(photo from here)
I’ve been reading a lot of inter-Wars books this year, probably inspired by Nymeth’s 30s Challenge. The Diary of a Provincial Lady has been on my radar for a while now, but decide to buy it recently because a) it was short, so ideal for the Read-a-ton and b) it’s part of India Knight’s list of “ultimate comfort reads” – we seem to have so many in common that I felt sure I’d like the others on the list as well.
Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood (how about that for a name?) aka E. M. Delafield first published Diaries in 1930 in a serial form and it’s considered in great part autobiographical. It was a delightful read: think Bridget Jones married and trying to run a household with a French nanny, Cook and a parlor maid. I was so reminded of Bridget Jones that every time the narrator’s Arch-Enemy spoke I always thought back to that scene in The Edge of Reason’s movie where Bridget is counting her “toxic friend”’s jellyfish bites.
The Diary is all about the day-to-day life of a (nameless) mother-of-two, her servants, her community and her management of a country estate. Around her are a set of great characters, such as the friend who tries to save her from the “slavery” of housewifery. She’s very honest (it’s a Diary after all) and self-deprecating and you can’t help feeling empathy for her struggles. For instance, on avoiding gossip:
Cook merely repeats that It Is All Over the Village, and that Miss Barbara will quite as like not be married by special licence, and old Mrs. B. is in such a way as never was. Am disconcerted to find that Cook and I have been talking our heads off for the better part of forty minutes before I remember that gossip is both undignified and undesirable.
It’s funny, clever and overall the perfect comfort reading. Very feminine as well, and more feminist than you’d expect from this type of setting, but not so strange considering it was first published in Time and Tide, a feminist paper. E. M. Delafield is not openly revolutionary, but uses humor very astutely to pass on her messages:
Lady B. waves her hand (…) and declares (…) if they could have got husbands they wouldn’t be Feminists. I instantly assert that all have had husbands, and some two or three. This may or may not be true, but have seldom known a stronger homicidal impulse.
What E. M. Delafield does with feminist messages, she also does with social criticism – keeping up appearances is familiar ground for the upper class of any decade. I specially got some LOLs out of the Lady’s constant pressure to talk about books she hasn’t read and exhibitions she hasn’t visited:
Am asked what I think of Harriet Hume but am unable to say, as I have not read it. Have a depressed feeling that this is going to be another case of Orlando about which was perfectly able to talk most intelligently until I read it, and found myself unfortunately unable to understand any of it.
What do you think about the cover? It’s by English designer Cath Kidston. When I was last in London everyone had one of her bags/purses/umbrellas. Her textured floral prints are the perfect fit to this particular book, but I’m sorry this edition doesn’t come with illustrations.