Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reading Journal: "Diary of a Provincial Lady"

E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady. Originally published in 1931.
N.B. Must try to remember that Social Success is seldom the portion of those who habitually live in the provinces. No doubt they serve some other purpose in the vast field of Creation—but have not yet discovered what.

Recently finished reading E.M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady. Do not feel quite up to the task of writing a full-scale review, so will refer the reader to Jilly Cooper's excellent appreciation in the Guardian. How to describe the book, which first appeared as a serial in the English magazine Time and Tide? Imagine the diary of Jane Austen, married, with two children, and living in P.G. Wodehouse country. The diarist's gruff husband, seen mostly sitting behind a copy of the Times, is land agent for Lady Boxe. The household includes cook, housemaid, gardener, and French governess for six-year old Vicky; son Robin is away at boarding school. The Provincial Lady's daily trials include difficulty of retaining servants in country, failure of forced bulbs, shortage of funds, unfashionable dress length for visit to London, insensitivity and superiority of Lady Boxe, a case of measles, inadequate skills as tennis player. She lives in a social milieu unfamiliar to most people, yet everything about the Provincial Lady's character rings so perfectly true. Most of us (well-educated and slightly anxious members of the middle class) will recognize a little of ourselves in her. With humor and insight, with a true-to-life mixture of self-deprecation and vanity, she tries to make a meaningful life for herself in the midst of her limited surroundings. This year, she resolves to keep a careful record of the progress of her paperwhite bulbs. This year perhaps they will bloom.

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