Sunday, April 6, 2014

Diary of a Provincial Lady - E. M. Delafield

Today I overslept a bit, finally got up and attempted to make cinnamon buns prior to friends coming round - they might have turned out better if I'd not been so sleepy I poured cold milk straight onto the flour and yeast (it should be scalded then cooled, and I can now confirm that this does make a softer bun) but my friends were charmingly polite about them. I did manage to make a really good wholemeal loaf (for which credit belongs to the kitchen aid that did all the hard work) but forgot to offer it to friends who would probably have been grateful for a sandwich instead of an indifferent cinnamon bun - they were to polite to suggest it. Whilst the bread was rising I bumbled round the flat making neatish stacks of things, throwing away old newspapers, and getting rid of the worst of the dust - all in the hope I would give a vague impression of domestic competence. We talked about old acquaintances all of whom seem to have been very successful. After they left I gave in to a lurking cold and spent my afternoon on the sofa with the Provincial Lady and watching the boat race.

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).



  1. I already have 2 copies of the PL but I'm looking forward to the Persephone edition anyway. I agree with everything you say about her but I'm sure it's just your cold that's made you feel a bit fuzzy about your life at the moment. I think we all feel that we should challenge ourselves a bit more but then end up reading D E Stevenson & listening to P G Wodehouse on audio on the way to work (that's me at the moment). I've decided to just go with the flow & try not to worry as much. Get well soon.

  2. People mock man flue but I live that stereotype so yes, the cold is making me fuzzy, and spring is bringing on a grass is greener feeling too (I feel sure the PL would be familiar with that). Wodehouse on the way to work sounds like a tip top way to start the day.

  3. I liked your point about how you haven't changed towards this book -- I read it about 20 years ago and it is still one of my favourite books, and one that rewards again on every re-read. A perfect comfort book.

  4. I find it odd (in a good way) that my response at 20 and at 40 is much the same. I'm not sure that's the case for any other book I can think of. It really is a great read, especially when you want comfort!