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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.


Oh, wow, that cover is just *gorgeous*! I have a copy of that book, but alas just a plain cover :-/
Isn't the cover stunning? All the others are quite nice too but that one jumped right out at me and luckily it was a book I'd long wanted to read. How convenient. ;-)
It's lovely, and that edition looks very pretty!

I must say though that managing servants sounds like harder work than doing it oneself!

Do you read Angela Thirkell and/or Barbara Pym?
And the worry seemed to be back then that said servants would up and leave. I'm thinking there must have been a scarcity of them because of WW1 changing people's attitudes.

I've read one BP - Quartet in Autumn and plan to read more at some stage. I need to search out Angela Thirkell as I've seen her mentioned quite often and fancy I would probably enjoy her. I'm also just getting around to Mapp and Lucia.
Thirkell -- she's generally fun but avoid the earliest and later books to start with -- Pomfret Towers and The were my first and I found them delightful. The WW2 books are all pretty good. Post-war she started to get into a rather bitter reactionary mood which could be off-putting for a new reader.

I love Mapp and Lucia, and you might enjoy Secret Lives and Paying Guests as well.

Pym needs no recommendations from me -- just to mention that IIRC The Sweet Dove Died has gay interest.

Oh, and I'm sure we've been here before -- have you read Sara Caudwell's mysteries?
Sorry, should have been Pomfret Towers and The Brandons.

For some reason that reminds me of Beware of the Thing in one of Jennings books which used to send me into hysterical laughter every time I read it.
Have made a note of Sarah Caudwell. Checked her on Fantastic Fiction and presume you mean The Legal Whodunnits? They look interesting. Supposedly similar to the first of those is a book by Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop. The author sounded familiar and sure enough I'd picked up one of his books recently in a charity shop, the last in the same series. The whole series looks interesting. Here's his entry in FF:


Oddly enough, as well as crime books, he also edited SF anthologies.
Crispin is more familiar to me in his SF capacity -- I'll check out Gervase Fen.

Part of the fun of Sarah Caudwell is trying to work out the narrator's gender.
Oh, that really is a stunning cover. So lovely.

Now I too tend not to read introductions, but for a different reason: I usually find them so boring and to have no bearing on the book.
I've discovered that there are introductions and introductions. I generally don't read the kind of intro you might find at the beginning of a classic read. (Dickens, Austen etc.) They often seem to be wordy and complicated and simply beyond me. But now there seems to be a new kind of introduction to some republished books where someone well known will simply write a bit about when they first discovered the book, why they liked it, who their favourite characters were etc. And I find those lovely to read, but only when I've read the book myself.
That is true - I swear some of them are enough to put you off the book.


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