I didn’t even realise that this book existed before I spotted it at the St Andrew’s and St George’s Edinburgh booksale. I really like the previous two books which I’ve read by E.M. Delafield, so I snapped this one up. My copy is an old one from 1940 but I believe this book has been reprinted fairly recently.
It’s the beginning of the war, the time when nothing much was happening so it was called ‘the phoney war’. Everyone seems to have been desperate to get into some kind of war work, to ‘do their bit’, and the Provincial Lady was no different. This is a commom theme in early Second World War era novels, whether the author is someone like Angela Thirkell or Evelyn Waugh.
Lots of people must have seen the whole thing as a way of getting out of their particular rut and making their life more exciting. For some of them it probably became too exciting but there’s no doubt that for loads of people it was the best experience of their lives and peacetime, when it eventually came was an anti climax.
Anyway, the Provincial Lady has abandoned home and hearth with her husband’s blessing and is in London looking for war work which will help in the war effort. But so far there is nothing for anyone to do, she pulls strings and has meetings with various government types but the best she can manage is a job in a canteen, making tea for people who are practising first aid and air raid duties.
She has to make her way back to her Devon home to sort out domestic problems (you can’t get the staff, you know). Evacuees and rumours are the staple and everyone seems to think that the German people are going to revolt and get rid of Hitler, another war is unthinkable to some, especially those who lost sons in the First World War, which seems so recent to them.
Yes, so far so deja vu-ish, I hear you say, but there’s plenty of humour too, as you would expect from the Provincial Lady, and my copy is illustrated with drawings of scenes and characters from the book.
Obviously writing a book like this was Delafield ‘doing her bit’ as books like this one must have been a real comfort to people in wartime.
I always feel a bit shuddery when reading books like this one though as at this time there had been no actual air raids and so no civilian casualties, or even military ones. By the time the book was published in 1940 the readers must have been quite nostalgic for that strange time in 1939 when hostilities hadn’t begun yet. It’s just as well they didn’t know what was in store for them.