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

The Diary of a Provincial Lady (original 1930; edition 1995)

by E.M. Delafield

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7302412,830 (4.12)202
Title:The Diary of a Provincial Lady
Authors:E.M. Delafield
Info:Wordsworth Editions Ltd (1995), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:1991, Devon

Work details

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield (1930)

Recently added byTim-Morrison, private library, christina_reads, MHelm1017, KimSalyers, bleuroses, Elaine2016, sonofcarc, Jayked
Legacy LibrariesHelene Hanff
  1. 30
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (lydiabarr)
    lydiabarr: Austen and Delafield are often compared...both have shrewdly observational sense of humor and an elaborately deadpan style. I love them both.
  2. 20
    Queen Lucia by E. F. Benson (pamelad)
  3. 10
    The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (Bjace)
    Bjace: Seems odd, but both Delafield and MacDonald were city gals transplanted to country situations and their reactions and sense of humor were similar.
  4. 00
    The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith (cdoeri)
  5. 00
    Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson (quartzite)
  6. 00
    And God Created the Au Pair by Benedicte Newland (mumoftheanimals)
    mumoftheanimals: Similar class and wit but set in England between WW1 and WWII.

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English (23)  Spanish (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This charming novel, told in journal entries, gives readers a picture of a suburban, upper-middle-class British housewife's life in the late 1920s. She oscillates between duties (real or imagined) to her family, to her neighbors, to the local aristocracy, to the Women's Institute, and (lastly) to herself. In her own words, she shares her thoughts and opinions with her diary but keeps a very reserved, stereotypically British, outer self. She would rather maintain order and consistency than to speak her mind freely and openly, even when doing so would be beneficial.

At face value, this is a rather funny story about the madcap situations in which the housewife finds herself in everydaily life. She tries her utmost to do nice things - picnics, holiday trips, visits with friends & neighbors - which more often than not backfire and cause embarrassment, illness/injury, or an overdraft of her bank account. However, the book can also be read as a study of character types which may perpetuate cultural stereotypes.

Characters are seen as belonging to either the Domestic Sphere, or the Social Sphere. Of the family, there is the husband who spends more time reading (and falling asleep with) the daily paper than he does interacting with his family. He seems most at ease in his own home, and has no particular interest in going anywhere or doing anything. There is no mention of intimacy between him and his wife at all. The housewife worries constantly over finances, and wants so desperately to fit in with her community that she finds it difficult to live within her means. She is overly polite and deferential. The French governess, who never speaks English, alternates between strong outbursts of emotion and reprimand, and reserved comfort. The domestic servants perform their duties, but spare no occasion to voice their displeasure or to gently bully the housewife. The children are present sporadically, and are sometimes accompanied by a boarding school friend.

As for the social sphere, it is also full of interesting characters. The Vicar's wife pays many visits, and always overstays her welcome. The Women's Institute takes advantage of the housewife's nature and asks her to undertake lengthy speaking trips, to chair pointless committees, and to judge endless competitions. The local aristocrat, Lady Boxe, holds the position that her time is more valuable than anyone else's and shows great impertinence in most situations. One of the saddest characters in the entire novel is the elderly Mrs. Blenkinsop. When we are first introduced to her, she is a warm, vibrant, intelligent woman. When her adult daughter moves to The Himalayas with her fiance, Cousin Maude is sent to live with her. Through subsequent visits by the housewife, the reader sees Mrs. B's sharp intellectual and physical decline, under the constant belittlement and childlike treatment by Cousin Maude. This speaks sharply to the way older British citizens are treated by younger generations. There are encounters with feminists in London, highly educated folk who talk beyond the housewife's comprehension, and many others who lend color and commentary to the story.

Whilst reading this, I couldn't help but think of Helen Fielding's BRIDGET JONES' DIARY. The similarities are rather striking between the two stories. There's even a scene involving mistaken dress code, that leads to great embarrassment. They are by no means the same book, but it would be difficult for me to believe that Fielding was not in some way inspired by E.M. Delafield.

