At the end of Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle marries her publisher, Arthur Abbott, & starts a new life. Hopefully a less controversial life as Barbara’s career as a writer has led to unintended complications & a midnight flit from her village home. Some months later, the Abbotts, although blissfully happy with married life, confess to each other that their busy social life of bridge evenings & drinks parties, bores them silly. Arthur suggests they move to the country & Barbara embarks on the exhausting task of house hunting. Arriving in the small town of Wandlebury to view the Archway House, Barbara is mistaken for another client, given some very expensive port to drink & virtually commanded to read a will with some very curious clauses. The will of Lady Chevis Cobbe, owner of Ganthorne Lodge, leaves everything to Jeronina Mary Cobbe, provided she is unmarried at the time of Lady Chevis Cobbe’s death. If she is married, Jeronina’s brother, Archibald, will inherit. Once the mix-up is sorted out & Barbara’s true identity is established, she views the Archway House, falls in love with it & sets about renovating & reviving the lovely but dilapidated old house.
Life in Wandlebury is just what Barbara has been looking for. She soon hears more about eccentric Lady Chevis Cobbe who won’t even have a married servant in the house & is definitely unbalanced on the idea of marriage for any of her family. One of Arthur’s old Army friends, Monkey Wrench, turns out to be the local GP. Artist James Marvell, his wispy model wife & their three tearaway children live next door. Barbara soon meets Jeronina Cobbe, known as Jerry, a practical young woman who makes ends meet at her rundown house by running a riding stable & school, while her selfish brother, Archie, skives off work & sits around waiting for the inheritance he thinks his rich aunt is going to leave him..
Arthur’s nephew, Sam, who works in the publishing business, comes down for a visit & is immediately taken with Jerry. Unfortunately, she’s heard that he’s a nightclub-loving, irresponsible, burn the candle at both ends town lover, so she tries to ignore her growing interest in him. Jerry loves the country & could never be happy in town. Sam grows increasingly desperate trying to attract Jerry’s attention. His efforts aren’t helped by Barbara who knows the terms of Lady Chevis Cobbe’s will & does everything she can to keep the potential lovers apart so that Jerry won’t lose her inheritance.
Miss Buncle Married is a lovely, domestic book with lots of humour & acute observation. Barbara is an innocent whose best efforts often end in disaster. Hiding Sam’s trousers so that he can’t leave the house to visit Jerry has unintended consequences. A dinner party at the Marvells’ begins awkwardly & doesn’t really improve, even when Barbara goes off to inspect Mr Marvell’s studio.
The Abbotts and the Marvells had not very much in common. Mrs Marvell never bothered to talk for talking’s sake, and Barbara was an observer rather than a conversationalist. She liked to be with people who talked a lot, so that she could listen, or not, as she felt inclined. Mr Abbott knew nothing about Art. Mr Marvell knew nothing about Business. It was all rather difficult.
Marvell is fascinated by Barbara. Her total innocence & lack of guile entrance him. While they enjoy an intimate conversation about Art & Life in the studio, Arthur struggles to talk to Mrs Marvell, who is always exhausting by posing for her husband & lies languidly on the divan, not bothering to talk or try to entertain her guest. The Abbotts leave early when ping-pong is suggested as an after-dinner entertainment.
Barbara is suddenly inspired to start writing again. She shuts herself away writing a new novel called There’s Many a Slip, basing her story, as before, on her new neighbours. Arthur loves the book & foresees even greater sales than the other books written by “John Smith”. He especially enjoys the plotlines that he thinks Barbara has made up, like the woman who reads a will not meant for her eyes, but Barbara is horrified at the thought of publication. Her characters are only thinly veiled, after all, & she would hate to have to leave Wandlebury as she’d left Silverstream. The manuscript is locked away and, with the book out of her system, Barbara decides that John Smith has written his last word.
There’s a third book about Barbara Buncle called The Two Mrs Abbotts. Set during WWII, it’s another great read, about the Home Front & the stresses of making do with very little & worrying about loved ones fighting overseas. I listened to it on audio a year or so ago, not realising it was about Barbara Buncle until she turned up in an early chapter. It was good to read Miss Buncle Married to fill in some of the gaps in the character’s lives. I enjoy D E Stevenson’s books & she’s having a little mini-revival at the moment with the Persephone editions of the Miss Buncle books, the recent Bloomsbury reprint of Mrs Tim of the Regiment & Greyladies publishing some previously unknown novels.