Sunday, April 6, 2014
Diary of a Provincial Lady - E. M. Delafield
The details of the P.L.'s life are quite different from mine (not married, no children, don't have to worry about servants.) but generally we have a lot in common (a tendency to being ever so slightly over drawn, a partner who doesn't even need a copy of the times to fall asleep in his chair, never being quite as organised as I would like, and a feeling that in some direction I'm not trying quite hard enough). Not trying quite hard enough ought possibly to be capitalised and mostly concerns the books not read, the plays not seen, the exhibitions not visited - it's the uneasy sense of horizons narrowing, and the most disquieting thing about it is that most the time you don't notice it's happening because you get so bogged down in the day to day stuff - see above. (Horizons may be just fine, but a cold doesn't encourage a particularly positive outlook on life).
I can't remember when I first found the Provincial Lady but it must be twenty years or more ago, my original copy has all but fallen apart so I'm very pleased to have the new Persephone edition, she always comforts me. At 40 I have heard of and read more of the authors the P.L. mentions but otherwise I don't think my reaction to her has changed at all. The afterword here has a faintly apologetic air (the ladies at Persephone are not provincial) which I don't really agree with. I've only read a couple of Delafield's other books (Thank Heaven Fasting and The Way Things Are) neither of which I thought as good as The Provincial Lady. I found myself particularly out of sympathy with Laura, the heroine of The Way Things Are who is a sort of precursor of the P.L. who's charm lies in her acceptance of her world and her ability to make the everyday amusing. I even like the phlegmatic Robert (he seems like a reliable man, the sort who might not declare his undying love, or even whole hearted support, but very much the sort who will get you to or from the train station on time along with other equally practical attributes). I even sympathise with the servant and school fees problems, my equivalent is a mortgage and a crazy china habit. The bottom line is that I love this book and everything about it, I think it's a work of genius. I'm guessing that most people reading this will also be fans but on the off chance that it's new to anybody - well just get a copy and read it. (Please).