Credit: Architectural Digest


Like many other people this week, I am viewing the 1930 Club as the perfect excuse to reread The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.  This begs the question, does one ever really need an excuse to read such a perfect book?  No but I took it anyways.

For the uninitiated (are there any of you?  Is it possible that the Venn diagram of people who read my blog and people who have read the Provincial Lady does not directly overlap?), the Provincial Lady is a devoted diarist who chronicles the small goings in her life over the course of a year.  The PL lives in the country with her husband Robert (a land agent), her six-year-old daughter Vicky, and, when he is not away at school, her son Robin.  They are attended by the standard indispensable household staff for an interwar middle-class household, include Mademoiselle, Cook, a maid, and a gardener.  Life is not hard but it has its trials and they are (mostly) all amusing.

With a mono-syllabic husband who is more likely to fall asleep with his copy of The Times after dinner than make sparkling conversation, the PL pours most of her thoughts into her diary.  She aspires to cultural and social refinements but, to her disappointment, is always falling a bit short.  She can’t quite find the enthusiasm to read the books she knows she ought to read.  When in town, she swears she wants to see the exhibitions everyone else is talking about, but prefers to spend her time shopping for things she can’t afford.  She can’t seem to win the literary contests she enters, even though clearly stupider friends and relations manage to do so.  She struggles to be modern (particularly when it comes to parenting), well-dressed (always a challenge on her budget), and many other things, always falling a bit short.

Where she doesn’t fall short is with her writing.  The PL’s style is distinctive and has been copied ad nauseum since she appeared (Bridget Jones being her most famous descendant) and you can understand why.  Brevity is the soul of wit and her sentences are masterfully short with great effect.  Most winningly, she leaves herself notes and questions in her diaries for further reflection, highlighting her insecurities and random trains of thoughts, and giving us a much better sense of her personality than most verbose novelists could do.

But the best way to get to know the PL is through her own words.  I find she is always at her best when discussing the children.  Lamentably, they are neither as attractive nor as angelic as other people’s children appear to be, which she feels reflects badly on her.  Vicky and Robin are reassuringly irritating and arguably the best things about the book:

December 1st – Cable from dear Rose saying she lands at Tilbury on 10th.  Cable back welcome, and will meet her Tilbury, 10th.  Tell Vicky that her godmother, my dearest friend, is returning home after three years in America.  Vicky says: “Oh, will she have a present for me?”  Am disgusted with her mercenary attitude and complain to Mademoiselle, who replies Si la Sainte Vierge revenait sur la terre, madame, ce serait notre petite Vicky.  Do not at all agree with this.  Moreover, in other moods Mademoiselle first person to refer to Vicky as ce petit démon enragé.

(Query: Are the Latin races always as sincere as one would wish them to be?)

December 24th – Take entire family to children’s party at neighbouring Rectory.  Robin says Damn three times in the Rector’s hearing, an expression never used by him before or since, but apparently reserved for this unsuitable occasion.

The PL also saves some of her frustration for Robert, but I have a soft spot for him so feel this is largely unearned.  Robert is a solid, predictable man who does not share his wife’s cultural pretensions but tolerates them (I think) remarkably well.  He is decidedly not a figure of high romance – however much the PL might sometimes wish him to be:

December 10th – Read Life and Letters of distinguished woman recently dead, and am struck, as so often, by difference between her correspondence and that of less distinguished women.  Immense and affectionate letters from celebrities on every other page, epigrammatic notes from literary and political acquaintances, poetical assurances of affection and admiration from husband, and even infant children.  Try to imagine Robert writing in similar strain in the (improbable) event of my attaining celebrity, but fail.  Dear Vicky equally unlikely to commit her feelings (if any) to paper.

April 12th – …Final straw is added when Lady B. amiably observes that I, at least, have nothing to complain of, as she always thinks Robert such a safe, respectable husband for any woman.  Give her briefly to understand that Robert is in reality a compound of Don Juan, the Marquis de Sade, and Dr Crippen, but that we do not care to let it be known locally.

I do find that the book is best when the PL is focused on her family.  E.M. Delafield has young children herself at this stage who clearly provided endless inspiration for Vicky and Robin’s most obnoxious behaviours. (N.B. Delafield’s daughter wrote Provincial Daughter as a 1950s response to her mother’s book.)  When the PL turns her sights to her social circle, the humour lags a bit.  Yes, she is still amusing in her pretensions and frustrations but I like her most when she is exasperated rather than insecure.

I like her least of all when she reminds me of how incompetent she is with money.  She is always short of funds: the pawnbroker knows her well and her banker dreads her visits to have her overdraft extended.  It’s never entirely clear if this is a family-wide issue (if so, Robert is remarkably sanguine, though he does know about the pawnbroker) or just the PL’s particular cross to bear.  What is clear is that she should not be allowed near money as every time she has any – or the promise of any – she spends it quickly and uselessly.  I can love her for her other foibles but this one leaves me twisted into anxious knots.

The Provincial Lady never disappoints and it was a delight to revisit her again.  But, by the end, it’s also a relief to leave her.  She is not a restful person – always aspiring to something that she can never reach, always feeling inadequate for some silly reason – and it’s refreshing to leave her behind and return to a more well-ordered world.

credit: Battel Hall via Wealden Times

A lovely room (although there are clearly not enough books) in a beautiful house.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

It’s a tale of two halves today.  Half of my books are ones I’ve looked forward to for months and months (and sometimes years).  I know about them, I’ve been anticipating reading them, and I am delighted to finally have my hands on them.