Overall, I found this to be a highly entertaining and enlightening story of British life and British society. It was a very brisk read, due mostly to the diary entry format, and is something I would very much like to reread in the future. ( )
  BooksForYears | Jul 10, 2016 |
"I am writing my Diary. Robert replies kindly but quite definitely that In his opinion That is a Waste of Time"
By sally tarbox on 5 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback
Wonderful little 1930 work, cataloguing the minutiae of the narrator's life in a highly humorous and pithy manner.
From Our Vicar's wife and her lengthy visits
("she says...she won't keep me a minute. Tells me long story about the Vicar having a stye on one eye. I retaliate with Cook's sore throat. This leads to draughts, the heating apparatus in church, and news of Lady Boxe in South of France...She goes but turns back at the door to tell me about wool next the skin, nasal douching and hot milk last thing at night.")

to the narrator's taciturn husband, her children, problems with unruly servants, and constant irritations with patronising neighbour Lady B: even our Lady's final attempt at one-upmanship by announcing a forthcoming trip to France is spoilt by Lady B leaning out of her Bentley to offer to find out about quite inexpensive pensions.

Although this is set in a world vastly different from our own, every reader will recognise the people who make up this society.
The Virago edition, which I have, also contains 3 sequels, following our heroine to London, to America and lastly through the war.(which I've not yet read - I think one book at a time is probably sufficient.)
Light, but highly enjoyable and observant writing. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
My enjoyment of this book was hurt by a couple of things.
1. I was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at the same time I was reading this. Concern about Francie's starvation and her family's hard work to keep a roof (albeit a squalid roof) over their heads, made my concern for the Provincial Lady's (whose name escapes me right now) constantly overdrawn bank account quite a bit less. I'm sorry you had such a hard search for a housemaid, Provincial Lady, when other people are picking through trash to take to the junkman for a penny a load. I know that is probably unfair, and I might have enjoyed it more had it not constantly been juxtaposed in my mind with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn . Except for this:
2. I love and adore, with all of my heart, the Mrs. Tim books by D.E. Stevenson. Those are also written in diary form and in the same time period. However, I was so much less invested in the characters in the Provincial Lady. They all seemed shallow and unsympathetic. Whereas just about every character we meet in the Mrs. Tim books are a joy, and I feel like they are my family.

So, while this book was frothy and amusing, I won't remember anyone in it by tomorrow and it made absolutely no lasting impact on me. ( )
  Bduke | Apr 1, 2016 |
Very funny faux-diary of a genteel housewife in 1930’s rural England . Self-deprecating, witty, and very concerned with superficialities, it’s a fun read. It’s not dated so much as it is a historical document. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
I loved this -- in part because I like almost all the English satires of the period between the 2 World Wars. But this thinly disguised memoir wouldn't be the classic it is if it didn't contain commentary & queries about situations women face in other times & places. While problems with servants, lack of money (relatively speaking!), and the Women's Institute are not universal, who hasn't had the experience of someone saying something unpleasant, then "Think of several rather tart and witty rejoinders to this, but unfortunately not until Lady B.'s Bentley has taken her away."

One question which occurred frequently was about why societal conventions & common politeness require adults to lie so often: "Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her..."; in reply to an old school friend asking to stay for a few nights: "Reply that we shall be delighted to see her, and what a lot we shall have to talk about, after all these years! (This, I find on reflection, is not true, but cannot re-write letter on that account)."; The Vicar's wife has had a picture postcard from her (which she produces from bag), with small cross marking bedroom window of hotel. She says, It's rather interesting, isn't it? to which I reply Yes, it is, which is not in the least true."

This juxtaposition of the conventional polite behavior and the true thoughts of the author is the source of much of the humor. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 13, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. M. Delafieldprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beauman, NicolaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cooper, JillyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, ArthurIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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November 7th.--Plant the indoor bulbs.
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Disambiguation notice
Note: This book, Diary of a Provincial Lady (Prion, 1853753688) (Virago, 1844085228) (Remploy, 0706610342) (Chicago, 0897330536) is NOT the same as the omnibus editions, The Diary of a Provincial Lady (Virago, 0860685225) and The Provincial Lady (Macmillan, pre-ISBN) which contain 4 stories: "Diary of a Provincial Lady"; "The Provincial Lady Goes Further", "The Provincial Lady in War Time"; and, "The Provincial Lady in America".
Please do not combine this work with The Diary of a Provincial Lady (Virago, 0860685225) or The Provincial Lady (Macmillan, pre-ISBN).

17.05.14 All the Virago editions are omnibus editions as are some of the other recent editions. They have already been mixed up.
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Book description
Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there's her husband Robert, who, when he's not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling reluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky servants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our Provincial Lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with.
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This is a gently self-effacing, dry-witted tale of a long-suffering and disaster-prone Devon lady of the 1930s. A story of provincial social pretensions and the daily inanities of domestic life to rival George Grossmith's "Diary of a Nobody".

(summary from another edition)

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