Title: The Diary of a Provincial Lady
Author: E.M. Delafield
Publisher: Virago Press
The unnamed protagonist is a married woman living in the countryside, who recounts the life of the upper class in the years between the wars, in the form of a diary. A rather uncommunicative husband, demanding young children, little household dramas and obnoxious neighbours form her daily routine. But there is no obstacle in life that she can´t overcome with a generous dose of aplomb and brazenness.
The first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful flowery cover. And a few pages in I realised that flowers were something the heroine and myself have in common. To be more precise, a shared incompetence for even the most basic gardening. All the hustle and bustle with the bulbs she is trying to grow, reminded me all too well of my countless attempts to grow anything green. Needless to say, no success. Ever. The differences in lifestyle and social class prevent us from having much more in common. Still, I found myself giggling and nodding in recognition throughout the book.
Delafield crafted a mother-wife-modern woman heroine with a sharp eye for detail and able to produce witty descriptions stripped from romantic elements. Without any aspiration of profound social criticism we are presented with what we could call a diary of manners. However, at times we can find some interesting observations about different subjects. Her disregard towards the house staff wasn´t a surprise in a book of this nature, but still, I found it a bit shocking. Despite maids and cooks struggling to make a decent living, she´s constantly preoccupied about the family’s financial situation.
(Note: Financial situation very low indeed, and must positively take steps to send assortment of old clothes to second-hand dealer for disposal.Am struck by false air of opulence with which I don fur coat, withe gloves, and new shoes – one very painful – and get into the car. Irony of life thus exemplified.)
Social life and keeping up appearances seems to put her into the most trying, and sometimes mortifying, situations.
(Query: Is not a common hate one of the strongest links in human nature? Answer, most regrettably, in the affirmative.)
“Am sorry to note that abuse and condemnation of a common acquaintance often constitutes very strong bond of union between otherwise uncongenial spirits.”
Although she is adamant not to be perceived as a conventional mother, her children are in her mind at all times.
“(Unavoidable Query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?)”
There is no denying the book feels dated at times, but the observations on the roles of women are still relevant today.
“Both children take immense interest in story of highly undesirable Person who wins fortune, fame, and beautiful Princess by means of lies, violence, and treachery. Feel sure that this must have disastrous effect on both in years to come.”
“Query, mainly rhetorical: Why are nonprofessional women, if married and with children, so frequently referred to as “leisured”? Answer comes there none.”
I´m pretty sure my mind will go back to it following my next social faux pas. More common ground with Delafield´s heroine.
Have you read The Diary of a Provincial Lady or any novels written in the style of diaries?