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Archive for the ‘R.M. Dashwood’ Category

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield, a largely autobiographical novel in diary form chronicling the life of an upper-middle-class ‘provincial lady’ in the 1930s,  is one of those books that I can go back to time and again without ever tiring.  Humourous and intelligent, it’s clever and comforting at the same time, a book to curl up and laugh with.  Ever since first reading the Provincial Lady books I’ve wanted to try Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood (Delafield’s daughter), written in much the same style as her mother’s classic but featuring a typical housewife of the 1950s as its heroine.  I’d heard mixed reviews from those who had read Provincial Daughter and so was somewhat hesitant as I began it, worried that a disappointment with the daughter might somehow taint my attitude towards the mother.

But that was not the case.  Provincial Daughter doesn’t have the depth of characterization found in The Diary of a Provincial Lady nor quite the same intelligent sense of humour but, judged on its own merits, it’s an amusing book.  The edition I had from the library (Virago Modern Classic) called it a precursor to Bridget Jones’ Diary and I would have to agree that it is, in both form and tone.  Hens Dancing by Rafaella Barker, which I’ve just begun reading, seems to be another in this line, picking up the tale of the modern housewife in the 1990s (now divorced, of course).  Indeed, it seems the perfect book to read so soon after Provincial Daughter.

Provincial Daughter is particularly fascinating when contrasted with The Diary of a Provincial Lady, allowing the reader to compare the attitudes, habits, and stresses on the women of the 1930s compared with those of the 1950s.  The Provincial Lady’s family was largely absent from her daily life whereas the Provincial Daughter’s life revolves around her three young sons with significant contributions from her doctor husband.  The Lady had the requisite domestic help and while the Daughter does gain some help over the course of the novel (in the form of an emotional young German woman meant to help care for the children) she still does most of the housework herself and all of the errands.  The Daughter’s days are full of domestic activities and sound quite exhausting whereas the Lady’s seemed to revolve very much around her social circle and amusingly awkward encounters.  I love the Provincial Lady but I find it much easier to like and respect the Provincial Daughter.  I’m rather shocked by this reaction since I’m usually far more inclined to prefer the domestically carefree lifestyle practiced by the Provincial Lady than the more stressful one allotted to her Provincial Daughter.

Some of the Provincial Daughter’s thoughts are eerily familiar to those of the Provincial Lady, particularly from the few occasions when we see the Provincial Daughter outside of her home, mingling and feeling inferior to others at social settings.  This excerpt in particular felt as though it could have come from the pen of the Provincial Lady herself:

Presence of A.F. undoubtedly lends tone to the party, everyone’s conversation is unusually cultured, find myself very soon involved in deep discussion on Doctor Zhivago with slender young man with eyelashes.  He has much to say, but so, owing to Susan’s excellent cocktails, have I.  Neither of us is so tactless as to ask the other outright if they have Actually Read Dr. Z, which in my case is just as well, and I suspect in Eyelashes’ too.  Nonetheless we both quote the critics and feel that we are sustaining the right note. (p. 190)

For me, the main weakness of Provincial Daughter was a tendency to rely on precocious children for humour.  You can only be amused by loud and abrasive boys for so long (both in literature and in life).  But it’s a fun, quick read that brings a smile to your face, so, despite the never-ending antics of young boys, it certainly wasn’t time wasted.

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