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Diary of a Provincial Lady
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Group Reads Archive > May 2015- Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Welcome to May's group read of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.

Enjoy!


message 2: by Nigeyb (last edited May 01, 2015 12:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb Thanks Jennifer.




The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

It feels likes months ago that I read The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield in readiness for this discussion.

I just checked, it was months ago - mid March.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady is a charming, wry, satirical glimpse into the world of the upper-middle class in Devonshire, England in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

It follows on well from recent discussions on Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson and from Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys.

In 1929, the large-circulation feminist weekly magazine Time and Tide, wanted something light and readable, preferably in serial form, to fill the centre pages, and thus The Provincial Lady was born. Seemingly at once, E.M. Delafield discovered her true vocation was as a comic writer.

The book version was published in 1930, and The Diary of a Provincial Lady became E.M. Delafield's most popular and enduring work. The Diary of a Provincial Lady is largely autobiographical and the children, "Robin" and "Vicky", are based on E.M. Delafield's own children.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady inspired several sequels: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America and The Provincial Lady in Wartime which were similarly autobiographical. I read the Penguin Modern Classics edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady which contains these three sequels. I have not read them yet, although I am now inspired to read them. This review is just about The Diary of a Provincial Lady.

What at first seems a series of inconsequential diary entries reveals itself as simple, unpretentious and unerringly accurate in terms of skewering the concerns, insecurities, foolishness, duplicity and absurdity of class and village life. The star of the show is the outrageous Lady Boxe whose relative wealth and total disregard for the feelings of others is richly humorous. Although Robert (the Provincial Lady's long-suffering husband) runs her a close second with his frequent terse and acerbic utterances. Parenting also comes under the microscope and so much of what E.M. Delafield observes still holds true today. The Provincial Lady's bulbs (the garden variety) are also an amusing gag that runs through the book. We also get some great insights into "the servant problem" of the era and the issue of keeping up appearances with limited financial resources. The Diary of a Provincial Lady is perfectly executed satire and E.M. Delafield clearly had a marvellous ear for dialogue (and regularly employs Patrick Hamilton style Komic Kapitals to great effect).

If you are interested in the 1930s, or you just enjoy undemanding, beautifully written satire, then I recommend you enter the world of The Provincial Lady.

4/5


message 3: by Val (last edited May 01, 2015 12:38AM) (new)

Val I found this book amusing and will probably read more in the series, but I will be reading them as short diary entries. I think I would have enjoyed it more in short segments.
Her problems seem trivial compared to Henrietta's.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Nigeyb Val wrote: "Her problems seem trivial compared to Henrietta's."


Of course. WW2 was far trickier for pretty much everyone in Britain when compared with the late 1920s/early 1930s.


message 5: by Nigeyb (last edited May 01, 2015 01:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb ^ Although the PL does write about WW2 in...


The Provincial Lady in Wartime

I've not read this one yet however from what I can glean it just covers the first few months of the war - the so called "phoney war" when, as we know from various other books, very little is happening, though everyone is keen to do their bit.

It would haven been interesting if E.M. Delafield had written about the war years so we could compare and contrast with Henrietta's descriptions.


message 6: by Val (last edited May 01, 2015 01:41AM) (new)

Val Nigeyb wrote: "Of course. WW2 was far trickier for pretty much everyone in Britain when compared with the late 1920s/early 1930s."

This is especially true for those in the middle classes I think. They were affected by the wartime rationing and shortages, which most of them had not experienced before.

I might read the wartime book next and skip the intervening books.


Pink I've had this book checked out from the library for a few weeks already, but was waiting until May to start. I want to finish reading The Beautiful and Damned first, then I'll get onto this one for my next longer novel.

I've just realised that I remember nothing about it, not the year of publishing (though I'm guessing between 1900-1945!) nor which country it is based in, or anything that happens. I think I'll go into it completely blind though!


