Thursday, March 8, 2012

Musings: Diary of a Provincial Lady

Diary of a Provincial Lady
One of my favorite things about reading Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield was the number of references to other books that showed up in the story.  From what I can tell, the following books (many of which are now on my wish list) were referenced:

American Tragedy
High Wind in Jamaica
The Exciting Family
The Edwardians
Bulldog Drummond
Little Dorritt
The Daisy Chain
Jane Eyre
A Brass Hat in No Man's Land
Life of Sir Edward Marshall-Hall
Life of Disraeli
The Good Companions 
Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Some of those books are hard to find, particularly as authors are not always listed with the titles, but definitely on my to-read list now are High Wind in Jamaica, Bulldog Drummond and The Edwardians.

But what were my thoughts on Provincial Lady?  I don't really know.  So many people have read this book over the past couple of years in blogosphere.  The first reviewers raved about so, so then many more people had high expectations regarding it, and then they read it, too, but didn't enjoy it quite so much as the earlier reviewers.  I am in the second camp, not only because I was in the second wave of people reading this book, but also because I didn't love it the way so many before me did.

The narrator of this book was a lot of fun.  She loves her children, cares about her friends and sometimes talks to her husband (who doesn't seem intimately involved in her life).  She has a great appreciation for the ridiculous, too, which I appreciated.  But considering that so much of the book is about how she is pinching pennies and can't afford good meals for her family and is forever receiving letters from her creditors, she seems to spend a lot of time buying clothing for herself.  I am pretty biased about things like this- I really don't love buying clothes that much, and I have a pretty strict view of falling into debt by purchasing unnecessary things.  So I didn't have too much sympathy for the Provincial Lady and all her dresses.  That said, I have a feeling that in her social circles, it's very important to keep up with the Joneses, and it was impossible for her to do so.  Her husband seemed pretty unlikely to help out.

I've mentioned before that I really like this inter-war period in English literature, especially when it focuses on the upper class, because it's so fascinating to see how the social strata are breaking down and the rich are trying so desperately hard to keep up their lifestyles.  The Provincial Lady talks about the difficulties of keeping servants, of hearing about long visits to the South of France by her acquaintance, the speaking tours she goes on for the Women's Institutes, etc.  At the same time, she's pawning her jewelry to pay the heating bill and the milk man.  It's such an interesting juxtaposition, and I loved how Delafield approached this difficulty with a light and sympathetic hand.

This was a really fun book to read- just what I needed on a long flight!- and while I didn't love it, I did appreciate it for adding to my TBR list and for being such a fun way to learn more about the societal changes happening at the time.

26 comments:

  1. I think _Anthony Adverse_ is mentioned too, early on? I remember thinking that I should read that (as it was a 1930s' sensation) but then I saw that it was *huge* and understood why the Provincial Lady hadn't read it either!

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    1. Oh, I don't remember that one being mentioned at all, but what a great name! I don't think I'd read it if it's that huge, either!

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  2. I didn't love either. To be honest, I really didn't like it. I much preferred Henrietta's War which was written in a similar fashion.

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    1. Yes, I want to read Henrietta's War very badly. I hope I can find a copy soon. I didn't dislike this one so much, but I just didn't think there was any real magic in it.

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  3. I am one who loves it. I read it, gosh, I think it was twelve years ago, and I still remember the tone and humor. I really should read it again and see if I still think it as marvelous.

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    1. Yes, her tone is great fun! I just wasn't as sympathetic towards her as I expected to be. Her conversations with her husband, though, were really funny.

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  4. I don't know whether or not I want to read this, but I can't stop looking at that cover. I adore it.

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    1. Haha, after Jill talked about it, I can't help but think it's a bit sinister ;-)

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  5. I am not sure if I would like this book or not, but I might read it eventually.

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    1. Way to hedge your bets!

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  6. I read it about 1 year about and felt pretty much as you did. Actually, what was missing in this narrator, I've found it in "Elizabeth and Her German Garden". have you read that one?

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    1. No, but that is another book that was referenced in this novel, so I'll add that in above. I do want to read that one, but I haven't found it quite yet.

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  7. It sounds like one I'd like actually. The plot sounds a bit like the Shopaholic series.

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    1. Oh, I didn't think about that! You're right, though I don't think the woman is AS much a Shopaholic and often re-purposes her clothing.

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  8. I have a feeling that I would like this one and find it comical, but I do agree that if you are pinching pennies to feed your family, you shouldn't be going out and spending a lot of money on frivolities. It sounds like a pretty interesting book in a lot of ways.

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    1. I may have made her seem like a worse person than she really was, I think. It was more that instead of paying off her creditors, she was just adding on more debt. But from what I know, that's just what the British upper-class did, for many generations.

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  9. I really can't say one way or another about this book. I just do not know

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  10. I've never even heard of it! And am I the only one who thinks it looks like the husband is holding a strap in his lap, like he's ready to strangle her?

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    1. lol! I think that's yarn (look on the table). You have a devious mind!

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    2. It DOES look a lot like a leash!

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  11. I definitely want to re-read this one; I tore through it and I thought, afterwards, that it might have been nicer to have parsed it out, so that I could have a series of laughs in the evening, say, rather than cram it all into a couple of days. But, at the time, I just gobbled it up!

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    1. Yes, it's so light and quick, I think it would be hard to parse it out over many nights.

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  12. I first read it ages ago, and seem to remember that I enjoyed it then. Re-reading it more recently (I must have been tuned into the zeitgeist - hadn't realised it had been wandering around the blogosphere!) it truly irritated me - horribly middle class and snobbish. I was sooo disappointed...

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    1. Aww, I hate when that happens to books that you used to love! I think that's why I re-read so little. But I agree. There was a lot of classism in this book.

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  13. I love that you listed the books she references! I'll definitely be coming back to your list :D As I think you know I loved this book, but now that I've read more Delafield I think it pales in comparison to her others.

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    1. Well, that makes me more and more likely to read Consequences on my Kindle very soon!

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