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The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion by…
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The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion (1924)

by Magdalen King-Hall

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The diary covers a year in the life of a lively Irish aristocrat wherein she reveals her most private thoughts. Beginning with her passion for a roguish neighbor, continuing with the 18th century grand tour of the continent, and ending with Carnivale in Venice it is an exhilarating journey! Cleone's charming and hapless beau, while attempting to climb the ivy to her bedroom, manages to fall and raise the household. Cleone's father, afraid that his daughter is on the way to being compromised, drags her and brother Ned to Derby and London and the Continent. Throughout her travels Cleone has flirtations, but her heart stays true to David Ancaster her Irish love.

Cleone proves as astute observer of society, bemoaning the poverty of the peasants in France while the Royal Court and aristocracy spend money on extravagant and foolish things. Surely, Dickens must have known about the diary and referenced it when he was writing Tale of Two Cities. There are even echoes of Jane Austen. Could Jane have "borrowed" the image of "fine brown eyes" (which Cleone mentions at least three times in describing her ertswhile lovers) when Mr Darcy comments on Lizzie's orbs? And, to cap it, one of the families in Paris is the D'arcys.

In addition to mingling with the French aristocracy, many of whom will not live their allotted span of three score and ten, Cleone and her family meet the one and only Voltaire when they commence to Switzerland where Voltaire was in exile. Cleone was unimpressed:

"January 9th...The great man received us in a chintz dressing-gown, with a flow of brilliant wit. Sometimes affable, more often peevish. To tell truth he reminded me of nothing so much as a chattering old magpie. But we listened silent, with that Respect which is due to Genius, however Wearisome it may be...."

The most exciting adventures happen in Venice where Cleone sees murdered corpses floating in the Grand Canal, every manner of licentious behavior for all classes, even during High Mass. Ned is thrown into prison for attempting to elope with a 14 year old cloistered nun and it takes all of her father's connections and bribes to get him released.

The diary ends abruptly when none other than Cleone's Irish lover David Ancaster shows up and sings an Irish ballad under her balcony window. The two elope and, according to the editor of the diary (Ned's descendant who had access to his great-great-great-great aunt's papers), Cleone and David have a happy marriage back in Ireland and produce eight sons and four daughters.

Published in 1926 (my volume is a first edition), the diary could not fail to charm 20th century and 21st century readers alike.

Except..........SPOILERS BELOW! STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND THE TWIST TO THE BOOK1

Except that the diary is a HOAX. I was suspicious by page 16 with the absolutely hilarious and wonderful description of Cleone's lover attempting to climb the ivy to her room. It was much too modern, too indelicate, too satiric to be true. Throughout the diary Cleone thinks like a 20th century lass and her comments on the silliness of her swains is an easy tip-off. So are the descriptions and phrases borrowed from Dickens and Austen. I googled the diary and found a very interesting account of its publication.

The author was actually a 22 year old daughter of Admiral Sir George King-Hall who had formerly been Commander-in Chief of the Australian Station. She was bored during her stay with her parents in Hove and wrote the diary as an exercise, using only the resources available in the Hove public library. Whether she really planned the hoax or innocently sent it away to her publishers is not clear. She had made up phony place names, used the names of friends suitably Frenchified and Italianized for her characters, anticipated fashions etc.

Her publishers continued to market it as genuine, even after she announced the hoax, six months after publication. Even people who should have known better, like Winston Churchill, were taken in. And it didn't end in 1926.

"Since first publication The Diaries have continued to deceive the experts. In 1982 the Folio Society planned to publish them as original diaries. The first the family knew of this plan was when an advertisement of The Folio Society’s future offerings appeared in the national press. Later in the 1980s the B.B.C. broadcast a reading of the Diaries on the assumption that they were of 18th Century origin and therefore out of copyright. In 1994 the B.B.C. broadcast a 12 part dramatised version of the Diaries on Woman’s Hour. Once again it was assumed they were original." (quote from her son Richard Percival Maxwell)

And anyone who picks up the 1926 edition, as I did at a book sale, could fall for the joke all over again.

Magdalen went on to become a successful author of children's books and period romances. One of her novels was adapted and filmed as Wicked Lady starring James Mason and Margaret Lockwood.
2 vote Liz1564 | Oct 15, 2013 |
A charming, funny, and interesting diary, Ms. Knox is a Mid-18th Century Bridget Jones.

Born on May 12th, 1744 at Castle Kearney, County Down, Ireland, Cleone was an heiress, and a probably typical member of her society. This journal covers her early twenties while she is at a crucial point in her love affair with a Mr. Ancaster. To distract her from this gentleman, her father takes her and her brother, Ned, on the Grand Tour, and along the way she meets the King and Queen of England, King and Queen of France, and Voltaire, along with lots of various and sundry characters.

With entries like "July 15th. To church. A sermon so lengthy that I near died. Dozed behind my fan.", and "May 19th. Lord be praised! in a few moments our Coach will have conveyed us away from this monstrously dull place. Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, to whom brother Tom gave us letters of recommendation, are as excellent a couple as one could hope to see but hardly enlivening as Host and Hostess, while as for their mansion house with its Greek porticos and its monstrously cold rooms, 'tis more fit to be a Sepulchre than a human habitation.", it makes me chuckle quite a lot.

Only edited to correct spelling and to remove "a good many entries that are of no general interest, mostly referring to purchases and personal expenditure" by her ancestor, Alexander Black Kerr, in the 1920's, this is a wonderful window into society life. If you are lucky enough to find a copy, pick it up and treat yourself to a fantastically entertaining read. 4.5 stars ( )
1 vote LauraBrook | Dec 25, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Magdalen King-Hallprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kerr, Alexander BlackerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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March 3rd. This morning had a vastly unpleasant interview with my Father.
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This novel became a literary sensation on its publication because it was believed to be an authentic 18th-century diary, and its discovery was compared in importance to the finding of the diaries of Samuel Pepys.

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