many times I’ve had to find new comfort reads.

Don’t you love it when fictional characters read your favorite books?

What are your favorite comfort reads?  And can you think of any fictional characters who read the classics?

12 thoughts on “Even in Light Novels, the Characters Read the Classics

  1. DES does some to be an ideal comfort read – I certainly loved Miss Buncle. And of course although I always take great joy in reading characters reading other books I like, I can’t remember any at the moment….

  2. Individual poems and poets comfort me. I like to repeat them aloud, e.g., Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree. Keats’s sonnets. I find Samuel Johnson in his Ramblers comforting — and strengthening. So too Trollope. I’m just now re-listening to and about to re-read The Small House at Allington. The first year after Jim died I found a number of books by people who had lost a beloved person comforted and strengthened me. The last third or story in Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life. Jim used to like Barnes a lot: he found intelligently funny books comforting too.

  3. I goofed: I meant Keats’s odes not his sonnets. To a Nightingale for example. I once heard Stephen Frye read it aloud; very comforting.

  4. I Capture The Castle, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, anything by Angela Thirkell, The Country Of Pointed Firs, and if I’m I’ll, Terry Pratchett especially the Granny Weather stories. Emma is my favorite Austen. Miss Bates is endlessly amusing.

    • Oh, I love Dodie Smith! Actually, I love all of these you mention, except I’ve missed the Granny Weather stories. I’m not sure where I picked up the idea people don’t like Emma, but she gets some backs up online. It’s my favorite, too.

  5. I really enjoyed The Four Graces although hadn’t expected much of it. I love it when characters read books I have read. I recently enjoyed The Testament of Vida Tremayne where a character has a book of Elizabeth Taylor short stories (oh how I loved her for reading those). I absolutely adored Emma the second time I read it, I think she annoyed me the first time.

    • The Four Graces is fun! I think it’s done well because it’s the “fourth” Miss Buncle book (though it’s not about her). Yes, I also admired Sarah Vincent’s book!

  6. I have The Four Graces on my Kindle, so maybe that’ll be my next light read. I’m always thrilled when a fictional character reads one of my favorite books.

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