Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Some enticing Molly Clavering dustjackets & a couple of biographical tidbits

This is another post that I've been planning to do for months, and I was almost ashamed to go ahead and do it, but who could possibly resist sharing dustjacket art and blurbs from two more of Molly Clavering's impossibly obscure novels, which Jerri Chase, a friend of this blog, shared with me ages ago.

Jerri was in Scotland for a time last year, doing research for the first full-scale biography of novelist D. E. Stevenson—which news will undoubtedly excite Stevenson fans everywhere. As some of you know—from my earlier posts about her if not from other sources—Molly Clavering was Stevenson's neighbor and friend in Moffat, a Scottish Borders town of about 2,500 people (nowadays, according to Wikipedia—perhaps fewer in their time?). It's not entirely surprising, then, that Jerri's research led her to a couple of new tidbits of information about Clavering (see below), as well as to a felicitous opportunity to read both Because of Sam (1954) and Spring Adventure (1962), two of Clavering's books that have virtually ceased to exist outside of national libraries. If her time in Scotland didn't make me jealous enough, the glimpse she got of these rare books would tinge me with green.

She first read Because of Sam, which must have appeared very soon after Clavering's one more readily available title, Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer (reprinted in the U.S. as Mrs. Lorimer's Family), as the cover features blurbs about Mrs Lorimer. Jerri didn't have access to a scanner, but her photos of the book's cover are a huge improvement on what was available before (i.e. nothing). Here's the full cover as photographed by Jerri:

And then I decided to experiment with adjusting the photo a little and focusing on the front cover:

Jerri also sent me the jacket flaps, but the image, while just readable if blown up a bit, may not come through here, so I'm transcribing the text:

Millie Maitland sometimes said that the name of her house should be changed from Fernicknowe to Dog Hall, for though there were large clumps of fern, high banks and a steep, winding drive, the dogs—Millie's boarders—seemed much more noticeable.

She was quite content with her life in the Scots village of Mennan; she was perfectly happy taking her dogs out for walks up the glen, cooking in her old-fashioned oven, even country dancing at the Women's Institute.

There was just one cloud. As Mr. Ramsay had said of Millie's daughter long ago: "Amabel will have more intelligence than heart. If only her clever, capable Amabel were kindlier, less fiercely undomesticated. If only she would marry."

Because of Sam also has an author bio, which I don't think contains any new information, but I'm including it in the interests of completeness:

Molly Clavering was born in Glasgow, but lived in the country from a very early age. After six years' service with the WRNS, she settled in Moffat, Dumfries, where she is now the only woman member of the Moffat Town Council.

Her chief interests are anything to do with the countryside and country life, history, folk lore, Scottish Border traditions and country dancing—and an unclipped black poodle.

Jerri reported that she quite liked Because of Sam, which is set in a Borders village not unlike Moffat, and suggested it to Greyladies as a possible follow-up to their edition of Near Neighbours (fingers crossed!). She was a bit more lukewarm about her other Clavering reading experience, but it's a pleasure to get a glimpse of the cover of Spring Adventure, whether or not the book is likely to be a favorite. Again, here's the full cover from Jerri:

And again, I tried to improve just the front cover a little—you can be the judge of the results:

And here is the description of Spring Adventure from the jacket flaps:

Spring in Touraine, 'the garden of France': blue skies, flowering water meadows, the wide Loire flowing by below the historic Chateaux ... everything is so different from her Cotswold home that Joanna, suffering from the shock and humiliation of being jilted in favour of her friend Rosamond, finds her wilting self-confidence gradually restored, though she is determined to have nothing more to do with men.

Her elderly cousin Nigella, writer of children's books, who has brought Joanna to France, thinks otherwise but says nothing. Young men 'bob up' as Joanna feels, quite unnecessarily, and cousin Nigella encourages them because she finds them useful. When her interest in history leads cousin Nigella into strange places, the young men prove very useful indeed; and in the end one of them provides a fitting climax to Joanna's Spring Adventure.

