James, the son of "Vittoria Cottage"'s main protagonist, Caroline, arrives at Mureth, the Scottish border country farm owned & run by his mother's sister, Mamie, and her husband, Jock, with the intention of taking up farming as a career and learning the ropes from his uncle before he buys a place of his own. He's also nursing a broken heart: in "Vittoria Cottage," we met Rhoda Ware, his childhood friend turned love interest, who is determined to pursue a career as an artist. This being early 1950s England, she turns down James's proposal, adamant that art and marriage (and most especially a family) do not mix. In Mureth, he meets Holly Douglas, the pretty niece of the local lord, as well as other new friends, including Daniel Reid, a newly hired shepherd who recently returned to the area where he grew up after years of travelling the world.
I loved this book for all the usual reasons I love Stevenson's work: the wonderful characters, the vivid descriptions, and the strong sense of morality, compassion and common sense. It's the literary equivalent of comfort food.
But this book especially touched my heart for another reason: Mamie & Jock are childless (not by choice), and there are several passages where it's clear how this has affected their lives -- most especially in Chapter Three, where Mamie is telling James stories about her parents and sisters, and how her parents were lonely in their old age:
"It seemed rather bad luck to have had four daughters and not to have one left at home -- and none of their daughters was much good to them. Caroline never could leave Arnold -- he was so awfully selfish -- and Jean was in America and Harriet was simply wrapped up in her theatrical career."
"But you were here, quite near them!"
"Yes," agreed Mamie tepidly. "Yes, but they weren't -- they're weren't very..." She paused. She was busy trying to find the exact shade of brown for the sock she was darning.
"They weren't very what?" asked James.
"Very proud of me," said Mamie. "There was nothing to be proud of was there? They had nothing in common with Jock. I don't mean there was a feud, but they just weren't interested in Jock's kind of things, and of course I had no children."
James was silent for a moment...I got tears in my eyes reading this. While I know how much my parents wanted to be grandparents, and while I've felt a great deal of guilt about that, I have never felt they weren't proud of me. But I know this has been an issue for some of you, and I felt so badly for Mamie that her parents made her feel this way about herself.
What James doesn't know is that (provided he decides the farming life is what he wants) Jock and Mamie intend to make him their heir and bequeath Mureth to him when they are gone. Their love for their nephew is clear, and "Music in the Hills" reminds me (in several places) about the important, nurturing role that childless adults can play in the lives of the children and young people around them.
The other thing I like about "Music in the Hills" from a childless perspective is that, while it's clear both Jock & Mamie wanted children and feel their absence keenly, they also have a wonderful marriage and enjoy their life together at Mureth tremendously. In our introduction to Jock in Chapter One, we learn that he
"...had been born in Mureth House -- so had his father and grandfather -- it was a pity he had no children to carry on the tradition, to run about the old place and waken it to life with noise and laughter, but in other ways he was fortunate and knew it."There is one more book in this series, which will be our group's next selection for discussion in early 2017: "Shoulder the Sky." I'm looking forward to it!
This was book #19 that I've read to date in 2016.