Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

1931. Academy Chicago Publishers. Paperback. 388 pages.

From: picked up for free at The Book Thing

Recommendation from: Savidge Reads

In a nutshell:

The fictional Diary of a Provincial Lady is as labeled: a diary of a married woman who lives in the country.  She herself is unnamed, but her husband’s name is Robert and her children are Robin and Vicky.  The diarist chronicles – in hilarious fashion – the little victories and failures that make up her days, whether it is dealing with the snobbish Lady B., managing servants, or going on a trip to France. The diary covers a period of one year.


Although written in 1931, The Diary of a Provincial Lady seemed very fresh and accessible to me.  While my life does not resemble the narrator of Delafield’s novel, there was still much that was recognizable to me, as a 21st century reader.  For example, here is an excerpt that I identified with:

Arrive at station too early – as usual – and I fill in time by asking Robert if he will telegraph if anything happens to the children, as I could be back again in twenty-four hours. He only enquires in return whether I have my passport? Am perfectly aware that passport is in my small purple dressing-case, where I put it a week ago, and have looked at it two or three times a day ever since – last time just before leaving my room forty-five minutes ago. Am nevertheless mysteriously impelled to open hand-bag, take out key, unlock small purple dressing-case, and verify presence of passport all over again.

p. 275

I totally do that sort of thing before heading off on a trip!

I love Delafield’s style of humor.  I wouldn’t call it subtle exactly and definitely not difficult to understand, but she does approach it kind of sideways, slyly, with a formal vocabulary, so that the humor has a very slight delay to it.  And then your brain is like “oh! yes, I get it!” and you laugh or smile, depending on the level of the funniness.  It kind of prolongs the humor in a way.  The wit is in the writing, for sure, and not so much what is actually happening, as what is happening could be described in a completely different tone and been an entirely different kind of book.

As I was reading, I wondered if Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary drew on Diary of a Provincial Lady for inspiration.  Although Bridget’s diary focuses on the life of the single woman and Delafield’s book focuses on a married woman, the narrators share some similarities: they are very open about their flaws, their egos, fantasies and inept attempts at various improvement projects.

By the way, my copy is 388 pages but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a long book.  The print is rather large in this edition and the reading just feels like it trips along at a good clip.

Others’ reviews:

My Porch – “Although I enjoyed reading this very much, there was a huge part of my middle-class, American, OCD brain that kept wanting to “fix” what was wrong in the lady’s life.”

Savidge Reads – “If like me you enjoy crazy characters, wry observational humour and village life then I doubt very much you could resist its charms.”

things mean a lot – “But as fabulous as the humour is, even better was the fact that behind it I could sense the workings of an acute mind, and of a sensibility that, historical context aside, I didn’t find too distant from my own.”


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9 responses to “Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

  1. What a fun book! 1930s humor is one of my favorite things– especially Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons, etc– terrifically fun stuff to read. I’m definitely adding this to my TBR wishlist.

  2. Her sense of humour is fantastic, yes! I must read more of her stuff.

  3. Love the passage you’ve quoted! I must read this book.

  4. I loved her sense of humor too! She annoyed me now and then, but mostly I just found her writing charming and fun.

  5. Lovely review! I like the way you have analyzed Delafield’s humorous style and the way she makes a situation humorous by playing with words. I also love the way you quote excerpts from other reviews – they are a pleasure to read.

  6. Anastasia – I still need to read something by Stella Gibbons! Thanks for reminding me! And I loved listening to the audio book of The Inimitable Jeeves. Based on how much I loved that, I think you will like Delafield’s book.

    nymeth – I think I saw that there are more Provincial Lady books, but possibly of varying availability.

    JoAnn – There were so many gems – it was hard to choose which exact passage would be best as an excerpt!

    Jenny – I quoted Thomas of My Porch’s review because I could definitely see what he meant about wanting to fix some of the things about the narrator’s life, particularly her tendency to live beyond her means.

    Vishy – I do love good wit! And I have a lot of fun finding quotes from others to add to the end of my review.

  7. I’ve had this review saved in my Reader for a couple of weeks now because this is a book I really want to read! However, I am sorry to say that after saving it so specifically, I don’t really have anything super exciting to say in my comment :-/ Just “I want it, I want it!” I think there’s a sequel to this one- do you think you’ll be reading that one, too? Do you think you need some time between one book and the sequel?

    • Yay, I’m glad you checked out my review. I would like to read the others in the series, but I don’t think I’d want to read them all in a row. This is for a couple of reasons: one, to spread out the enjoyment, and the other is that I think I might possibly tire of the style and voice if I just read the books one right after another.

  8. Pingback: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield | Iris on Books

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