E.M. Delafield's The Diary of a Provincial Lady is another one for the charming category. It's the sort of book that you can easily pick up, read a few passages of and set aside again for the next time you need a little light-hearted pick me up. Or like me, you simply devour because it's so witty and clever you have to know what adventure the Provincial Lady is about to embark upon next. I can only say I feel an affinity for anyone who writes, "Am struck, as usual, by infinite superiority of other people's food to my own." On more than one occasion she seemed to read my mind.
In case you've not yet had the opportunity to meet the Provincial Lady, let me tell you a little bit about her. She lives in a typical little English village (ca. 1931) with a very British husband and two very British children (as the introduction assures me). She leads a nice, comfortable middle class existence with servants to contend with and a French governess, though money is always an issue. Her grandmother's gold ring spends more time in hock than on the Provincial Lady's finger. Written in an epistolary format, the diary follows the Provincial Lady through an average year from November (planting indoor bulbs) to the following October (again trying her hand at those indoor bulbs). The novel reminded me a little of Elizabeth von Arnim's Elizabeth and Her German Garden, though the Provincial Lady unfortunately doesn't show quite the same aptitude with plants.
While the novel is a bit short on plot, it's long on entertainment. You get a real feel for the diarist and her daily trials and tribulations as well as those of her household. She never takes things too seriously, which is what endeared me so much to her. You also get a look at the rhythms of village life and its varied inhabitants. But why take my word for it. It's much better to let the Provincial Lady speak for herself.
May 7th.--Resume diary after long and deplorable interlude, vanquished chill having suddenly reappeared with immense force and fury, revealed itself as measles. Robin, on same day begins to cough, and expensive hospital nurse materialises and takes complete charge. She proves kind and efficient, and brings me messages from children, and realistic drawing from Robin entitled 'Ill person being eaten up by jerms.'
(Query: Is dear Robin perhaps future Heath Robinson or Arthur Watts?)
Soon after this all becomes incoherent and muddled. Chief recollection is of hearing the doctor say that of course my Age is against me, which hurts my feelings and makes me feel like old Mrs. Blenkinsop. After a few days, however, I get the better of my age, and am given champagne, grapes, and Valentine's Meat Juice."
I really do need to find out what Valentine's Meat Juice is...
July 3rd.--Breakfast enlivened by letter from dear Rose written at, apparently, earthly paradise of blue sea and red rocks, on South Coast of France. She says that she is having complete rest, and enjoying congenial society of charming group of friends, and makes unprecedented suggestion that I should join her for a fortnight. I am moved to exclaim--perhaps rather thoughtlessly--that the most wonderful thing in the world must be to be a childless widow--but this is met by unsympathetic silence from Robert, which recalls me to myself, and impels me to say that that isn't in the least what I meant.
(Mem.: Should often be very, very sorry to explain exactly what it is that I do mean, and am in fact conscious of deliberately avoiding self-analysis on many occasions. Do not propose, however, to go into this now or at any other time.)
I tell Robert that if it wasn't for the expense, and not having any clothes, and the servants, and leaving Vicky, I should think seriously of Rose's suggestion.
However, she does think seriously of Rose's suggestion. One of the things I loved about The Diary of the Provincial Lady is that she was so literary, or tried to be anyway.
July 14th.--Question of books to be taken abroad undecided till late hour last night. Robert says, Why take any? And Vicky proffers Les Malheurs de Sophie, which she puts into the very bottom of my suitcase, whence it is extracted with some difficulty by Mademoiselle later. Finally decide on Little Dorrit and The Daisy Chain, with Jane Eyre in coat-pocket. Should prefer to be the kind of person who is inseparable from volume of Keats, or even Jane Austen, but cannot compass this.
July 18th, at Ste. Agathe.--Vicissitudes of travel very strange, and am struck--as often--by enormous dissimilarity between journeys undertaken in real life, and as reported in fiction. Can remember very few novels in which train journey of any kind does not involve either (a) Hectic encounter with member of opposite sex, leading to tense emotional issue; (b) discovery of murdered body in hideously battered condition, under circumstances which utterly defy detection; (c) elopement between two people each of whom is married to somebody else, culminating severe disillusionment, or lofty renunciation.
Back home from France.
August 31st.--Read The Edwardians--which everybody else has read months ago--and am delighted and amused. Remember that V. Sackville-West and I once attended dancing classes together at the Albert Hall, many years ago, but feel that if I do mention this, everybody will think I am boasting--which indeed I should be--so better forget about it again, and in any case, dancing never my strong point, and performance at Albert Hall extremely mediocre and may well be left in oblivion. Short letter from Robin which I am very glad to get, but which refers to nothing whatever except animals at home, and project for going out in a boat and diving from it on some unspecified future occasion. Reply to all, and am too modern to beg tiresomely for information concerning himself.
I'm contemplating leaving the book by my bedside as I would be happy to just open it up randomly and read a few entries when my mood is black as surely the Provincial Lady would do wonders in terms of brightening dark moods. I often found myself chuckling over her diary entries. However, will dig out The Provincial Lady in London instead, which is one of several sequels.
By the way, E.M. Delafield was the pen name of Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, neé de la Pasture. I had to read the little author blurb to understand that Delafield is the anglicized version of it! Delafield's mother was also a novelist. As E.M. Delafield was growing up she had a series of French governesses who undoubtedly gave her much inspiration for Mademoiselle. I'm so glad I finally got around to this one, it was a wonderfully entertaining read!