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Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't say "what", say "pardon" darling, and do as the Provincial Lady tells you....


Finally reading E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady has been a proper homey sort of pleasure, and not just because I am now able to fully understand Simon at Stuck in a Book’s shorthand …. It is a funny and engaging read although, and I am wondering quite how to put this, it didn’t set me on fire if you know what I mean.


The Provincial Lady, or PL as she is known to those who love her is the married Bridget Jones of the 1930s. Now, before you all cry in protest, there are more than a few similarities. Both PL and BJ are profoundly English, profoundly middle class characters who harbour slightly lefty views without knowing quite how to express them. They both recognise the absurdities of the narrow world they live in, but in a kindly way, and knowing that they are an inextricable part of it. Neither of them know how to get out of situations they don’t want to be in. They both write a not quite daily diary, not least because they are both quite funny and intelligent and life just doesn’t offer sufficient opportunities for them to show it. Which brings me to my last, resounding similarity: these are two girls who are really of their ages.


PL is a married lady of the home counties with a husband glued to the Times, a demanding French nanny, a son at a school she can’t afford and a daughter begging to be sent to any school, a woeful lack of servants and a constantly mounting overdraft. Because she is actually rather lovely, she is much in demand. There is Our Vicar, Our Vicar’s Wife, Lady B and numerous others constantly chasing her tail. PL is a dreamer after literary recognition and an imaginer of glamour and society. She lacks social assertiveness, but maybe she would not be as nice if she had it. She is a shopper and a luncher and a reader of novels over cups of tea. She is a mum who wants to be a star, and who can blame her. I loved the slight decadence of her character.

There is another side to all the spending and the dreaming of course and that is a lack of consideration for those who are less fortunate. I see this but it does not diminish the book for me. Books, like life, are not full of perfect people. E. M. Delafield, who I suspect was writing from experience has captured perfectly the displaced arrogance of the English upper middle classes in the interwar years, when they could still recall a luxury life but could no longer afford it. I am not weeping for them, but it is good to hear the story from the horses’ mouth.


So why the lack of fire? Well, I suppose that after a while, I found it a tiny bit boring. Once I had met Our Vicar’s Wife a few times, and realised that PL’s husband Robert was never going to put down the Times and come over all Don Juan and that PL probably didn’t want him to anyway, I felt that I had got the gist. Some have loved this book more and some a lot less. There are interesting opinions to be found at Serendipity, My Porch, A Good Stopping Point, Behind the Curtain and Pining for the West. I have included pictures of book covers and of the author.

12 comments:

  1. I've loved the PL ever since I first read it over 20 years ago. I think the sameness you mention is partly the result of the way it was first published. It was in the form of a weekly diary in Time & Tide, the feminist magazine. When the Diary is read in one gulp instead of weekly bits, the repetitions are more obvious. Robert is a bit hard to take though, isn't he? I do love OVW though, even more since I met Simon. The PL still makes me laugh after many rereadings.

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  2. sounds like it could be a nice book for the right frame of mind :-)

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  3. Interesting. I wonder if Helen Fielding has read this book?

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  4. Sounds like a fun book to read inbetween weighty or harrowing tomes. I will make a note of it. Thank you Hannah.

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  5. I'm going to find this book, and try reading an entry a week.

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  6. I must admit that Diary of a PL also didn't set me on fire. However, the edition that I have also contains the sequels, and I found that as I was nearing the end of the books, I didn't want to say goodbye to the PL. Maybe it could be the same for you too?

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  7. I've had Diary of a PL and PL in London on the TBR pile for some time now. It's funny that you always get there first. Thanks, Hannah!

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  8. Thanks for the link. I recently stumbled across The PL Goes Further in a second-hand bookshop so I'll be reading that soon. I think PL is good for the times when you can't concentrate on anything to heavy. Comfort reads!

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  9. I love her, and the books certainly did set me on fire! She is in my head all the time. I find myself smiling whenever I think of her, and occasionally offer homage on my blog when I have a 'query.' Hens Dancing by Raffaela Barker feels more reminiscent of her than Bridget, but maybe it is because Venetia lives in the country. When I first read it, I jotted down quote after quote. One of my favorites:

    "(Mem.: Very marked difference between the sexes is male tendency to procrastinate doing practically everything in the world except sitting down to meals and going up to bed. Should like to purchase a little motto: Do it now, so often on sale at inferior stationers' shops, and present it to Robert, but on second thoughts quite see that this would not conduce to domestic harmony, and abandon scheme at once.)"

    I wrote a note to friends who were also reading it:

    I don't know about you, but this could be my household. I can mention something to Tom, and it really seems like he heard me, and nothing ever comes of it. I'll mention it again, and it is new news to him. Just astounds me.

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  10. Sounds fun! I must look it up. Reminds me of Mr Pooter . . .

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  11. Only just spotted this review - glad it has cleared up my shorthand! A few people have said or emailed me to say that they suddenly understood what I was doing, after they read the PL!

    As you know, I adore this book - well, all four books - and read them over and over again. The second in the series is my favourite, so if you feel like carrying on with the PL...

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  12. I liked Bridget Jones the first movie, will try this and the sequels. I have heard talk about them but have not paid any attention up until now.

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