Thursday, February 13, 2014

Diary of a Provincial Lady

Photo shamelessly stolen from Simon at Stuck in A Book,
partly because I can't find my camera & this is the only pic
of my edition I could find, and also because you should most
definitely check out his post on this book!
Diary of a Provincial Lady / E. M. Delafield
Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1983, c1931.
388 p.

I laughed so much reading this book -- it was just what I needed. Our narrator is a country wife, busily preoccupied with her uncommunicative husband, two children, French governess, cook and maid, local acquaintances and the Women's Institute. She also manages the comings and goings of two old school friends. She's always short of funds, and struggling with finding household help. The setting, a small town in post WWI England, is full of the usual suspects; the overbearing local Lady B, prosy old women, Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife, and so on.

She's continually going to meetings, having tea, sorting out household disturbances, and writing letters. And of course, entertaining the children.

The diary is full of sharp comments and asides, deftly caricaturing the people around her (including some amusing line drawings) as well as 'queries' and 'memorandums' to herself of things to investigate or remember. The effect is greatly entertaining, and the picture of this middle class life in 1930's England is at once distant and immediate.The social expectations of a small community are made clear in the number of calls and dinners that are exchanged without any real desire to communicate with the people involved. One such trial, the unexpected call of new resident Miss P, with writer Jahsper in tow, was understatedly hilarious, as it was made upon a rainy day in which the Provincial Lady was attempting to entertain her bored children with 'dress up' -- inevitably, the children storm the drawing room in various states of undress, using the visitor's hat as a prop.

These small occurrences are rendered amusingly in the realistically diary-like form that the Provincial Lady favours; not too many pronouns or unnecessary words, just the facts. But the choice of facts which are being shared is very telling. I recommend reading this little by little, as the style might be too much all at once. But it was very enjoyable, and I am fully planning on reading all of her others.

The depiction of her rather grumpy husband, and her talk of gardens, put me in mind of Elizabeth and her German Garden. A kind of similar touch somehow. And this book clearly influenced other British diary-form novels, such as Joyce Dennys' Henrietta books, which began as newspaper columns during WWII, down to the line drawings illustrating the story. Its influence can also be traced in more recent works like Bridget Jones' Diary (the same kind of British understatement, the same accident-prone main character). A very entertaining read, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and can recommend.



12 comments:

  1. I was also reminded of the Dowager Duchess's diary, in Busman's Honeymoon.

    I have a Virago edition that combines this with three of the sequels, and I read them one after another. I want to re-read them, separately, and more slowly, because I don't think I really appreciated them - a bit too much of a good thing.

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    1. Yes, I think I'll wait a bit to read the others, as I really think all of even this excellent one at once would be too much of a good thing!

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  2. Great review - now I really, really want to read this!

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    1. I hope you will; everyone seems to enjoy it, and it is a light read in many ways, lots of fun.

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  3. Very nice review..thanks.

    Happy Valentine's Day!!

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Favorite Books

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  4. Seems like every blogger I know who reads this book loves it. I will have to get myself a copy one of these days and will definitely keep it in mind when I am looking for something funny.

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    1. It was just what I needed, some light entertaining reading for the Century project; I had started and rejected four of my possible titles as really dull, so this hit the spot!

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  5. Don't you just love books written in diary form when they're written well? And a book that makes you laugh...sign me up! Love the review. (And hope to find this book at my library so I can read it, too!)

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    1. I do! I love diary & epistolary fiction. I was thinking that another very funny English diary-novel is George & Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody -- if you haven't read that it is very amusing.

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  6. This sounds great, particularly owing to the Von Arnim comparison and the lighthearted tone!

    I remember seeing an especially lovely hardback edition in Waterstones, so I may track it down for a springtime read.

    Lucy over at Tolstoy Therapy.

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    1. I hope you will enjoy -- it is lighthearted and the sketches are a lot of fun, too.

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Thanks for stopping by ~ I hope you will leave your comments and reflections to let me know what you think!