Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Provincial Lady

Well I have completed my reading of all four of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady's books and have enjoyed them. They provide a very witty social commentary of the times. Doing a bit of research today on the internet I discovered (if wikipedia is correct) that Delafield died in 1942 only two years after writing The Provincial Lady in Wartime. It is sad to think that she never got to see peace in her homeland again.

Diary of A Provincial Lady
Written in first person in quaint style. Tells the minutia of Delafield's life in country Britain in the early 1930s. She lives in a large house with her husband, Robert, and two children, Robin and Vicky. Mademoiselle, Vicky's governess, is a prominent character in this story. She is a French woman with very fraught nerves (Note to Self: working French knowledge would be valuable in understanding her dialogue).

The family is always struggling to make ends meet - the are constantly having communications from the bank on their overdraft. This has necessitated, much to Delafield's distress, the pawning of her Great Aunt's ring. Delafield finds herself in all sorts of awkward social situations. She often feels dowdy in her 'dated' clothes and is regularly introduced as "fabulously literary" - upon which most new acquaintences rapidly absent themselves from her company.

The Provincial Lady Goes Further
Delafield has published a successful novel and the family finances are consequently somewhat improved. At the urging of her friend Rose, she decides to take a flat in London to focus on her writing. Unfortunately she tends to become busy with social obligations and, at other times, takes people watching walks in the city. Most of these social obligations are literary parties, which Delafield does not seem to enjoy, but is unable to decline.

Mademoiselle is moved on in this story as Vicky has gone to boarding school. As such, when the family take a trup to France for the holidays they appoint a tutor, Casabianca (fabulous name). Humorous anecdotes on life in France follow: the children refuse to eat anything French and Robert is very disaproving of the concept of a continental breakfast.

The Provincial Lady in America
Delafield takes a six month trip to America to promote her books. She is very sea sick on the journey over but finds America itself delightful. She very much enjoys the warm hospitality to extended to her by the Americans she meets. There is a wonderful story about her wanting to visit Allcott's house but being denied by her publisher; he later reneges when a prominent book reviewer asks her to comment on the place. It is the highlight of her trip. Nonetheless, she remains homesick for her family throughout and cannot wait to be reunited with them.

The Provincial Lady in Wartime
War has been declared in Britain. Delafield opens her house to evacuees - two children and their Nanny. With Robert busy acting as an ARP and her children back at school. Delafield installs Robert's Aunt Blanche as housekeeper and takes herself off to London to volunteer her services for the war effort. Unfortunately she can't find anyone who wants them and is told to 'Stand By'. She becomes good friends with Serena, an acquaintance of Aunt Blanche, who finds her a voluntary position at the underground Adelphi Canteen. Delafield undertakes to see the rest of the phony war out there until her skills are recognised and her services required.

And, finally, a line I found terribly amusing from The Provincial Lady in Wartime.
"Am sorry to note that abuse and condemnation of a common acquaintance often constitutes very strong bond of union between otherwise uncongenial spirits." p. 139


  1. I really must read these! Thanks for you reviews.

  2. Excellent summaries! These remain some of my very favourite novels, and constantly in the back of my mind for re-reads. Quite different to anything else EMD wrote (or anyone else wrote, for that matter) and utterly sublime. But I'm with you - struggle through the French, and miss out on some of the jokes because of it... that's the thing with most books pre-1950: they assume a knowledge of French, Latin and sometimes Greek. I fall sadly short!

  3. Tara - glad to have you visit!

    Simon - Thanks for recommending them! I will be looking for more of her writing to read. You are quite right about the French and latin - I am sometimes quite disappointed that I was born too late for a classical education.