The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

The Diary of a Provincial Lady cover

E.M. Delafield is one of those authors who until very recently I wouldn’t have dreamt of reading, and it’s all thanks to book bloggers that I am now.

This one was first published in 1930 but my copy is a Virago with an introduction by Jilly Cooper. Despite the fact that the book is over 80 years old the whole thing is immediately recognisable, the situations and characters are just the sort of thing that I find myself getting involved in, (minus the servants problem) exasperating things, but when you read about them happening to other people it’s all so funny.

The diary starts off on November 7th and the Provincial Lady – we are never told her name, is struggling with her indoor bulbs and bowls and wondering where she should put them, cellar or attic. Joan Kyler and I were both doing that not so long ago, and there’s about 5,000 miles between us. In fact the whole diary is a sequence of events which are common to most of us, especially if you have children or cats. The cats have unexpected kittens, the children generously give you measles, although in my case it was chicken-pox at the age of 35, toes to scalp!

Thankfully I haven’t had the experience of having to pawn jewellery to pay bills, but then I suspect that a pawnbroker wouldn’t be interested in my rings. On the other hand I have always resisted the temptation to take myself off to the south of France! In that respect it did remind me of Elizabeth’s German Garden (which is mentioned in the book) when Elizabeth merrily orders two hundred rose bushes whilst the household finances are obviously very precarious.

Robert, the husband is such a typical awkward and maddening one, but then he has his moments, although few, when he’s worth his weight in gold. This is a comfort read if ever there was one, something for the times when you can’t bear to watch the news any more. A good laugh!

My copy of the book has a cover which has been designed by Cath Kidston. I know she’s all the rage and it does fit in with the feel of the book but I grew up with wallpaper like this on my bedroom in the 1960s and I was mightily glad when it was covered up by an orange dinner plate sized pattern around about 1970. I know, there’s no accounting for it!

4 thoughts on “The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

  1. I read this book in 1999 and, according to my card file, I thought it was amusing but not so much that I would read another one of hers. I think I need to read it again to see how I feel about it at this point in my life.

    My cats are all neutered and stay inside, so no surprise kittens, and I stay as far as possible from those little germ dispersers most people call children!

    I’ve decided my patio is not sunny enough for my little bulbs. The Princess Irene tulips did well, but the other species tulips are floppy and lanky and don’t look at all like they did in my Massachusetts garden. Sigh.

    • Joan,
      I really enjoyed it and if I fall over any more of her books I’ll read them, but I prefer Thirkell. I know that you would have hated the bit about kittens being drowned, I didn’t like it! Did people not have their cats ‘done’ then – I suppose she was feckless! Indoor cats are the best, no fleas, other cats or cars to worry about. BTW how is your wee cat?

      I really hope that when you move you will have a garden to play around with. My indoor bulbs were pathetic really, I’m not going to bother again.

  2. I was introduced to the Provincial Lady by a member of my Jane Austen group, and I just love her. I’ve read the second book which I enjoyed but not as much, and the third is on the TBR shelf. She reminds me a bit of Bridget Jones.

    And I laughed when you described the 1970s plate-sized orange-patterned wallpaper! My parents moved into their current home in 1972 and the wallpaper they chose was godawful — one bedroom had a flowery pattern that sounds exactly like that (though thankfully, only one two walls). And don’t even get me started on my red-and-white bedroom with the red shag carpet. I will have nightmares.

    • Karen,

      I haven’t read Bridget Jones but I’ve seen the films about 50 times, they’re always on here. I suppose they would be like an updated version. I’m on a book buying ban again beacause the TBR pile is enormous, I’m sure they’re breeding! So unless I find Delafield on the shelf at my library I’ll have to wait.

      The 1970s were just ‘something else’ it all seemed quite normal at the time though. I was dressed in flares so wide they wrapped around my legs and tripped me up, esp. in the rain. As Bowie said it was satin and tat and bibitty bobitty hats!
      BTW I hear that shag pile carpets are making a come back, you can imagine what the jokes were like here given what shag is slang for!

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