Penny Plain

March 21, 2017

More Anna Buchan: Penny Plain, which is pretty great, although it gave me fewer “I only care about Anna Buchan now” feelings than The Proper Place. Jean Jardine, a 23-year-old Scottish girl, is the main character, but not by a lot. She lives in the town of Priorsford with her three brothers–technically two, but Jean doesn’t like it when people imply that the Mhor isn’t really part of the family–a dog, and a middle-aged maid. The Jardines are poor and literary and happy, and Jean’s chief worry is that their landlord will someday come from London and evict them from their cottage.

Their landlord does come, incognito, but he’s so impressed by Jean’s selfless kindness and the Jardines’ attachment to the cottage that he goes away again. Anyway, his arrival in town is overshadowed by that of Pamela Reston, a 40-year-old society beauty looking for some peace and quiet. She and Jean become good friends, and her newness is a good excuse for Buchan to introduce us to all of the local characters.

I’m not sure Penny Plain knows what it wants to be. Pamela and Jean each get a romance, and there’s some moderately dramatic business about an inheritance, but those feel like afterthoughts, things that Buchan put in because a book is supposed to have them, or something like them. The heart of the book is the small domestic incidents, and the casual conversations with neighbors, and the little bits of family histories, and people being nice to each other. Not that any of the plottier bits are bad–I was definitely invested while they were happening–but in retrospect I would rather have had more of the Macdonalds and Mrs. Hope and the Mhor. And I think this is going to be a great one to reread, because it will be better with no element of suspense.


  1. Got a question for you, please. :) What four books would you recommend for someone just getting into popular lit of this period?

    • Wow, that’s a big one. This took me a while, and I could probably come up with another four that I’d feel equally good about recommending. I tried to cover a lot of bases: one historical, one romcom, one sort of social novel, one adventure/WWI. Also I excluded anything that’s made it into the canon.

      To Have and to Hold, by Mary Johnston
      When A Man Marries, by Mary Roberts Rinehart
      Queed, by Henry Sydnor Harrison
      The Great Impersonation, by E. Phillips Oppenheim

  2. I wonder if she was related to John Buchan.

    • He was her brother!

  3. I loved Penny Pain (and Priorsford, the sequel). There was that underlying sadness again, and as soon as Biddy and a possible Everest expedition was mentioned, I was sure we wouldn’t get a romantic happy ending. I’m so glad that I was wrong

    • Same–especially since Buchan seems to reuse so many elements, I saw “Everest” and thought “oh no.”

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