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.