Sunday 13 September 2020

The Provincial Lady's Diaries

Hold onto your Curls, my lovely!
The sea's about to get Rough!

I met up with my old friends, Scylla & Charybdis, this week. They were, as usual, in disguise. Do you remember, Dear Reader, when we last encountered them, they'd taken a turn around these pages as Dogs, then Aunts, and finally Knees? This time they were masquerading as a couple of Ringlet Hairpieces, to adorn each side of a 1930s bathing cap.

Much merriment to be found within

And, of course, being the sort of Rogues that they are, they did come adrift and became Lost at Sea when their Hostess, the Provincial Lady, was dumped unceremoniously by a wave whilst holidaying in Brittany with the family.* She could have enlisted the aid of the helpful & newly-installed Holiday Tutor (with the soubriquet Casabianca ["The boy stood on the burning deck .... &c."]), but she does have some dignity, and they never get mentioned again during my binge-reading of 4 of the treasured E. M. Delafield quasi-autobiographical Diaries found within one handy volume in the Pipistrello roost.

Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood
a.k.a. E. M. Delafield
In confidence-boosting Hat

"February 11th. .... Lady B. asks if I have seen the new play at the Royalty. I say no. She says Have I been to the Italian Art Exhibition? I have not. She enquires what I think of Her Privates We - which I haven't read yet - and I at once give her a long and spirited account of my reactions to it. Feel after this that I had better go, before I am driven to further excesses."

Gossipy, topical and satirical, and filled with little literary jokes alongside the minutiae of the Provincial Lady's life and Memos to Self. Mostly hair and hats, clothes and books (read or unread), meals and Correspondence. 
Typical conversational threads: "We talk some more about bulbs, the Dutch School of Painting, Our Vicar's Wife, sciatica, and All Quiet on the Western Front"; 
"... I express astonished admiration, and then we go on to Village Halls, Sir Oswald Mosley, and methods of removing ink-stains from linen."; 
"Unknown young man looks incredulous, and at once begins to talk about interior decoration, the Spanish Royal Family, and modern lighting."

It all sounds rather like a Blog. Which it is, in a way. A thinly disguised autobiography, filled with the people of EMD's world - somewhere in the middle of the classes in the middle of the wars, with a leaning toward the bookish - and originally serialised in Time and Tide, the British political and review magazine of which she had close association for many years - and much loved and never been out of print since 1930. And I imagine the subtle and self-deprecating writing is no doubt a familiar old friend.
Kolynos, the family dog's name.
Other notable 1930s Grocery Items mentioned within:
Valentine's Meat Juice; Bemax; Bovril; Horlick's Malted Milk

"June 1st. - Life full of contrasts, as usual, and after recent orgy of Society, spend most of the day in washing white gloves and silk stocking, and drying them in front of electric fire. Effect of this on gloves not good, and remember too late that writer of Woman's Page in illustrated daily paper has always deprecated this practice.


Find extraordinary little envelope waiting for me at flat, containing printed assurance that I shall be certainly interested in recent curiosities of literature acquired by total stranger living in Northern manufacturing town, all or any of which he is prepared to send me under plain sealed cover. Details follow, and range from illustrated History of Flagellation to Unexpurgated Erotica.**

Toy for some time with idea that it is my duty to communicate with Scotland Yard, but officials there probably overworked already, and would be far more grateful for being left in peace, so take no action beyond consigning envelope and contents to the dust-bin."

This Penguin Classic edition throws in three more entertaining sequels published through the 30s: 

Our PL busy "working"

The PL Goes Further, where she takes a lease on a flat and spends a goodly amount of time in London, ostensibly writing another book (her acclaim as a "funny writer" helps keep the wolf from the door [Bank Manager pressing her over the Overdraft]), in reality gadding about and seeking to allay any anxiety about said wolf by shopping for hats and maintaining her permanent wave - Husband (Robert [taciturn]) stays principally at Home; 

Much tramping about of World Fair undertaken by our PL

The PL in America, where she sails to America for a publicity tour and local hospitality ensures much drinking of cocktails (despite Prohibition) and better food (than Home) in between Speaking Engagements before large crowds where she recycles two speeches and continually fields questions on What she thinks of the American Woman and What does she think of Anthony Adverse? [Hervey Allen, 1933, unread] - Yes, Husband stays at Home

Typical Air Raid Precaution (ARP) subterranean canteen
Failing to depict the dense cloud of cigarette smoke and deafening racket.

and The PL in Wartime, when, after installing evacuees at Home, she decamps to London again during the Phoney War trying to be Gainfully Employed, along with thousands others, and spends the next 10 weeks or so Standing By in the vain hunt for a War Job in the Ministry of Information, meanwhile becoming a volunteer canteen-helper at the ARP Station under the Savoy Hotel and fills the remaining time with socialising and practicing wearing her gas-mask - Husband at Home, for a change.

Much tramping about of Red Square undertaken by our PL

The PL also goes to Russia for several months, (children? boarding school, obv.) and I read a trio of essays published in Harpers Magazine in 1937, (courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia), where she gets to hear a lot about Abortions and unexpectedly sells most of her wardrobe, including the pyjamas under her hotel bed pillow to a persistent Russian woman, and hullo! I meet Scylla and Charybdis again, this time in a more traditional rôle, describing the throngs of comrades walking the streets of Moscow - surprise, surprise, H-a-H.

So, what else do we learn about the PL and life in the 1930s?

Favourite word: Recrudescence

Pets: Dog: Kolynos [toothpaste]; Cat: Helen Wills [tennis player]

Depression-era jobs: Door-to-door sales of electric cleaners, selling Poems or hand-knits, disinfecting telephones (Germs, obv.)

Difficulty in finding decent Cook or House-Parlourmaid: Enormous, ironically.

