The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson

 The Musgraves cover

The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1960. Esther and Charles Musgrave have been married for 25 years but they’re not destined to add any more years to that tally as Charles is terminally ill. He was a widower when he married Esther and is much older than her. His 17 year old son Walter reacted badly to the marriage and took off in high dudgeon to make a life for himself, cutting off all contact with his father.

All that is in the past though and it’s Esther and their three daughters that are preying on Charles’s mind in his last days. Delia the eldest daughter has always been difficult, she has never quite got over not being an only child and having to share her parents with two younger sisters. She’s a needy and dissatisfied young woman and likes everybody to know it, with the result that the other members of the family are walking on eggshells when she’s around.

Meg the middle daughter is going to be married to Bernard soon, but her mother isn’t at all happy about the match. Charles is obviously keen to get Meg settled with a steady husband, looking to the future he knows that Bernard will be a help to his family when he’s no longer around to look after them. Esther doesn’t like Bernard and is really quite a hypocrite considering her far more mismatched but successful marriage with Charles.

Rose, the youngest daughter is packed off to school and with Charles’s death and Meg’s marriage Esther is living with just Delia in the much smaller house that they’ve had to move to when it became a financial necessity to move out of their large family home. Delia isn’t happy with the change in their circumstances, living in a large house with plenty of land around it had been important for her ego and she feels the downfall keenly. Esther is delighted with the new house though, it’s just Delia’s personality that is a problem.

I enjoyed this book about difficult family dynamics and clashing personalities. It’s often the middle child in a family who is supposedly the difficult one so I’m told, but I think that quite often the eldest child comes as such a shock to some mothers, especially if they are young mothers and are an only child themselves. I’ve certainly observed some young mothers treating their eldest as if they are a sibling that they never had and not their child. By the time they have a second child they’re ready to get into mothering mode so the relationship is very different. It’s harsh on the eldest child. Perhaps that was part of Delia’s problem.

Well, as Tolstoy said: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Although I prefer D.E. Stevenson’s books to have a Scottish setting (so parochial of me I know) I did enjoy this one.

Family History

People who want to find out more about their family history can sometimes wonder how on earth they can make a start.

So for a kick off I think that it is quite interesting to take a look at the National Trust surname search page.

You can then enter in all the family names which you have dug up and it will come up with a map giving you the highest density of that name at a particular time period.

For instance if you enter in the name Carruthers (that always sounds quite a posh name to me somehow), it comes up with Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland as the main area for that surname.

Dumfries and Galloway is close to England but you could never mistake it for England. It always amazes me that the place is so vast and feels so remote. Just miles and miles of hills and sheep, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of signs of habitation. Very atmospheric though and I think a bit spooky but maybe that’s just because they aren’t the hills of home.

The internet is a fantastic tool for family research and I think if you google just about any county in Britain they will have a genealogy section on their website. All very exciting.

Don’t blame me though if it turns out that you are descended from a long line of cut-throats or sheep thieves!

One of my collateral ancestors was transported to Australia for sedition, but I’m quite proud of him. It was 1795 and he was trying to get the vote for the common man. Unfortunately he ended up dying of yellow fever. He was a tenant farmer, nothing at all exciting until his mouth got the better of himself and he upset the government of the day.