Kilvert’s Diary 1870-1879. Rev. Francis Kilvert

 A Summer of Drowning cover

I’ve been meaning to read Kilvert’s Diary by the Reverend Robert Francis Kilvert for years, so I put it on my Classics Club list to encourage me to get on with it. My copy of the book is a Penguin paperback from 1977, I hope I haven’t had it that long, but fear I might have!

The diary excerpts cover the years from 1870 to 1879, but sadly they’re just a small taster of what he wrote as his wife and later a niece destroyed a lot of his diaries.

In 1870 Kilvert was a young curate serving in a very rural community called Clyro which is in Wales close to Hay-on-Wye, so close to the English border, and his diary entries are full of the lives of his parishioners and what’s going on in the neighbourhood. He portrays them all so well, and with love, and they gave him back love in spadefuls. Most of the inhabitants are so poor and that’s something that Kilvert experiences as he travels around the parish visiting his parishioners, helping them out when he can, but not being taken in by the ones who roll around in bed and moan in agony but suddenly stop when he gives them some money!

There’s a lot of humour in his writing but also a lot of poetry in the shape of his beautiful descriptions of the surrounding countryside which he loved, and the rural traditions. It’s not all perfection though, I suppose human beings never change so there are multiple suicides, illegitimate children, murders, even child murder, fights between rival villages, ghastly relatives and broken hearts.

In fact Kilvert seems to have been very susceptible to a pretty face, especially if they were dark-haired. He writes about being in love with various women, but sadly his lack of money and prospects did not impress the father of Daisy who obviously was not at all willing for his daughter to be wife to an impecunious curate. Then suddenly it was Katherine that he was enamoured with! Poor Daisy. Very surprisingly he was completely honest about his attraction to pretty little girls, and even loved to see their little bottoms, but there’s no doubt that it was in all innocence, he longed to have a family of his own. He wasn’t bothered about bathing in the nude at the seaside, in fact he preferred that to getting manacled by his drawers as they got tangled around his ankles.

The local colour of the neighbourhood is interspersed with what was going in the world news-wise and there’s a lot about the medical problems that Kilvert is beset with, it was with real sadness that I discovered that he died at the age of 39, just one month after his marriage.

There’s an introduction by William Plomer and he does mention what happened to some of the people who appeared quite frequently in the text, which I appreciated. I really enjoyed this one on several levels, for the rural descriptions, history, social history, humour and the warm personality of Kilvert himself. I’m glad I got around to reading it at last.