The Setons

by O. Douglas 1917

The Setons depicts ordinary Scottish country life in the early 20th century, as young Elizabeth Seton uses her strength of character to keep the household together following her mother’s death.

Published in 1917, The Setons offers a convincing glimpse into the lives of an ordinary Scottish family, whose members share a passion for books and reading. Through her story, O. Douglas is keen to express the values of a society now long departed, recounting simple scenes and events which carry their own unique, heartfelt and pleasant qualities.

Although lacking in adventure, this book offers an illuminating look at how community and family life stood at the heart of traditional Scotland. The conclusion, at the very beginning of World War I, foreshadows the modern world; men in the locality are at first excited to be leaving their quiet and secluded Scottish homeland, but this exuberance is replaced by sorrow as news of death after death reaches home.


I thoroughly enjoyed this comfort read! It’s been a while since I picked up an O. Douglas read. She never disappoints. Elizabeth has taken on the running of the manse household after her mother died. That includes raising her younger brother and doing all the church functions expected from a pastor’s wife. She’s wonderful with her brother, Buff, and his two friends, playing raucous games and reading to them. And is equally comfortable visiting sick and old parishioners or collecting for missions. I loved her sweet, fun, playful, grateful demeanor immensely! She has two older brothers who have already left home. This book is set in Glasgow, a wonderful city!

One of the characters, Old Mrs. Thomson was talking about a wee holiday her and her husband took to the Kyles Hydro. It was a real place! I found pictures from it from before the outbreak of the war!

If you want to see more pictures of the inside of the hotel click HERE.

I loved what Mrs. Thomson said about her visit when her friend Mrs. Hendry said she had niver been to a hydro in her life and it must be a grand rest… “That’s so,” Mrs. Thomson admitted. “It give you a kind of rested feeling to see white paint everywhere and know that it’s no business of yours if it gets marked, and to sit and look at a fine fire blazing itself away without thinkin’ you should be getting on a shovel of dross; and it’s a real holiday feeling to put on your rings and your afternoon dress for breakfast.”

Mr. Seton is such a dear, I’d love to have him for a pastor! A family friend came to visit, a young man, Arthur, and he said to Elizabeth that he though what a tremendous thing for people to have a padre like her father, his very face is an inspiration. His eyes made him think of a character in The Pilgrim’s Progress who had a ‘wonderful innocent smile’. and Elizabeth said of her father.. “I know. Isn’t it wonderful, after sixty odd years in this world? There is something so oddly joyous about him. And it isn’t that sort of provoking fixed brightness that some Christian people have – people who have read Robert Louis and don’t mean to falter in their task of happiness. When you ask them how they are, they say ‘Splendid’; and when you remark, conversationally, that the weather is ghastly beyond words, they pretend to find pleasure in it, until, like Pet Marjorie, you feel your biers rise at them. Father knows just how bad the world is, the cruelty, the toil, the treason; he knows how bitter sorrow is, and what it means to lay hopes in the grave, but he looks beyond and sees something so ineffably lovely – he can go on with his day’s work joyfully.” and Arthur remarked the other world seems extradorinarily real to him and Elizabeth replied, “Heaven is much the realest place there is to Father. I do believe that when he is toiling away in the Gorbals he never sees the squalor for thinking of the streets of gold. The nicest thing about my father is that he is full of contradictions. So gentle and with such an uncompromising creed! The Way is the Way to Father, narrow and hard and comfortless. And he is so good, so purely good, and yet never righteous over much. There is a sort of ingrained humility and lovableness in him that attracts the sinners as well as the saints….” Such a dear man and he loves to get lost in books! My kind of guy!

When showing Arthur around Glasgow, a city and people Elizabeth dearly loves, she compares Edinburgh and Glasgow… “Edinburgh is rows and rows of smug, well built houses, each with a front garden, each with a front gate, and each front gate remains shut against the casual caller until you have rung a bell and the occupants have had time to make up their minds about you from behind the window curtains – when some mechanism in the vestibule is set in motion, the gate opens and you walk in. That almost seems to me the most typical thing about Edinburgh. Glasgow doesn’t keep visitors at the gate. Glasgow is on the doorstep to welcome them in. It is just itself – cheerful, hard-working, shrewd, kindly, a place that has no call to be bonny; it gets through it’s days work. They are ‘weel pleased’ and the more complacency the more ‘weel pleased’ we are.”

Will a romance bloom between Arthur and Elizabeth? I’m not saying! But the last section of the book is sad. WWI begins and all the devastation it brings with it. But these are strong, resilient people who love God and have a strong shepherd to lead them. They will survive. It’s a lovely treasure of a book. You can get a free digital copy at Project Gutenburg!

Have you read any O. Douglas? Her books are a real treasure to me.

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