The Proper Place by O. Douglas

I’m on a bit of an O. Douglas binge at the moment. The title The Proper Place is a reference to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale in which a whistle is blown and everyone is magically whisked to their proper place in society, I must admit I don’t know that one at all.

Anyway, when I read the blurb on the dust cover fly-leaf of this old book I just had to read it because it’s about a family of women who have to move from their beloved home in the Scottish borders as they can’t afford to live in their large house now that all the men in the family are dead. Their friends want them to take a smaller house in the same neighbourhood but they think that a clean break would be best and decide to look for a house in an entirely different part of Scotland.

Mrs Rutherford, her daughter Nicole and niece Barbara end up living in an old stone harbour house with crowsfeet gables in Fife of all places, which is on the east coast of course and where I happen to live. The localities were all familiar to me although most of the place names had been changed they were still recognisable, so I spent my time saying to myself the red rocks must be the ones at Wemyss – and such like.

Nicole, the daughter is the type of person who speaks to everyone and makes friends wherever she goes (Evee!). Her cousin Barbara is more stand-offish and a bit snobbish, but Nicole is determined to settle into village life and sets about visiting the locals who are an odd set of people, including a retired couple who had lived most of their lives in India.

Towards the end the action does move back to the Peebles area, so beloved by all the Buchan/Douglas family. There’s romance of course, eventually and as O. Douglas herself said, her books are as sweet as home-made toffee, but they’re always mixed with sadness somehow, which makes these comfort books of hers more true to life really, especially when you remember that they would have been read by women who had lost sons and husbands in wars and children to what are now trivial childhood illnesses. The book was first published in 1926.

I’ve read quite a few of her books now and I’m sure that there is a wee bit of repetition now and again in them, it’s something which J.M. Barrie did too in his books, were they being thrifty Scots?!

If you know Fife at all, and the borders for that matter then it does add more to the experience I think, it is nice to recognise places and even buildings mentioned in books. I was trying to think which harbour house she had used as the house in the book and I had decided that only Dysart fitted the description, sure enough she does mention in her book Unforgettable,Unforgotten (I’ll write about that in the near future) that she used the Dysart Harbour Master’s house for the setting. The photo below is one which I took of the harbour with the back of the house in the background, it is now a musueum and bistro.

Dysart Harbour Master's House

10 thoughts on “The Proper Place by O. Douglas

  1. Katrina, A Day of Small Things is this story too! Maybe it had a different title in the US? I love the description of the house. It’s so neat too see it!!!

  2. Just re-read your description of the The Proper Place. Isn’t Evee from Peebles? You both post great pictures on your trips and we’re happy you’re sharing!
    I hope Evee reads this, because I’m currently unable to leave comments on her blog, and like yours, it’s one of the best.

    • Thanks Lorraine! Sorry you can’t post comments on my blog. I had to do something to stop getting loads of spam messages, but I didn’t realise it would prevent bonafide commenters too! If you want to email me, I’ll put your comment on the blog!!!
      Thanks Katrina too! I do seem to make friends wherever I go!
      I must try and get hold of these O. Douglas books! Love your photo of Dysart.

        • I wouldn’t bet on our library having too many of O.Douglas’s books!! It’s not very big, and no room for old books!

          • Evee,
            I’ve had a look at the borders catalogue and they seem to have a lot of her books at the local history centre, wherever that might be! I think most libraries have a lot more books available at a reserve stock location which isn’t open to the public, you just have to request them, but it’s a free service as long as they are within your own county. Have a look at the link below and put O. Douglas into the search box.

            http://librarysearch.scotborders.gov.uk/ab/default.ashx

    • Lorraine,
      Yes, Evee is lucky enough to live in Peebles. We have met up in Edinburgh and intend to get together again, here, there,or wherever – when we can get around to it, weather and sick friends permitting. We’ll meet up with you next year or whenever you get to Scotland! Thanks for the compliments.

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