Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Back in May I treated myself to a lovely copy of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.



I bought it partly because I'd seen the book mentioned on several blogs I visit every day but also... well I just fell in love with this lovely cover design by Cath Kidston. It is, in fact, one of eight special edition, Virago modern classics and because it was my birthday back then, I decided to treat myself.

The narrator of this 'diary' is an upper-class, married woman with two children and husband, Robert, a land agent. There isn't a 'plot' as such, the book basically charts a year of the narrator's life in a village in Devon. And so we meet her lively children, Robin (away at boarding school) and Vicky, aged six and looked after by Madamoiselle who appears to be a kind of French nanny; her long suffering husband, Robert, whose main occupation seems to be falling asleep behind The Times, and Lady Boxe, her husband's employer and the person who most annoys and upsets our narrator. And there are others - Rose, the affluent but kind sister, Our Vicar's Wife who can't bring herself to leave when she visits, Old Mrs. Blenkinsop and her daughter, Barbara, who wants to marry but is afraid of leaving 'mother', and 'Cook' who more than anyone seems to have the final say in the household. The trials and tribulations of our narrator are many. She is rather a chaotic person and not too good with her finances. Many things have to be juggled including garden fetes, a bout of measles within the family, a trip to France, a three day tour of several WIs, giving talks, because the county leader thinks she has nothing better to do. Our narrator wonders, towards the end, 'Why are non-professional women if married and with children, so frequently referred to as 'leisured'? Answer comes there none'

Well then, I'm pleased to report that this book did not disappoint. I'd heard it was wonderfully funny in a droll kind of way and it absolutely *is*. I cackled my way from start to finish and then went back and read Jilly Cooper's excellent introduction. (I never read introductions before the book as I feel they give away too much.) E.M. Delafield actually lived in Cullompton which is only a few miles from here and you very much get the feel of Devon village life as it used to be lived and, to a certain extent, still is, though Cullompton is surely bigger and busier now than it was between the wars. She was only 53 when she died and is one those authors who was immensely popular but fell out of fashion and was mainly forgotten. The 'Diary' seems to have brought her back to people's attention though and I'm curious enough to search out other works by her if they're still in print. Recommend this to anyone who enjoys a gentle but very amusing read. Joyous.

15 comments:

monix said...

I knew you would love it, Cath. I must admit that, although I have read this book many times, I haven't read any others by E.M Delafield; I will be interested to see what you find and if they live up to the Diary.

Cath said...

Him M. There seem to be a few things still in print. I found one Persephone too - Consequences. Plus there seem to be more 'Diary' books too... 'wartime', USA, Russia and so on. I'll look into a few of them at some stage... when I've knocked a few more off the tbr mountain.

Juliet said...

Glad you enjoyed it - it's been a big favourite of mine for (eek!) nearly 30 nears now!! What a gorgeous edition, though - hooray for birthdays!

Tara said...

Gorgeous edition, and you are absolutely right about introductions. I have this one on the shelf but simply haven't gotten to it yet. Have heard great things about it, though. Lovely review.

Cath said...

I wish I'd read it before actually, Juliet, but the truth is I don't think I'd even heard of it before I started blogging on Blogspot.

Tara: it's worth getting to this book as soon as you can. Especially if you feel a bit down because it will really cheer you up.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi, I've just bought the new edition, too. Despite the fact that I already have it in paperback. It's that Cath Kidston cover ... #Glad you enjoyed it. Nicola

Cath said...

Hi Nicola! Thanks for visiting my blog. Glad I'm not the only one who falls in love with beautiful book covers and then can't resist buying them. And book covers these days seem to be getting more and more beautiful, which might not be a good thing for the tbr mountain...

Danielle said...

I have an old paperback copy of this and I've really been meaning to read it as I know I will like it. Must move it up the pile! And the Virago edition is lovely!! I plan on getting it eventually--along with a few others they put out in special editions!!

Cath said...

Danielle, judging by our similar tastes in books I think you would absolutely love this one. I'd advise moving it much closer to the top of the mountain.

margaretha said...

I'm just about to order The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield and noticed that there are several sequels. Have you read any of them? I wonder if they are as good as the first book?
Margaretha

Cath said...

Hello Margaretha. I'm afraid I haven't read any of the other Provincial Lady books but I have heard other people say that they are also very good. I will get them to read eventually. Thank you for popping in.

brooksideelaine said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book and have read in so many times my old Virago copy is falling apart but I refuse to buy one with a new cover. Fortunately I found another copy of the same edition in a charity bookshop. Though DPl is wonderful EM Delafield wrote many others, variable in tone, but all very well worth reading and some are pretty damn good. Thank heaven fasting is excellent, now out of print sadly, in the old Virago imprint, but I have seen copies lurking around so take a look.

For those of you who have yet to read DPL Oh how I envy you the discovery

Cath said...

I can see me rereading this one again and again too, Elaine. It was just so *funny*. And I shall certainly keep an eye out for more DPL books and will grab anything I can spot by E.M.D.

Nan said...

"Gentle, amusing", and very, very intelligent is how I felt. Probably my three favorite characteristics of a fiction book. I delighted in every word. I've read the sequel, but not others. I always thought she died from the sorrow of her son's death. This book is probably one of my top five ever.

Cath said...

I was thrilled with this book too, Nan, and am sure that I'll want to read it again really soon. I didn't realise she had lost a son... but 53 is awfully young to die.