Extremely Likable People

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In the kind of house where books are handed down the generations, the chances are that on a spare bedroom bookshelf, squeezed between Guy Mannering and Roses, Their Culture and Management, you will find a copy of one of the eleven novels written by O. Douglas. Take it to bed to read and you will quickly become immersed in the cultured, if circumscribed, Scottish middle-class life of three generations ago. Whether that appeals to you will probably depend both on your attitude to Scotland and Scottishness and on whether you enjoy a well-told if old-fashioned story where only rarely does anything very startling happen.

O. Douglas was the pseudonym of Anna Buchan (1877‒1948), one of six children of the Reverend John Buchan and his wife Helen and the only daughter to live to womanhood. She was the sister of John Buchan, author of a hundred books of fiction and non-fiction, including The Thirty-Nine Steps. She lived most of her adult years with her mother and bachelor brother, Walter – lawyer, bank agent, town clerk and procurator fiscal – in a house in Peebles, the Border town that she called Priorsford in her novels. Her father, born in Peebles, was a saintly Free Kirk minister, who spent many years working in the slums of the Gorbals in Glasgow and died of overwork soon after retirement. Her mother was of local sheep-farming stock, so the children grew up to be at ease in the diverse environments of rural upper Tweeddale (God’s own country, if ever there was one), the self-sufficient, self-respecting town of Peebles and the bustling Victorian city of Glasgow.

Anna was a classic daughter of the manse, involved in every kind of church work, but she was also a talented amateur actress, well-known locally for her comedic turns and poetry recitations. It was not until after her father died in 1911, however, that she began seriously to write, her first published effort being a fictionalized account of the six months sh

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About the contributor

Ursula Buchan regrets never having met O. Douglas, or indeed her brother John, whose biography she has recently completed for Bloomsbury.

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