O. Douglas

My mother-in-law was a great fan of the books of O. Douglas, which was the pen name for the Scottish novelist Anna Buchan, sister of John Buchan of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Recently, while Doug and I were bookshopping in Victoria, I found  six small hardback copies of her books, and I bought them just because they reminded me of Bessie.

I read a few of the books at Bessie’s request years ago when I was a young mother, and I found them to be sweet but a little too sentimental. I didn’t have the patience for them. But now as I read them from a middle-aged viewpoint, I am seeing a few things differently. First off, they remind me a bit of Jane Austen because the stories are usually set in an obscure little Scottish town, and all the action is really simply getting to know the characters by accompanying them to tea or on a trip across the Scottish countryside. These are not action-packed thrillers by any stretch.

Secondly, the writing is clever, if occasionally sentimental. Buchan clearly appreciated that everyone has a story, and she writes compassionately and humorously about widows, orphans, ministers’ wives, and spinsters, as well as young boys (which seem to be her favorite characters), cooks and maids. It was a different era when she was writing (her books were published between 1912-1940’s). Many had lost loved ones at war, and she writes with understanding about grieving wives and mothers. She loves the cheerful character who is up against it. And throughout all her stories is the assumption that her reader will understand her biblical allusions and her Christian viewpoint.

A few years ago I found a copy of Unforgettable, Unforgotten, which is a memoir she wrote about her brother John. Imagine my joy when I opened the cover and found it had been signed! So of course we bought it for Doug’s mom.

So this has been some nice summer reading for me. I’m finding that I understand my mother-in-law far better since I am reading these book now, at the same age that she was when she first urged them on me. They aren’t easy to find. If you stumble across them, do pick them up.

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11 thoughts on “O. Douglas

  1. They are delightful books! I love to read them in the wintertime, on dark, late afternoons.

  2. I’m an O. Douglas fan and have all her books. John B. called them ‘domestic fiction’ and Anna said that she got a lot of letters from invalids who appreciated them. I would argue (quite strongly in fact) that they are ‘gentle’ rather than sentimental.

    The really wonderful thing about them is that they are so very biographical. In her first book ‘Olivia in India’, Anna didn’t even bother to change some of the names of people she met in India on the trip she took out there to spend time with her brother. It got her into quite a bit of trouble.

    ‘The House That Is Our Own’ has a trip to Canada that is based on a visit she and her mother made to Canada to visit John when he was the GG there.

    Generally speaking, I would say the books appeal to older women (and invalids!). They aren’t ‘exciting’, but they are very informative, especially if you are interested in that period between the two wars.

  3. Thank you for the recommendation! I’ve never heard of this author and after doing a bit of a search, I found 3 of her books at gutenberg.org (free downloads) and for sale on Abebooks.com (used books) and Amazon. I’m looking forward to reading one!

  4. O Douglas!!! I’ve only read one of her books (“Olivia”) but enjoyed it, though usually I prefer to be reading one of her brother’s more thrilling books! I have picked up the odd O Douglas book here and there since, usually because they come with adorable dustcovers, and as so many people have told me that they are best appreciated by older people, I have been saving them up for such a time as I have grown old enough to really love them!

  5. I’ve recently discovered O Douglas through Greyladies, an Edinburgh publisher that has reprinted several titles. I also have the three free books on my e-reader. I love books set in Scotland & OD’s books are gentle, undemanding but comforting. Perfect for the right mood. I’m glad you gave them another try.

  6. I love John Buchan! I’m excited to hear that he has a sister, who wrote also! This author’s name is going on my list right now.

  7. She is one of my favorite authors. My favorite of her novels (that I’ve read!)is “The Setons”, if you happen to get your hands on it. Her depiction of Calvinism in that novel is beautiful. As with most things, I don’t agree with her 100%, but 99.9999996 isn’t bad.

    Anyone with a Kindle, several of her books are available for free on Amazon. That’s how I got my fingers on “The Setons”.

  8. “Penny Plain” is my favorite. I return to it almost every year. I love the family dynamics, the banter between the siblings.

    I have also downloaded a few for free on my Kindle.

    Thank you, Nancy, for such a happy reminder.

  9. Am just beginning “Eliza for Common”, loaned to me by a dear friend. I have enjoyed several of her others in years past.

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