Monday, February 1, 2010

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Imagine if one of Jane Austen's heroines lived about 120 years in the future -- the early 1930s, to be exact -- and that she is married, with two children, running a country household somewhere in Devon.  Or, basically, a 1930s version of Bridget Jones' Diary -- the fun, witty bits, but without all the weight issues and smoking.  That's the best way I can describe the delightful Diary of a Provincial Lady.

E. M. Delafield wrote this thinly veiled fictional diary about her life in 1930, and according to Wikipedia, it has never gone out of print and spawned four sequels.  And with good reason -- it's a really fun read.  It's witty and charming, and the diary format makes it easy to pick up at an odd moment.  I am a complete Anglophile, and I'm particularly fond of British literature from the early 20th century, especially the satirical novels of the 1920s and 1930s (I recommend Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate and Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall.)  This is definitely in a similar vein, though more narrowly focused on the minutiae of life in a country village -- dealing with the cook, the French governess, Women's Institute Meetings (of which I am only familiar from the movie Calendar Girls starring Helen Mirren); also quirky characters like the vicar's wife and the local snobby aristocrat.  How I wish I lived in a small English country village!  Of course it would probably just be annoying if it was in my neighborhood.  The neighbors must always be quirkier and more entertaining on the other side of the fence.  Or the Atlantic.

Here's an example of an entry:

November 14 -- Arrival of Book of the Month choice, and am disappointed.  History of a place I am not interested in, by an author I do not like.  Put it back into its wrapper again and make fresh choice from Recommended List.  Find, on reading small literary bulletin enclosed with book, that exactly this course of procedure has been anticipated, and that it is described as being "the mistake of a lifetime." Am much annoyed, although not so much at having made (possibly) mistake of a lifetime, as at depressing thought of all our being so much alike that intelligent writers can apparently predict our behaviour with perfect accuracy.

Decide not to mention any of this to Lady B., always so tiresomely superior about Book of the Month as it is, taking up attitude that she does not require to be told what to read.  (Should like to think of a good repartee to this.)

So.  Witty, charming, easy to read -- a perfect respite from, say, weightier books like Dickens and Trollope, or even lighter works like Austen.  But how is it possible I had never heard of this until recently?  Here, I must give credit to the JASNA coordinator for South Texas, the clever and charming Lynda, who was kind enough to recommend it.  Lynda, I thank you again -- though of course I am now compelled to read all four of the sequels:  The Provincial Lady in London, Provincial Lady in America, I Visit the Soviets: The Provincial Lady in Russia; and finally, The Provincial Lady in Wartime, which, sadly, is out of print.  Luckily, my library has a copy, though I'm going to have to purchase two volumes before I read that, if I want to read them in order, as I am loathe to incur any costs to my public library with ILLs.

I must point my one complaint: the page layout, which has such enormous margins I was actually compelled to find a ruler and measure them. Seriously.  Each of the 388 pages in this paperback book is 5 x 8 inches, with only a mere 3 1/2 x 4 inch block of text!! I am no math whiz, but, basically, half the page is blank -- and the type is double-spaced.  A quick count showed less than 200 words on a page.  Now, that's just ridiculous -- how dumb does the publisher think we are? Why not just print more words on less pages and save a few trees? 

I am sure the Provincial Lady would be appalled at the waste. 


  1. The way this is printed cracks me up. It reminds me of Up at the Villa a bit. Except instead of huge margins they used like a 16-pt font. :D

  2. I've had the omnibus edition for a while but I'm saving it up for just the right moment. I've double checked the margins and I'm relieved that they are much more sensible than yours - i love your cover though.

  3. Amanda -- it's very much like the margins in Up at the Villa, which I read in about an hour. I still really like it though. And a good movie adaptation, though I didn't picture Sean Penn as the male lead.

    fleur fisher - an omnibus edition! I had no idea, I must find it!! Where did you get it?


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