Susan | 774 comments I enjoyed this, although I have to say I preferred "Henrietta's War." However, it was a fun - and easy - read. I have no problem with domestic problems and issues being centre stage, as I think they are for most women. I think the point where I was on her side was when she found the toy greenhouse for her daughter's Christmas present and purchased it despite the expense, while having no intention of confessing what she spent to her husband! Not sure husband Robert was 'long suffering' though - more monosyllabic and unsympathetic in my opinion...


message 9: by Val (new)

Val He is certainly monosyllabic!
The original was a retired colonel and perhaps he just wanted a quiet life, so let the domestic problems wash over him as much as possible.


Susan | 774 comments Husband's perfect that cross, long suffering, grunt of disapproval in any era I think :)


Nigeyb Yes, perhaps "long suffering" overstates the nature of his ordeal, however, as this rather splendid article mentions...

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-ent...

Robert is one of those rural, rooted men who thinks he has a perfectly good home of his own, so has no need of the hospitality of others.

Poor chap just wants a quiet life and to be left alone. Who can't relate to that?


Susan | 774 comments My husband could certainly relate to that ;)


message 13: by Judy (last edited May 02, 2015 02:28PM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I've started this but have only read a little so far, as I've got too many other books on the go. I do like the wry style of writing - I also loved Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 and Mrs. Miniver , which is very similar - the film is good in its own right but nothing like the original newspaper columns.

I am wondering whether 'The Diary of a Provincial Lady'was the first of these witty women's diaries serialised in magazines - does anyone know? Googling the topic proved hopeless, as all the articles I found lumped these books together with a host of other novels told in diary or letter form. While there are similarities, I do feel these magazine/newspaper columns are a genre in their own right.


message 14: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 729 comments Nearly finished J G Ballard. Then I will start this next week.


message 15: by Judy (last edited May 03, 2015 04:24AM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I'm not all that far in, but am starting to stall a bit. Although I like the writing style and the humour, the Provincial Lady's life really isn't very interesting so far... certainly not by comparison with either Henrietta or Mrs Miniver.

I'm finding it hard to care too much about someone whose major problems are that she has to pawn a diamond ring, or that Cook can only provide cold meat and beetroot for lunch! Hoping something will happen soon.

I'm fine with domestic issues looming large, but it's probably the fact that she has a houseful of servants to deal with said domestic issues which makes it hard to sympathise. I did warm to her buying the toy greenhouse, as Susan said.


Susan | 774 comments Yes, my interest waned slightly, until that part.

I think Henrietta (I haven't read Mrs Miniver) had more sympathetic characters surrounding her. I didn't mind the Provincial Lady, but I didn't care so much for her friends and family.


message 17: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I'm about 2/3 of the way through now and, while I still find the Provincial Lady's own life less than thrilling, I'm increasingly intrigued by characters such as Barbara and her elderly mother - seems to be quite a drama unfolding in the background! I also rather enjoy the writing style.


Nigeyb ^ Spot on Philip - there's also an element of (then) modern manners about it. I liked it a lot.


message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I've just finished this and enjoyed this great quote near the end:

"Unknown benefactor sends me copy of new Literary Review, which seems to be full of personal remarks from well-known writers about other well-known writers. This perhaps more amusing to themselves than to average reader."


message 20: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 729 comments


message 21: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 729 comments : ))


message 22: by Judy (last edited May 14, 2015 09:12AM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Philip and Nigeyb, I can't really argue with you - reading your thoughts, it strikes me that I've read many books where trivial problems are hilarious, for instance the endless arguments between Jeeves and Wooster over items of clothing.

So, despite my comments above about the lady's wealth and the lack of an interesting plot, perhaps my problem is really just that I don't find Delafield's style of writing very funny. (I have enjoyed some bits, like the section about Barbara that I mentioned in an earlier comment, but overall I find it all a bit flat.) I suspect it would have worked better for me as a magazine column rather than gathered into book form.


message 23: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I've now written a review - not very complimentary I'm afraid.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 24: by Roisin (new)

Roisin | 729 comments I have not started it yet, though will in a few days. Interesting what you say Judy. I suspect that you are right and in the original mode as snippets of life it probably fares better than in one go.


message 25: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Thanks Roisin - it might just be me though, as others love it. Hope you enjoy it!


