O. Douglas

Anna Buchan

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Tributes and Unpublished Stories

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Death of Novelist Sister of John Buchan

A Popular Writer

Anna Buchan, “O. Douglas,” whose death occurred at Peebles yesterday after an illness of several months, though not so famous a writer as her brother, the late Lord Tweedsmuir, was, through her novels of middle-class life, written with a lively sense of humour, the favourite author of a wide circle of women readers.

Her family had grown old in Tweeddale, and four generations of Buchans had lived in the old home on the bridge in Peebles, where later she was to keep house for her brother Walter, the banker-Town-Clerk of the burgh, who survives her. She herself, however, was born in Kirkcaldy. To the charge of Pathhead there her father, a Free Church minister, had been translated in 1875, and at Pathhead her early years were spent, an only girl (after a younger sister’s death) amid a family of four brothers.

In 1888 her father moved to Glasgow, where he occupied the pulpit of John Knox Church, and where Anna was to gather impressions which afterwards went towards the making of her novel, The Setons . But that was later, and it jumps the period of her schooling, part of which was spent in Edinburgh and part at Queen Margaret College, Glasgow.

The urge to write came to her in India while she was on a visit to a brother. Olivia in India , her first book, was not published until six years after that visit, but it received such a favourable Press that, on her own confession, this treatment of it encouraged her to persevere. The Setons followed but it was Penny Plain that really established her with the public. The story of the orphan Jardine family in the Border town of “Priorsford” became a best-seller. The character of Jean Jardine, who mothered her brothers and the family protégé, “the Mhor,” modelled on her brother Alastair, who fell in the first World War, as well as all the subsidiary characters, were well developed. “Love appears in this book,” said a reviewer, “as a lunar, Shakespearian radiance, but there is no impression of falsity.”

Non-Fictional Books

Later books include Pink Sugar, it’s author’s favourite, a story founded upon her novelist brother’s family, and more than half a dozen others. Not all of these are fiction. Ann and Her Mother records the story of Helen Masterton of Broughton Green, the mother of “O. Douglas” and her constant companion during her many public appearances in this country and Canada. Unforgettable, Unforgotten is an autobiography containing delightful passages, written to beguile the tedium and lighten the gloom of the war years.

In this book Miss Buchan made no high claims for her own writing, and this modesty was in line with the instinct which led her to adopt a pseudonym so as not to detract from the lustre given to the name of Buchan by her brother. Her gift and his were essentially distinct. The one invented, the other drew upon her memory. It has been objected that the people of her books are too “pleasant,” but, at a time when fiction was passing through an ultra-realistic phase, this pleasantness was a relief to many readers.

In her later years “O. Douglas’s” gifts received public acknowledgement. In 1937 she made history by being appointed Warden of Neidpath Castle for the ceremonies there in connection with the Peebles March Riding. Six years later she was the guest of Scottish P.E.N. In her own local sphere the presidency of both the Mothers’ Union and the W.R.I. were hers. She was also a committee member of the Peebles Nursing Association, and gave her time to numerous Church organizations.

The Scotsman. Thursday, 25 November 1948. p.4.

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Miss Anna Buchan, J.P., a sister of John Buchan, the first Lord Tweedsmuir, and whose entertaining novels, written under the pen name “O. Douglas,” will be remembered, died at her home at Peebles yesterday.

One of the six children of the Rev. John Buchan and Helen, daughter of John Masterton, of Broughton Green, Peeblesshire, she was for many years “the daughter at home,” helping in the work of the parish. It was from this experience, and from the resources of a shrewdly humorous mind, that she drew the material of her novels. They are pleasant and unexacting reading, even in tone, and informed by lively observation and kindly sentiment. Her first book, “Olivia in India,” appeared in 1913, and four years later came “The Setons.” in which the incidents and characters she had observed in the course of visiting tenement flats and coping with the Band of Hope served her to entertaining advantage. Perhaps “O. Douglas’s” most successful works were “Pink Sugar” (1924) and “The Proper Place” (1926).

In 1945 the name of Anna Buchan appeared on the title-page of “Unforgettable, Unforgotten,” described as a family chronicle. She wrote modestly of her own abilities, filling many of her pages with glimpses of a famous brother, more particularly in youth, and with a striking portrait of a mother who was a rare housekeeper, a perfect minister’s wife, and a witty and truly dominating personality.

