I’ve recently been enjoying the works of D.E. Stevenson, a writer from around WW1. I have avoided posting reviews of her books because I think several will appear on my end-of-the-year favorite book list. But as The Young Clementina only garnered three stars from me, I thought I might share this (unsuccessful) venture into vintage fiction.
Written in 1935, the story follows Charlotte Dean—a woman life seems to have forgotten. At 35, she lives a monotonous life in London with no friends. Her life takes a dramatic turn when her former fiancé suddenly appears and asks her to take care of his daughter while he travels in Africa. Now Charlotte must face her past to bring healing to the difficult and withdrawn child.
D.E. Stevenson is a master of human emotions. Her comedy of manners books (like the Miss Buncle trilogy) somehow make the whole world feel cozy and good. Alas, with The Young Clementina she goes more Brontë than Gaskell, and the end result whips from excruciatingly depressing to predictably trite.
The description I gave of the plot, while the crux of the story, really doesn’t kick in till halfway. First we get to relive Charlotte’s childhood, her experience with WW1, and the tragic break with her fiancé . And despite how depressed it made me, I still low-key loved it. I felt moody and depressed reading it, but I also felt like it summarized how WW1 changed people. I read into it a bigger analysis about dreams and hope and lost youth.
Turns out, I was too ambitious in my interpretation. I still held hope for an alternate love interest to pop up and change the path the story was heading towards. No luck. The story shoulders on with some rambling paragraphs that don’t hide the very obvious, sappy conclusion. Characters generally get their comeuppance. I think I still would have rated this book 4 stars because I did love the tragic nature of the beginning, but the ending killed it by undercutting much of the character motivation.
If you like melodrama that feels vaguely Gothic without being so, you might enjoy this one. But personally, I found it underwhelming.