The other half, I know nothing about.  I saw them sitting on a shelf and thought ‘why not?’

Piglettes by Clementine Beavais – Novelist Sarra Manning enthused about this when it came out (in English in 2017) and I’ve been wanting to track it down since then.  I read it the moment I picked it up from the library and adored it so much I may need to read it again before I return it.  (Book Depository)

Joining the Dots by Juliet Gardiner – Back at the end of 2017, I made a list of the new releases from that year that I wanted to read.  This is the very last book off that list for me to try and I can’t wait. I love Gardiner’s histories (The Thirties and The Blitz especially) and am intrigued to see how she approaches her own history. (Book Depository)

From Scratch by Tembi Locke – I returned to my default position of placing library holds on any book that vaguely sounds like an expat memoir.  And then, in the months of waiting that followed, I heard excellent things about this memoir by an actress who, once rejected by her husband’s Sicilian family, was brought close to them through shared grieving following his early death.  (Book Depository)

Farm from Home by Amanda Brooks – I briefly flicked through this and thought it seemed like great escapism.  Now that I’m starting to read the text, I’m not so sure I can take the extraordinary number of “rich people discover the country” cliches it contains.  We shall see.  Not having heard of her before, I quickly googled Brooks when I realised the text was clearly written by someone living in la-la-land and discovered she is former NYC socialite and current Instagram maven, which makes everything make SO much more sense.  (Book Depository)

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett – I will always read the jacket of any Europa book I see and this one immediately grabbed me.  The format is intriguing – a singer-songwriter picks sixteen tracks that define her and we learn the stories around them, thereby learning about her life – and I’ve been feeling in the mood for something music-related after being thoroughly disappointed by Daisy and the Six this summer. (Book Depository)

Love in Row 27 by Eithne Shortall – Shortall has a new book out so I recognized her name when I saw this on the shelf.  It looks light and a bit silly but perfect for filling the gaps between heavier reading.  (Book Depository)

What did you pick up this week?

credit: via Wealden Times

Another lovely room from the same house as last week’s post.

credit: via Wealden Times

After a lazy summer, Library Lust is back and with a room I absolutely love.  It has everything you need and seems particularly well-thought out: who hasn’t gone to the shelf to grab a book and then ended up reading little bits of books for the next hour?  The designer of this room has clearly done that and cleverly positioned two chairs under the shelves for you to sit in while browsing.  Genius.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Remembered when I warned that I had many library holds suddenly all starting to move towards me at the same time?  Here they are.

I had a hold shelf almost to myself at the library to hold them all.  Unfortunately, I have no free shelves at home!  They, along with the other books I already had out, are now piling up on surfaces around the house.  It is slightly chaotic but, on the plus side, means you are never far away from a book.

Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich – This is one of the 2019 releases I have been most excited about (another is further down the page).  It is the new English-language translation of Alexievich’s 1985 oral history of Soviet children’s experiences of World War Two.  I read it immediately after picking it up and it is every bit as good as you would expect.  It’s an interesting companion piece to The Unwomanly Face of War and I hope to write more about it soon. (Book Depository)

Triumphs of Experience by George E. Vaillant – if you read anything about happiness or longevity research, you’ve doubtless come across the Harvard study which began tracking the lives of students in the 1930s and followed them through their entire lives.  I’ve seen the study referred to in many other books and articles so am excited to read more about it and its subjects at length.  (Book Depository)

The Way Home by Mark Boyle – I have absolutely no memory of where I came across this one but I am all for people abandoning technology so presumably that was enough to have me placing a library hold. (Book Depository)

The Second-Worst Restaurant in France by Alexander McCall Smith – the newest entirely inconsequential, unmemorable, and yet strangely comforting novel from the always prolific Alexander McCall Smith. (Book Depository)

Never Greener by Ruth Jones – This was in every shop window when I was in London so it seemed like a good idea to get with the times and see what the fuss was about.  (Book Depository)

How Was It For You? by Virginia Nicholson – Hurrah!  Alongside Last Witnesses, this was one of the books I’ve most been looking forward to reading this year.  Nicholson has been working her way through the 20th century with her social histories focused on British women’s experiences (most recently in Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes) and she has now reached the explosive 1960s.  I cannot wait to read this. (Book Depository)

I’m back from Europe so it must be time to start thinking about my next trip!  I’m thinking of Andalusia in 2020 so have picked up a couple of books to inspire me: South from Granada by Gerald Brenan (Book Depository) and Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart (Book Depository).

Dirty Work by Anna Maxymiw – Far removed from sunny Spain, this is a memoir about spending a summer working at a wilderness lodge.  I am so, so, so happy to read about such experiences rather than have them myself. (Publisher)

The Beekeeper by Dunya Mikhail – I read a slightly mixed review of this a few weeks ago but it was enough to have me intrigued and eager to try it myself.  (Book Depository)

Inland by Tea Obreht – I loved Obreht’s debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, and now she is back with something completely different – a western! – that is supposed to be just as wonderful. (Book Depository)

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman – I know nothing about this book other than that it is set in Prague.  That’s reason enough for me. (Book Depository)

What did you pick up this week?