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The Setons by O. Douglas
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The Setons (1917)

by O. Douglas

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I finally got around to this one, which I'd started in 2014 as part of the Virago Modern Classics group's WW1 read but then laid aside and didn't finish. It's a sweet book – a bit too sweet for my taste, but that's just my taste, and at least it's not slobbery like Louisa May Alcott. Its sweet-but-not-saccharine quality reminds me a bit of Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley. ( )
  CurrerBell | Jul 17, 2015 |
The Setons is my second read for the ongoing Libraything Great War theme read. O Douglas (the pen name for Anna Masterton Buchan 1877–1948) is an author who I have wanted to read for a while having seen some good reviews by other bloggers. The Majority of the story is set in 1913 –and so the Great War doesn’t actually feature until the end of the novel (approx. The last 20% or so of my Project Gutenberg version on kindle) but when it does occur it is appropriately shattering. Elizabeth Seton is the twenty eight year old spinster daughter of a Scottish minister in Glasgow. Since her mother’s death Elizabeth has run her father’s household with diligence and love, taking charge of her much younger brother – the adorably impish Buff – who is rarely separated from his friends Billy and Thomas from across the road. Mr Seton’s church is in a poor area of Glasgow – and Elizabeth works hard among their neighbours and at the Sabbath school. A tall golden haired woman, with a lovely singing voice, Elizabeth is a popular member of the community, an intelligent lively young woman often given to giggling irreverence. In the company of the Setons we meet the Thomsons, with their socially ambitious daughter Jessie, Kirsty Christie, Elizabeth’s great friend, another spinster lady – who becomes engaged to a young minister, much to Elizabeth’s delight and surprise. Stewart Stevenson an artist who quietly admires Elizabeth, realises his admiration is useless and turns his attentions elsewhere. The Seton family is relaxed and happy, James Seton a wonderfully calm presence devoted to his flock. Elizabeth navigates her way through the duties and social obligations of being a minister’s daughter with apparent ease, but it is not an easy life.

“It's more difficult than you would think to be a minister's family. The main point is that you must never do anything that will hurt your father's 'usefulness,' and it is astonishing how many things tend to do that—dressing too well, going to the play, laughing when a sober face would be more suitable, making flippant remarks—their name is legion. Besides, try as one may, it is impossible always to avoid being a stumbling-block. There are little ones so prone to stumble that they would take a toss over anything.”

The Setons are visited by Arthur Townshend – the nephew of their Aunt Alice’s deceased husband in London – a man they have never met. Elizabeth expects a swell – a man she will find it difficult to spend time with and who will find little to like in the Glasgow home she loves. Instead Arthur proves an instant hit – instantly loved by young Buff finding a great companion in Elizabeth, even accompanying her on some of her visits during his all too short visit. Arthur pledges to visit the Setons at their country home the next year; however by then the world will have plunged into war. “It is useless to tell over the days of August 1914. They are branded on the memory. The stupefaction, the reading of newspapers until we were dazed and half-blind, the endless talking, the frenzy of knitting into which the women threw themselves, thankful to find something that would at least occupy their hands. We talked so glibly about what we did not understand. We repeated parrot-like to each other, “It will take all our men and all our treasure,” and had no notion how truly we spoke or how hard a saying we were to find it. And all the time the sun shone. It was particularly hard to believe in the war at Etterick. No khaki clad men disturbed the peace of the glen, no trains rushed past crowded with troops, no aeroplanes circled in the heavens. The hills and burn and the peewits remained the same, the high hollyhocks flaunted themselves against the grey garden wall; nothing was changed – and yet everything was different”

The war changes everything for so many people – and O Douglas shows that brilliantly. Written in 1917 by a woman who lost two brothers during the war - there is something of the patriotic fervour that swept Britain about the end of this novel – one could even call it propaganda like. The noble sacrifice of men off to war is much lauded – the suggestion that to die for one’s country a better kind of death than any other. I must say that despite this slightly uncomfortable militaristic fervour I found the last quarter of this novel to be almost unbearably poignant. Not for the first time, when reading a book about the beginning of this terrible conflict, did I wonder how the spoiled youth of today with their sense of entitlement would react to such a call. The world is a different place however; the young men who made that noble sacrifice helped to make it so. I loved this book – and finished with a tear in my eye – and a definite desire to read more by this author. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Feb 23, 2014 |
Tells the tale of people in a Scottish community in the period leading up to the war, with a brief final summing up of how they were affected by it. Written in a lively style but definitely of the times - 1917 publication. ( )
  annejacinta | Jan 28, 2014 |
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Science fiction. If it weren't for bad luck, Max Frei wouldn't have any luck at all. A self-described twenty-something 'classic loser', an insomniac, hardened smoker, a glutton and a loafer, there's nothing much going for Max Frei...at least not until he arrives in the magical city of Echo. Summoned to the city by the head of the Department of Absolute Order, Sir Juffin Halli, Max's dreams are becoming a reality. But as with all dreams-come-true its not quite the reality Max expected; he's about to become a secret agent, tasked to solve extravagant, impossible crimes with nothing but his wits and a handful of unexplained magical abilities to recommend him. Max is going to be thrown into the fray - and he can't even have a cigarette first.… (more)

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