Penny Plain by O Douglas (Anna Buchan)

I wanted to read something by O. Douglas, or Anna Buchan as was her real name, and I came across Penny Plain recently in a second-hand book shop. It’s the easiest to find and also the cheapest by far, but I’ve just discovered that I could have downloaded it for free, such is life!

Anna Buchan was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t write thrillers. I think she would be best described as a romance writer and Penny Plain comes under that category ‘kailyard’ which was so popular in the early years of the 20th century.

The novel was first published in 1920. My edition was published in 1922 and it is the 12th edition which gives you an idea of how popular the book was in its day.

It’s set in the Scottish border country in a small town called Priorsford and is the story of Jean Jardine whose parents have died and she has to bring up her two younger brothers and a very small boy who is no blood relation at all, but as he is an orphan she feels obliged to look after him. They all live in a small cottage by the banks of the River Tweed which they rent from a man who lives in London, and Mrs McCosh from Glasgow helps with the housework.

The next-door neighbour, Bella Bathgate, takes in lodgers and Pamela Reston who is an ‘honourable’, a lord’s daughter from London, takes up residence as her guest and becomes great friends with the Jardines, which leads to big changes for all concerned.

There are times when the book gets just a wee bit too religious and Presbyterian, but I suppose that was to be expected from the daughter of a Wee Free minister. The Free Church of Scotland is the strictest form of Presbyterianism, no singing, no music, no dancing, do nothing on a Sunday except go to church and read the bible, don’t even cook a meal!! But then again her brother John never felt the need to bring it into his books.

Having said that the book is full of great characters who all ring true to me as typical Scots, especially Mrs McCosh the Glaswegian and even the dog Peter is a ‘card’. There’s plenty of humour as well as sentimentality.

If you do take a look at this book you might like to know that the wee boy is nicknamed ‘the Mhor’ which is Gaelic for ‘the great one’ and in Gaelic ‘mh’ together is pronounced as a v.

6 thoughts on “Penny Plain by O Douglas (Anna Buchan)

  1. I read this book this fall! I loved it and am hungry for more of her writing. I enjoyed your review with your ‘Scottish’ input! I am especially glad to know how to pronounce Mhor now! Kailyard is a new term for me too.

    • Peggy,

      I’ve read her book Pink Sugar more recently and I think I enjoyed that one even more. I managed to buy another couple of her books when I was in England in October and I’m hoping to get around to reading them soon. Glad you enjoyed Penny Plain!

  2. Hi, I have come across Penny Plain, by O.Douglas, I suspect a first edition, with the original cover, which is a bit torn. Is this a valuable item ?

    • Guy Davies,
      I don’t think an old copy of Penny Plain would be worth much, but you never know. You should take a look at the Abebooks site to see if they have the same copy for sale or the Alibris site. Good luck.


  3. My mother has a copy of ‘Penny Plain’, signed by the author in 1941 when she was running a rangers(girl guides)group in Peebles and my mother was helping.

    • Michael Samson,
      What a lovely thing to have. My mother-in-law was at a guide camp in the Lake District in the 1920s and the land belonged to Beatrix Potter who went to meet them all and handed out signed copies of her books. Unfortunately it had been nicked by someone when it came to clearing my m-i-l’s house.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

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