Note: This is a guest posting from Annaliese McSweeney, dramaturg for our Fall MainStage production of Miss Buncle’s Book.
Meet Dorothy Emily Stevenson. She was the kind of woman who wrote on the sofa with her feet up and a green baize board on her lap while she smoked her cigarettes. She was a devoted wife, mother of four, and a “lovely cuddly granny” who played Scrabble with her granddaughters. But also, she was the author of over forty-five novels that were written throughout sixty years, including Miss Buncle’s Book, the source material for Lifeline’s upcoming fall production. A prolific writer during her lifetime, she was an international bestseller and to this day she has an international fan club who affectionately call themselves “Dessies” after her.
Dorothy Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1892. Her father was a lighthouse engineer and she enjoyed a privileged upbringing. While she was well-educated by a series of governesses at home, her father refused to send her to college because as she said in an interview, “he didn’t want a blue stocking girl in the family,” meaning that he thought it was improper to have an intellectual or literary young woman in the household. He simply did not think that it was worthwhile to educate a woman beyond primary school. Stevenson had showed an interest in writing from the age of eight, although she often had to hide her poetry and stories from her family due to their disapproval, and began publishing her writings in 1915. In 1916, at the age of 24, she married Captain James Reid Pepole and began to keep a diary about her life as an army wife. She had four children before 1930, the eldest of which died while away at school in 1928.
Although she had previously published some books of her poetry, her first novel, Peter West, was published in 1923 and was not very successful. Her second attempt fiction was a happy accident that was inspired by her own diary. She had lent it to a friend whose daughter was marrying a lieutenant in order to give her an idea of what life as a service wife would be like, but the friend liked the writing so much that her family read it aloud and laughed so hard they cried. They encouraged Stevenson to publish it, but instead she drew on it to write what would later become Mrs. Tim of the Regiment in 1932. Mrs. Tim has gone on to become one of Stevenson’s most beloved and popular characters. It was through this story that Stevenson recognized and developed her skill for characterization and her interest in interpersonal relationships of everyday life. She wrote another book before publishing Miss Buncle’s Book in 1934, the first of another series of one of Stevenson’s most beloved characters. Both Mrs. Tim and Miss Buncle have become staples of Stevenson’s stories, each having their own series of books as well as being woven into other stories and making cameo appearances in other books. Stevenson’s worlds of her books were often intertwined, so her characters were able to visit one another from time to time. Stevenson more or less wrote a novel a year from then until 1969. That year her husband passed away and it was to be the end of her writing career as well. She passed away in 1973 and is buried with her husband in their hometown of Moffat, where she and her family lived for nearly 30 years. Over her lifetime Stevenson published over 45 novels, and three have been published posthumously.
D. E. Stevenson is most commonly remembered for her “light romantic novels,” although over the course of her career she also wrote in a variety of genres: war novels, science fiction, and a few spy thrillers. Much of her work could be described as “fictional biographies,” but she also demonstrated the ability to move outside of her comfort zone in terms of content. While her body of work as a whole is difficult to categorize, her stories are always driven by character development and rich personalities. Her books look at the intricacies of the human condition and are filled with the nuances, manners, and details of the historical period, which make them familiar and yet unique. Through it all, her light-handed humor makes it all the more enjoyable.
In recent years there has been renewed interest in the novels of D. E. Stevenson, despite the fact that many of her books were out of print for quite some time. More than four million of her books had been sold in Great Britain alone, with another three million sold in the United States and there was always an active demand for them in the second-hand market. In 2008, Miss Buncle’s Book was re-published by Persephone Books, followed shortly by Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by Bloomsbury Books in 2009. Since then, three other Miss Buncle books have been re-published as well as four of her other books. After her death, three unknown novels were found and published by her granddaughter, who also later published two unfinished manuscripts. The Dessies, Stevenson’s fan club, have a worldwide following with members in America, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. They keep in touch through the Internet and attribute new technology with a having a hand in bringing them together and renewing interest in D. E. Stevenson’s books. Many of them traveled to her hometown for the champagne toast and reveal of her previously unpublished novels in 2011.
“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”
DES to American friend Jewelene Epps Jones, November 1973
Sources and Further Reading
D. E. Stevenson Website maintained by Susan Dot Daly:
D. E. Stevenson Website maintained by Susan Monahan:
“Staying Power” article by Mary Smith as appeared in Dumfries & Galloway Life in April 2011:
For a complete listing of D. E. Stevenson’s books: