The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson

Oh, this is lovely!

A good, old fashioned romance, nicely plotted and smartly executed. It was published in the thirties and as I would love to think that my grandmother, then the young mother of three children, read this book. She loved a good romance, and she would have so enjoyed meeting Miss Charlotte Dean and learning her story.

15942631Charlotte was an impoverished gentlewoman, living a solitary life in a small London flat, working in a small private library and losing herself in her books. And she was at a turning point in her life. She had been asked to do something, something that she knew she ought to do, but something that she didn’t want to do, something that she knew would cause her heartache. She decided to write, addressing an imaginary friend, in the hope that the act of writing would lead her to a firm decision.

She wrote the story of her life.

Charlotte was a vicar’s daughter, and she had grown up in a lovely country parish. She had an idyllic childhood, and it was illuminated by her friendship with Garth, the son and heir of the manor. It was a friendship that grew into love. But then the Great War came: Garth went and Charlotte stayed. He survived, but when he came home something quite inexplicable happened. Garth married someone else. Charlotte’s younger sister,  Kitty.

Charlotte was bewildered she was heartbroken, and so was I. she had pulled me right into her story, and my heart rose and fell with hers, I saw the world as she did.

When her beloved parents died Charlotte decided that she had to move away, that she couldn’t bear to watch her sister living the life that she had thought would be hers, with the man she still loved. And once she had left she stayed away, because she knew that the pain of going back would be too great. She visited just once, because she knew that she couldn’t refuse the invitation to be the godmother of her niece, Clementina.

It was the collapse of Kitty and Garth’s marriage that inspired Charlotte to begin to write to her imaginary friend. Kitty pulled her in, but she didn’t tell her everything. I’d love to explain exactly what happened, but I mustn’t because you need to experience it first hand, as I did alongside Charlotte.

When the dust had settled, and when she finished telling her story to her imaginary friend, Charlotte accepted that she that she had to go home, that she had to help raise Clementina.

It wasn’t easy. She had to manage the house and the staff. She had to build a relationship with a reserved, troubled child. And she had to deal with neighbours shocked at what had happened at the manor. No it wasn’t easy but Charlotte had a good heart, a wise head, and she had been raised by good people with Christian values. It wasn’t plain sailing, not by any means, but I think it’s fair to say that Charlotte succeeded.

Then she had to become the keeper of the flame, and it seemed her future was settled. She had found her place in the world, and her role in life.

But there was a final twist in the tail – the ending was absolutely perfect!

I was so sorry to have to say goodbye to Charlotte and her world, after being caught up in her life and her world from start to finish. That points to very clever writing and plotting. Charlotte’s world, the people in it, all of the things she lived through were painted richly and beautifully. Her story lived and breathed.

There were a few little niggles, but nothing really jarred. Except the imaginary friend – she was given rather too much substance and it really didn’t work; I do wish she had remained completely imaginary.

But this isn’t a book I can analyse and pick apart, because I responded to it with my heart and not my head. It came along just when I needed it, and it was a very fine romance …

I’m so glad that The Young Clementina is coming back into print, and I hope that more of D E Stevenson’s books are following along behind.

21 responses

  1. Is there an Olympic event for how quickly you can go from Fleur in Her World to the library’s website to see if they have this? If so, I just won gold. I know I’ve read D.E. Stevenson — back in the days before we were all so computerized and I used to (gasp!) browse the library shelves. I need to do more of that.

  2. That is just how I discovered DES, by browsing the library shelves. Also, Gladys Taber, and many others. It is still one of my great pleasures to walk along and find an author I’ve never heard of. I’ve saved this review to read after I read the book. Thanks so much.

  3. Is this another Sourcebooks re-issue? The cover design reminds me of the recent Miss Buncles. This sounds like a lovely story – I do like librarians and readers as heroines!

  4. What a treat this sounds! Your review immediately sent me to investigate D.E.Stevenson and I realised that I had read her in the Persephone edition of “Mis Buncle’s Book”, which I loved. She is certainly a writer to seek out further!

  5. Fleur, so pleased you enjoyed this book. I have posted the link to this review to the Yahoo based email DES discussion group, aka DESsies.

  6. Lovely to see these old titles coming back. This is one of D.E.S’s I don’t think I’ve read – will have to keep my eye out for it.

  7. Ha! All it took was the first line (and of course the rest was just confirmation) of your post to make me go and preorder this book! And then I went and grabbed Miss Buncle from my bookshelves. I keep meaning to try her and now I shall! Looking forward to July 2 when the book comes out! 🙂

  8. I read Miss Buncle’s Book last year and enjoyed it, though I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to. I’ve been wanting to try another of her books but Miss Buncle Married doesn’t really appeal to me, so I’ll look out for this one instead. It sounds lovely!

  9. For those who enjoyed the Miss Buncle’s (Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married) I understand that Sourcebooks is planning to reissue The Two Mrs. Abbotts, which is the third book in the series, I think either Dec. 2013 or Jan 2014.

    The Young Clementina is a very different sort of book, but I do enjoy it. I think that Garth was suffering from “Shell Shock” as they would have called it then, or Post Tramatic Stress Disorder in more modern terms, and that was part of the reason behind the big misunderstanding.

  10. Just finished this one myself. What a fabulous summer read it is, too! A good old-fashioned romance with a healthy dose of melodrama and of course a whole bunch of romantic misunderstandings. Loved your review; I’ll be linking it in my own. 🙂

  11. Pingback: Review: The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson | Leaves & Pages

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