I would obviously jump at the chance to read any of Clavering's other novels, and am still curious about the quality of the numerous, presumably shorter, novels she serialized in The People's Friend. But alas, my chances of tracking any of them down seem about as low as the chances, recently, that I would win a $1.5 billion lottery jackpot (it didn't happen, needless to say).

As I mentioned above, in the process of her research on Stevenson, Jerri learned a couple of details to help fill in our knowledge of Clavering. Probably most interesting is that she learned that the friendship of Clavering and Stevenson goes back at least to the 1930s, when Stevenson and her family (and presumably Clavering) were living in Glasgow. Jerri noted that Stevenson's diary from those years regularly references visits to "the Claverings" and to "Molly." She speculates that Clavering may have decided to settle in Moffat after the war because of the presence of Stevenson and her family.

The other mentions of Clavering that Jerri came across are smaller but still interesting details. For example, Stevenson's daughter Rosemary recalls that the sight of Clavering in her WRNS uniform early in the war inspired her to change her plan of becoming a "driver" and join the WRNS herself. And Jerri learned that Stevenson's husband served on the Town Council, probably during the same years that Clavering did, so presumably they regularly worked together there.

Finally, Jerri discovered that Stevenson had encouraged Clavering in her writing, giving her a gift of a new typewriter (in addition to the dog I mentioned in an earlier post) and trying to interest her American publishers in Clavering's work (perhaps her influence played a role in the American publication of Mrs. Lorimer?). Molly also helped Stevenson with typing at times, though it's unclear whether she did this as a friendly favor when no other typist was available, if she did it when times were hard and she could use the extra money, or perhaps a combination of the two.

It's nice, particularly with such a little-known author as Clavering, to get a few details here and there to help flesh out the picture of her life and work, so a big thanks to Jerri for the information and photos, and for permission to use them here!

I had intended to include a look at the list of authors on the back cover of Spring Adventure, which—if you strain—you can just make out. But I've rambled long enough for one post, so I'm going to include that in another post instead.


  1. Oh, Scott, I have onlyl read "Mrs. Lorimer's Famaily," and was sufficiently pleased to read more - but alas, alas, as you point out - I didn't win the lottery, either.
    The books we could buy.......................
    BUT - great post!

  2. And now - only a day later, I am the proud owner of ANOTHER Clavering title! A fellow DESsie (Becky) gave me a carton of books containing Clavering's "From the Border Hills," and there is Moffat, etc! HOW exciting and timely, eh?

    1. That's great, Tom. I have a copy of that, but haven't got to it yet. Let me know what you think!

  3. ah, you can count on Jerri to provide scrumptious book jacket art.

  4. Scott those covers are gorgeous! I HAVE to have Because of Sam! I did get Mrs. Lorimer and From the Border Hills after reading a post you did last year on her! Next trip to Scotland I am looking specifically for her books!

    1. Aren't they enticing, Peggy Ann? I'm going to be on the lookout for them too the next time we're in the UK.

  5. Those interested in Molly Clavering, please don't forget Near Neighbors, reissued by Greyladies publisher last year, available in the US from An interesting book to compare with Listening Valley by DEStevenson, as it seems to be set in much the same neighborhood of Edinburgh as the first part of that book. And I did enjoy Because of Sam a LOT. (Sam is the dog on the cover.) Thanks to Scott for making such a nice post about Molly Clavering.


    1. Thanks, Jerri. Yes, Near Neighbours is an excellent novel too. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my yearning for hard-to-find titles that I forget to mention the ones that are available. Everyone, please do buy Near Neighbours, then maybe we'll see more Clavering titles from Greyladies!

  6. She does have a distinct Liz Taylor look about her, doesn't she? I wonder if it's coincidental?

  7. LOVED "Near Neighbors," a very warming and enjoyable read! And was it Jerri who first put me on to it? Or Scott? Whomever - many thanks!


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