Marie’s Reading: “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” by E.M. Delafield

Provincial LadyFinally!  At long last!  I have found the perfect readalike for Bridget Jones’s Diary!  E.M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady keeps a diary, in which she relates the details of day-to-day life, housekeeping, child-rearing, and entertaining in 1920’s Devonshire.

With such anecdotes as:

Look for [young son] Robin and eventually find him with the cat, shut up into totally unventilated linen-cupboard, eating cheese which he says he found on the back stairs.

(Undoubtedly, a certain irony can be found in the fact that I have recently been appointed to new Guardians Committee, and am expected to visit Workhouse, etc., with particular reference to children’s quarters, in order that I may offer valuable suggestions on questions of hygiene and general welfare of inmates…Can only hope that fellow-members of the Committee will never be inspired to submit my own domestic arrangements to similar inspection.)

Who could resist?

Our Provincial Lady is wry and intelligent, but constantly feels inadequate to the demands of upper-middle-class life in her village.  She wrangles with and is completely intimidated by her Cook, a trip to France becomes a study in avoiding rip tides, shopping for a suitable flattering dress in the new style a momentous effort.  She loves her children more than is fashionable among the smart set, and she often tries in vain to find a bit of commonality with her fellow village ladies.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, primarily because of the attention to detail.  The detail combined with the tone makes for a brilliantly relateable book, no matter what your background or era.

As I said, fans of Bridget Jones who want more of the same (albeit with a distinct “between-the-wars” flavor), you really must try this book.  Where Bridget had to navigate the turbulent seas of being a single 30ish woman in 1990’s London, the Provincial Lady swims in nearly identical waters in her village of the 1920’s.

You might also want to try P.G. Wodehouse, if Delafield’s work appeals to you.   Their sensibilities and humor are very, very similar.  Try any of his essays, or one of the Jeeves novels, to start.  I’d also suggest the work of the members of the Algonquin Round Table if you enjoy the sense of time and place, as well as the style of humor.  Try Robert Benchley, S.J. Perelman, and Dorothy Parker.

Finally, for those who want to travel even farther back in time with the comedy of day to day life and struggles, do try the brilliantly funny Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith.  It is the diary of a “nobody”–an upright middle-class office clerk and family man of the 1890’s named Mr. Pooter.   He gets into fairly Bridget-Jones-esque scrapes, particularly with home decoration, dancing, and trying to get into the social column.



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