Barbara I can't really add anything that hasn't already been said. It was enjoyable, light, made me laugh out loud a few times and chuckle to myself a bit, but it was hardly on a plane with Graham Greene or Anthony Powell for example. As a lighthearted look at the times, giving a sense of the popular literature and concerns of the era, it was quite successful in my opinion. I agree with others that it probably made a better weekly column than a book to be read all at once. I've read 4 of the 5 Provincial Lady books now and enjoyed each one less than the one before, not because each was less worthy, but simply because a little charm and wit go a long way. I've had enough for the moment.

I do have a question....Several times in all the books, Delafield (or her diarist anyway) asks a question and then answers it "answer comes there none." Of course I understand what she means--there is no answer to her question--but it seems a very odd construction to me. Is this standard English? Old-fashioned English? A Delafieldism? I've never seen or heard this turn of phrase in years of reading. I certainly can't imagine an American writing it... Can anyone enlighten me?

Has anyone read any of her non-Provincial Lady books? I wonder how much PL is an actual diary, just prettied up for publication and how much is intentional fiction? Is this her usual writing style?


message 27: by Nigeyb (last edited May 17, 2015 01:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb Barbara wrote: "...it was hardly on a plane with Graham Greene or Anthony Powell..."

Very true - but what is?


Barbara wrote: "I've read 4 of the 5 Provincial Lady books now and enjoyed each one less than the one before, not because each was less worthy, but simply because a little charm and wit go a long way. I've had enough for the moment."

I've seen similar sentiments expressed by other readers. I think I might quit whilst I'm ahead - and focus on the Mapp and Lucia books for similar lighthearted, comedic fare.

Barbara wrote: "I do have a question....Several times in all the books, Delafield (or her diarist anyway) asks a question and then answers it "answer comes there none." Of course I understand what she means--there is no answer to her question--but it seems a very odd construction to me. Is this standard English? Old-fashioned English? A Delafieldism? I've never seen or heard this turn of phrase in years of reading. I certainly can't imagine an American writing it... Can anyone enlighten me?"

I would imagine it's a Delafieldism. It's certainly not standard English and I've not noticed it in other work of the era. That said, the similar "answer came there none" is from "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll...

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/...

Barbara wrote: "Has anyone read any of her non-Provincial Lady books?"

Not me I'm afraid.


message 28: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Barbara and Nigeyb, I've often heard and indeed used the phrase "answer came there none" in conversation - it tends to be said in a jokey way if you ask someone a question but they don't answer right away. I've always assumed it was a quote, though I hadn't realised it came from 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'. My guess would be that that is probably the first use and that "comes there none" is a variant.


Barbara Well, Judy and Nigey--I feel like quite a dunce right now. I was reading it with the wrong inflection...as "answer COMES (pause) there NONE" and I just didn't get the construction. Read as "answer comes there NONE" it just seems like a poetic way of saying no answer came to me. It wasn't until I read the Walrus and Carpenter quote that I saw how it should be said. Sometimes I really have to wonder about myself....

Thanks for clearing this up for me!


Nigeyb ^ Another satisfied customer :-)


message 31: by Val (new)

Val I have heard it used several times, mainly by mildly sarcastic teachers when I was at school.


message 32: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Barbara, there are plenty of American phrases that puzzle me, so I shouldn't worry! :)

Maybe I'm just too sarcastic for my own good, but I also know another similarly-used phrase, 'no answer, came the stern reply' - nobody seems to know where that one came from. Google shows a poem using it, but it's not the source as it is something written recently and the phrase goes back many years.


Barbara Judy, the stern reply quote sounds so familiar. But if Google can't find the source (other than the recent poem) I guess I'll have to let it go. These things can drive you mad!


Janis (paintability) | 21 comments I have read all the diaries several times and as many of her other books as I could find over the years...I find the diaries delightful as well as her other books..
I have also read a biography of Delafield's life...
Did you know that her daughter also wrote a diary along the same lines?...she died not too long ago...