The Times, London, England. Thursday, Nov. 25, 1948 p. 7.

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Death of Miss Anna Buchan

The death occurred at her residence at Peebles, on Wednesday, of Miss Anna Buchan—better known as “O. Douglas,” the novelist. Her passing will mourned many of the older generation in Kirkcaldy, who remember her as a girl, a daughter of the manse, for her father, the late Rev. John Buchan, was, at the time of her birth, minister of Pathhead Free Church, now known as Pathhead West Church.

Although not so famous a writer as her elder brother, John Buchan, who became administrator, author, lawyer, publisher, High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland, and finally, as Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada. Miss Buchan’s novels of middle-class life, written with a lively sense of humour, made her the favourite author of a wide circle of women readers.

Miss Buchan was a popular authoress but she was more, she was the good friend of many, and in the Borders where, with her widowed mother and her bachelor brother, town clerk of Peebles, she spent most of her life, there are many who have good cause to remember the generosity of this kindly lady. She was one of the most approachable women of her generation, and no call for help, whether it be to open a bazaar, or become the president of a worthwhile organisation, was ever made in vain. Many Canadians who knew her brother, the late Lord Tweedsmuir, during his term as Governor-General of Canada, found when they visited the old country, that Miss Buchan was a willing guide. They were all assured of a warm and friendly welcome.

To the majority of Scots, however, Miss Buchan was “O. Douglas,” the novelist. In all, she wrote thirteen books, and her output might well have been greater had she not devoted so much of her time to charitable organisations. Her novel which brought greatest fame was “Penny Plain,” published in 1920. It was a best seller. Her first romantic novel was “Olivia in India,” published in 1913, six years after her visit to her brother William, who was in the Indian Civil Service. This was followed by “The Setons,” in 1917. However, all her books were not confined to fiction. In “Ann and her Mother,” she records the story of her mother, Helen Masterton of Broughton Green, and there are a number of chapters which deal with the days when the Buchan family were resident in Pathhead. The characteristics of more than one Kirkcaldy family of the late nineteenth century are ably portrayed in this work.

Of the family of four sons and one daughter, Mr Walter Buchan, town clerk of Peebles, alone remains to mourn the loss of yet another distinguished member of a dearly beloved family. Lord Tweedsmuir died during his second term of office as Governor-General of Canada, and Miss Buchan’s youngest brother, Alistair, was killed during the first world war. The sincere sympathy of a wide circle of friends will be extended to Mr Walter Buchan in his loss.

Fife Free Press & Kirkcaldy Guardian. Saturday, 27 November 1948. p.5

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‘Douglas, O.’, Anna Buchan, 1877-1948, novelist. The da. of Helen (Masterton) and the Rev. John B., she was b. at Porthead, Fife, and educ. chiefly in Glasgow, at Hutcheson’s Grammar School and Queen Margaret College, though ‘the only real education I ever had was listening to Father and the boys talking’. Having abandoned as incompatible with her role as daughter of a Presbyterian minister an early desire to act, she spent most of her life as mistress of the house of her brother Walter, town clerk of Peebles. As a young woman she travelled to India, where her brother William was a civil servant; later she went to Canada, where her brother John, the writer of adventure novels, was Governor-General, 1935-40. She began to write when sitting up at night with her sick mother, choosng her pseudonym and her subject-matter to avoid John’s shadow. Olive in India, 1913, ‘a book in which practically all the incidents were true and in which the characters could all recognise themselves and each other’, discovered her method. Later, she made conventional claims about ‘fictitious characters’, as in Priorsford, 1932, but The Setons, 1917 (originally to be titled ‘Plain Folks’), fictionalizes her ordered, hierarchical, provincial family life, and Anna and Her Mother, 1922, is ‘my mother’s Life’. OD disparaged her work as ‘mild domestic fiction’, but her subject-matter made her a best-seller. ‘I’m a Glasgow man myself, wrote a soldier from the trenches in 1917, ‘and it’s pure Balm of Giliad to me.’ Unforgettable, Unforgotten, 1945, OD’s autobiography (quoted above), describes the development of her writing; Farewell to Priorsford, 1950, includes an essay by her sister-in-law Susan Tweedsmuir. See also Janet Adam Smith’s John Buchan, 1965.

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. New Haven: Yale UP. pp. 305-6.

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Wikipedia: Olivia Douglas