By D. E. Stevenson
“I have noticed that nowadays when people speak of being broad-minded they really mean muddleheaded, or lacking in principles—or possibly lacking the strength to stand up for any principles they may have. Nowadays people are anxious to appear worse than they are,” said Mr. Grace, smiling. “It’s a queer sort of inverted hypocrisy, Mrs. Smith…but I must apologize for sermonizing.” “Not at all,” replied Mrs. Smith. “I always think it’s so interesting to hear people talking shop.” Mr. Grace was a trifle taken aback at this description of his calling. He was silent.”
The Four Graces takes up right where The Two Mrs. Abbotts leaves off. Starting with Miss Buncle’s Book, This is the 4th novel set in the universe which opened with Barbara Buncle in Silverstream and continued to Wandlebury and environs. The once mysterious Jane Watt is marrying Archie Chevis-Cobbe and the wedding is being officiated by Reverend Grace, the local vicar, with one of his 4 daughters, Tilly, playing the organ. We are soon introduced to the other 3 Graces: Liz, Sal, and Addie. Liz and Sal are the two sisters that this book revolves around. After the wedding, Miss Marks, my favorite character from “Abbots”, loses her umbrella which kicks off a series of events that ends in marriage for one of the Graces. Or is it Tilly’s failure to dust the organ before sitting down which starts things off? While getting two of the 4 Graces settled as far as their “happily ever afters,” we are treated to stories involving an evacuee who is being called home to London by his mother (echoing a similar happenstance in a former book), a scandal involving doing the flowers in church, an archeologist excavating a Roman fort, a fete, and the various challenges that all England had to face during WWII. Not to mention, an intrusive Aunt that causes havoc and confoundment for our family. Through it all, three of the four sisters are right in the thick of everything that happens.(Addie is in London doing her part in the war effort.)
Do I wish there were more of the beloved characters from the previous 3 novels? Yes. But I absolutely adored it. Of all of the 4 interconnected novels, it was my favorite. It was touching, tender, wise, and the most romantic. And it is funny. The characters of each of the Grace family, their neighbors, and the fly in the ointment, Aunt Rona, were flawlessly drawn. The two love interests for Sal and Liz were so appealing. I couldn’t have devised better for the two young women, whom I grew so fond of. Aunt Rona was the soul sister of Mrs. Elton of Emma, and I am maybe exaggerating a little bit when I say she belongs right up there next to her in the pantheon priceless English caricatures (in a bad way.) There is a passage towards the end of the book where Liz is cleverly satirizing the vanquished Aunt that is not only witty and clever but hilarious as well. I wish I could quote reams from the book, but I listened to it on Audio which was charmingly narrated by Karen Cass. And you would have to get to know Aunt Rona to appreciate the humor. And you should. I would recommend to anyone who loves gentle English novels to treat themselves and get to know this charming happy family. But first, you really should read the one prior to it, and the one prior to that, and the one prior to that. I wish D. E. Stevenson had written more in this particular world ala Angela Thirkell and her Barsetshire Chronicles.
August 23, 2021