After loving Consequences so much last year, and hearing so much praise about this book from other bloggers (although not everyone loved it) I just *had* to read it. I very much enjoyed reading The Diary of a Provincial Lady, though my love for it is not as strong as that of some others. I feel that, perhaps, it was overshadowed a little by my love for Consequences.
That is not to say that I did not enjoy this. Nor could I help but fall for the provincial lady’s way with words and the cadence of her diary entries, which, as Thomas pointed out, “brilliantly capture the episodic, shorthanded cadence so typical of how one thinks about things. Not always in lovely complete sentences, but short bursts of thought, like thousands of brain synapses firing directly onto the page.” The book is humorous and had me laughing repeatedly. I can imagine this working as quite a good “pick me up” book on days when you need a little comfort.
What I enjoyed about The Diary of a Provincial Lady is that it is funny in a sympathetic manner. It manages to poke fun at the characters without losing the reader’s sympathy for the Lady or the other characters. It reminded me a little of Henrietta’s War in the gentle mocking of neighbours, while Delafield, like Joyce Dennys, does not shy away from laughing at the Provincial Lady herself.
There are moments when the age of the book shows. It shows in some of its charms, but also in its seeming acceptance of class and gender boundaries. There is the endless issues surrounding her overdraft and spending too much money, there are the complaints about a male servant, questions of how to maintain boundaries with servants, there are the times when the lady, through her minor complaints, seems to take her position and lifestyle for granted. However, I wonder if this isn’t part of the comedic nature of the book as well, is not the reader supposed to see the absurdity of some of these complaints? I don’t know. In part, these topics made me feel a little uncomfortable. On the other hand, the reader is often invited to laugh at them.
Besides humourous, the lady can also be very observant and reflective. There are hints of tentatively questions why it is accepted that servants will always be servants, there is many a time when she reflects on the absurdity of social standards and the pretence of her lifestyle, or moments when she questions her role as a woman:
“Query, mainly rhetorical: Why are nonprofessional women, if married and with children, so frequently referred to as “leisured”? Answer comes there none.”
“Lady B. at once adds that she always advises girls to marry, no matter what the man is like, as any husband is better than none, and there are not nearly enough to go round.
I immediately refer to Rose’s collection of distinguished Feminists, giving her to understand that I know them all well and intimately, and have frequently discussed the subject with them. Lady B. waves her hand–(in elegant white kid, new, not cleaned)–and declares That may be all very well, but if they could have got husbands they wouldn’t be Feminists. I instantly assert that all have had husbands, and some two or three. This may or may not be true, but have seldom known stronger homicidal impulse.”
The interactions between Lady B. and “The Provincial Lady” were particularly entertaining as they included many of the above type of back and forth, in which, somehow, Lady B. always manages to have the last word, using remarks on the other lady’s being well-read or intelligent as a way to cut her off or make her opinion less important.
In short: there is much to love in The Diary of a Provincial Lady. I particularly enjoyed the comedy and observations in which no one is overlooked or “right”. At the same time, however much I enjoyed reading this, I think I may prefer Delafield’s more tragic Consequences to this comedy. They are difficult to compare, really, since they are so different in tone and style. Whereas that novel compelled me to keep on reading, I was more comfortable dipping in and out of Diary. I think it is just that sort of book: a book that you are able to read in one go, or quite comfortably read a few pages at a time.
Other Opinions: Still Life With Books, Things Mean A Lot, My Porch, Shelf Love, Jenny’s Books, A Work in Progress, Stuck in a Book, A Good Stopping Point, Savidge Reads, Ela’s Book Blog, Verity’s Virago Venture, The Sleepless Reader.
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