Janis (paintability) | 21 comments I grew up in a British territory and the phrase "answer comes there none" was quite common...


Barbara Thanks, Janis. I'd be interested in reading a bio of Delafield, to see how true to life the "diaries" really were. Would be interesting too to see what her daughter wrote.


Nigeyb That's great intel Janis. Thanks. To what extent would you recommend the Delafield biog, and is it The Life Of A Provincial Lady: A Study Of E. M. Delafield And Her Works?

And similarly to what extent would you recommend her daughter's diaries? And what's her name?


Miss M | 118 comments Six degrees of separation...biographer Violet Powell was Anthony's wife. (I've been tracking the book on my amazon WL, but sadly, copies are quite pricey.)


Nigeyb ^ Splendid new info Miss M. I still have To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell on my shelf ready to go. Can't wait.

There's a few other Violet Powell titles on Amazon UK - none appear to be print. Turns out she was also Lord Longford's brother. He was a familiar face in the UK in the 70s and 80s for his prison reform work.

Here's Violet's Guardian obituary from 2002...
http://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/...

What else should we be reading by Violet Powell?


Miss M | 118 comments I haven't read anything of hers so can't recommend--did pick up one of her autobiographies last year but i haven't gotten to it yet.

Hope Janis doesn't mind if I go ahead and mention that Delafield's daughter's book is: Provincial Daughter by RM Dashwood. I did read that several years ago and wasn't exactly overwhelmed...very much just a pale imitation of her mother's style, set in '50's suburbia. Not terrible but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it.


Nigeyb Thanks Miss M - very helpful as always.


message 42: by Barbara (last edited May 19, 2015 10:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara I just downloaded a free Delafield book from Amazon. It's called The War Workers and is a novel about war workers (surprise surprise) during the Great War. I'll be interested in comparing it to the Provincial Lady books. Presumably it's a serious novel, but I suspect Delafield's sense of humor will break out now and then.


Nigeyb ^ Oooh. Do please let us know what it's like Barbara


Barbara I will.


Lynaia | 153 comments Amazon actually has several of her novels on Kindle for 99 cents each. I've read a few of them and found them quite enjoyable although I haven't read The War Workers yet. I've actually preferred some of her other works over the Provincial Lady series but that's quite often the case with me. I quite often prefer lesser known works by an author better than their "masterpieces". I think my issue with the Provincial Lady stories is that I'm really not a big fan of the "diary" form of story. I would highly recommend her other stories though and understand why many people like the Provincial Lady series. I'll be curious to see what you have to say about The War Workers. Enjoy!


Janis (paintability) | 21 comments Nigeyb wrote: "That's great intel Janis. Thanks. To what extent would you recommend the Delafield biog, and is it The Life Of A Provincial Lady: A Study Of E. M. Delafield And Her Works?

And si..."


Her daughter was R.M Dashwood, which was her mother's name and the book is called "Provincial Daughter"...because I enjoy her books so much I was very intrigued by the biography...
I don't normally like biographies unless I have an overwhelming curiosity about the subject, and in this case I did..
I love her sense of humour, her wry look at the world and herself, and although the later diaries were not as perfect as the first one, I find them all delightful...she was a woman whose political beliefs were independent of her husband and friends and had opinions that were way ahead of her time...a very modern woman who would fit our current society perfectly, servants notwithstanding...


Nigeyb ^ Brilliant. Thanks so much Janis. I'm inspired.


Janis (paintability) | 21 comments Nigeyb wrote: "^ Brilliant. Thanks so much Janis. I'm inspired."

You're very welcome...


message 49: by Pink (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pink I'm late getting to this, but started a couple of days ago. I think I was a little daunted by the size of my library copy, not realising that it comprised four books. I don't intend to read them all, just the first book, but I am absolutely loving it. The humour is exactly what I like in a book, so dry, but laugh out loud funny.


message 50: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) Pink wrote: "I've had this book checked out from the library for a few weeks already, but was waiting until May to start. I want to finish reading The Beautiful and Damned first, then I'll get onto this one for..."


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