Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

Today would have been E M Delafield’s birthday – and she is the next author to be featured in Jane at Beyond Eden Rock’s Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors. I wasn’t planning to join in with this one but, during last weekend’s Mini Persephone Readathon, having finished Monica Dickens’ The Winds of Heaven, I wanted something else to read and remembered that Diary of a Provincial Lady is also published by Persephone. My copy is not the dove-grey Persephone edition, but I was still pleased to have found a book that would count for both the Readathon and today’s celebrations!

Diary of a Provincial Lady, first published in 1930, is exactly what you would expect from the title: a novel written in the form of the diary of a ‘Provincial Lady’. The Lady, whose name we never learn, lives with her husband Robert in a village in the south of England. Their young son, Robin, is away at school much of the time, but there is also a daughter, Vicky, who is educated at home by Mademoiselle, her French governess. Several more servants, including a temperamental cook and a series of dissatisfied parlourmaids, complete the household.

The Provincial Lady’s days are always busy and varied. As well as being responsible for managing the servants, there are tea parties and garden fetes to attend, dinners to host and visitors to entertain – including the formidable and snobbish Lady Boxe, and Our Vicar’s Wife who, once she arrives, often forgets to leave again! The Provincial Lady records all of these things in her diary over a period of about a year, writing in short, concise sentences interspersed with notes, queries and memos to herself.

I have been putting off reading Diary of a Provincial Lady for a long time, because I wasn’t convinced that it sounded like my sort of book, but I was actually very pleasantly surprised. One of the things that surprised me was how often I found I was able to relate to the Provincial Lady and her problems. In fact, I think a lot of the situations she describes are things that most of us would probably identify with…saying something stupid and then wondering why on earth we said it; pretending we understand what somebody is talking about and then being caught out later in the conversation; agreeing to do something and immediately wishing we hadn’t!

I couldn’t relate to everything, of course. The Lady’s lifestyle is entirely different from my own – I don’t have servants to worry about, for example, and if I found myself in financial trouble my solution wouldn’t be to buy myself some expensive new dresses then go off to the South of France for a holiday. I can appreciate, though, that she belonged to a certain time and a certain class and that her position in society meant that she was expected to behave in a particular way.

I was also surprised by how funny the book was! A sense of humour is often a personal, individual thing and sometimes when someone else says that a book is hilarious I’m disappointed when I don’t find it very funny at all (and I’m sure this probably happens the other way around too). But the Provincial Lady’s observations are so witty and the things that happen to her are so amusing I couldn’t help but laugh.

I am aware that there are more books in the Provincial Lady series. A question to those who have read them – are they as good as this one or is there another E M Delafield book you think I should read instead?

25 thoughts on “Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

  1. joulesbarham says:

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the Diary. I have always liked the character of “Our Vicar’s Wife” who forgets to leave… guilty memories on my part! Yes, there are i think three other Provincial lady books, which are a bit variable in quality. I like the Wartime diary, in which she encounters an older lady who firmly believes that everyone loves her. I think the other attraction is the Lady’s conviction that she should do something for the War Effort, but cannot really find anything. I imagine that was quite common. I think that the four books can be picked up quite cheaply in one volume, or for very little on kindle.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, Our Vicar’s Wife was one of my favourites too! I will probably download the other books for my kindle…I like the sound of the Wartime one.

  2. Elle says:

    This is rather fun, isn’t it? I send it to almost everyone who says they want a light, funny, witty read. There’s quite a good passage at the beginning where her husband isn’t listening to her at the breakfast table, and she says something like “Despair. Resolve to buy a new hat.”

  3. Jennifer says:

    I love this book. It is just so much fun. The others are fun too though the first one is my favorite. I think Delafield is interesting because she wrote books in such different styles. Thank Heaven Fasting is good too though nothing like the Provincial Lady books.

    • Helen says:

      I want to read the other Provincial Lady books but I’m interested in trying some of her others too. It sounds as though I have a lot to look forward to.

  4. Lark says:

    I love when books surprise you in a good way! I’ve had this one on my list for years, but just have never made the time to read it. Yet. 🙂

  5. piningforthewest says:

    I really enjoyed this one and three other Provincial Lady books – In Wartime, Goes Further and In America.

  6. Liz Dexter says:

    I love all four of them and find the wartime one poignant as it was written and published during the war itself. I have the Virago omnibus edition. I laugh my head off, even though I very much do not have her lifestyle.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, her humour seems to transcend the lifestyle differences! I’m looking forward to reading the wartime diary, especially knowing that it was actually written during the war.

  7. Sandra says:

    Helen, I’ve just posted about the Wartime Diary. As has been mentioned, they can be acquired for almost nothing on kindle – though your ‘real’ copy is so pretty, I’m sure I’d love reading that much more than a kindle version! I very much enjoyed Wartime and can recommend it. The style is unchanged from what I see of the first diary but the content quite different. No trips to the South of France! I’ll be reading the original diary before too long. I think I want to do that and then branch into one of her novels.

    • Helen says:

      I will probably end up reading the kindle versions of the other diaries, I think. I’m looking forward to the wartime one, especially after reading your thoughts on it.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I can see that they would get repetitive – I’ll probably wait a while before starting another one, rather than reading them all at once. I’m glad to hear the whole series is enjoyable. 🙂

  8. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock says:

    I put this off for a long time too because I’m not a lover of comic writing, but when I read it I loved it. I must read the others, and having just read a very different book by EMD I am very curious to read her other novels too..

    • Helen says:

      I’m usually a bit wary of comic writing, as what works for one reader doesn’t always work for another. I did really enjoy this one, though, and am glad I managed to read it in time for your EM Delafield Day.

  9. cirtnecce says:

    As you know, I too recently read it and LOVED it! I know there are many things that do not fit into the scheme of our lives, but it is still a great comic, bordering on satire read! I read Book II as well and while that was funny, I think this is one is better!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I remember that you loved it too. It’s a great book…and so funny, despite the Lady’s very different lifestyle! I’m sure I will be reading the other diaries as well.

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