Popular Reads: Constant discussion within about the latest books - everyone Keeps Up in these times - so I took a survey*** of the adult books mentioned as the majority were unfamiliar (singular failure of a Maths Background). Most leant heavily toward crime and WWI, unsurprisingly. (Strangely, the better known to me books today of the era belong to the same ilk as The Diaries.) The PL admits to her Diary to having not read or enjoyed most of the gloomier works, seemingly to prefer the Lighter Fare, but talks still learnedly in conversation, thanks to Literary Criticisms provided by the regular diet of Time and Tide.

Ditto flavour of Popular Film & Theatre: Nine till Six (women's drama); Journey's End (WWI); Payment Deferred (crime); Three Musketeers (adventure); Cavalcade (epic film)

Finally, and what makes her rather a Kindred Spirit, when you would think there's nothing relatable in a 1930s Provincial Lady's life in these times: Finds herself extraordinarily eloquent and informative on any number of subjects after the judicious application of alcoholic beverages. 

* Always a danger when one decamps from the Provinces and a general warning to all. 

** Sordid little junk emails and spam comments are nothing new, it would appear, as the Olde Post is littered with unsolicited missives as much then as now, in amongst the letters, postcards and telegrams that chased one around the Provinces, at sea and Abroad, and for all the world like the imperative and immediacy of emails, texts and what not. 

*** Listical of books read/unread by our PL & skippable, Dear Reader. Really a Memorandum for myself:

Harriet Hume, Rebecca West, 1929 (psychological fiction - unread);
Orlando, Virginia Woolf, 1928 (gossipy historical fiction - read);
The Good Companions, J. B. Priestley, 1929 (dialect-filled novel - read);
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser, 1925 (crime fiction - abandoned read); 
The Life of Sir Edward Marshall-Hall, Edward Marjoribanks, 1929 (criminal lawyer biog. - unread); 
Her Privates We, Frederic Manning, 1930 (WWI - unread); 
The Life of Lord Beaconsfield, Walter Sichel, 1904 or T. E. Kebbel, 1888? (pretentious read - unread); 
Bulldog Drummond books, "Sapper", 1920s + (gentleman detective - presume read);
A Brass Hat in No Man's Land, Frank Percy Crozier, 1930 (WWI - unread); 
A High Wind in Jamaica, Richard Hughes, 1929 (piracy and child murderers - read); 
Little Dorritt, Charles Dickens, 1857 (Dickensian - read);
The Daisy Chain, Charlotte Yonge, 1856 (Improving book - read);
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847 (Gothic romance - read);
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos, 1925 (comic novella -read);
The Edwardians, Vita Sackville-West, 1930 (black comedy of manners - read);
Hatter's Castle, A. J. Cronin, 1931 (tragedy - read); 
Juan in America, Eric Linklater, 1931 (satire - read)
The Exciting Family, M.D. Hillyard, 1927 (children's - read);  
Rosamond, Maria Edgeworth, 1836 (Improving children's book - read);
Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall, 1928 (lesbian novel - presume read);
1066 and All That, Yeatman & Sellar, 1930 (comic historical parody - read);
Anthony Adverse, Hervey Allen, 1933 (historical fiction - unread);
Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence, 1928 (erotica - unread); 

Image Credits: 1: via Pinterest; 2: Flying With Hands; 3: National Portrait Gallery; 4, 8: via Pinterest; 5: Project Gutenberg Australia; 6, 7: Wikipedia 

ps: Apologies for the inconsistency of paragraph formats - I can't get a handle on how to fix them with the New Blogger.


  1. The PL seems to have got around quite a bit. I've never read these books and not sure whether I would enjoy them. I think I need to be in the right frame if mind to do so. Which probably won't be any time soon.

  2. Loree: No, not everyone's cup of tea, to be sure. For some reason I'm rather drawn to diary parodies - possible from enjoying so much when young "The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole". Who knows. I've recommended other books like this to my Mum, a great reader, and she can't stand them! ... I hope all is well in your world.

  3. Recrudescence had TO LOOK THAT WORD UP!
    I Adore your sense of HUMOR......and the books YOU read are CERTAINLY NOT BORING!!!!
    How many hours a day do you READ?A BOOK!
    I have been sitting down every day at 2:00 to READ and find myself falling asleep!Not because I want to sleep but because the eyes cannot stay OPEN!What is that about?I am finding it so FRUSTRATING!SO yesterday on a SUNDAY the ITALIAN went to work I decided to read late morning so I could enjoy MY BOOK!!!
    Maybe I need to change up my LIFE and do things at different times!!!
    Hope you are all well BELLA.......XX

  4. Contessa: So did I, hahah!! ... Finding the time, the perennial question! Mostly in bed in the evenings for an hour or so and if I'm on a bus or train, I'll take a book with me, but lately trying to carve out some daytime reading. The piles of books keep growing and serious headway must be made! I've stopped hanging about without purpose on IG, for inst. And there's the issue of the telly; I can't multitask with that one. And it's always a danger to loll on a sofa with a book around Nanna-nap-time! Yes, changing the routine could be key. xx

  5. You really ought to be a book reviewer.
    On my to-do list: use recrudescence more often. (Side note: my kid has been watching very old sit-coms, and while the writing is often lacking and the social norms often shocking, my hat is off to the witty comebacks in lieu of swear words, which seem so lazy and so common.)
    Also on my to-do list: have a cheese or dessert named after me, like Brillat-Savarin, who has both. I recently tasted his namesake cheese and OMG it is a delight. I want my cheese or dessert to also be delicious, nothing too strong or smelly. Goals.

  6. ToF: And recrudescence has had plentiful opportunities to crop up all over the shop in 2020, I'm baffled as to why it hasn't taken off. It really should be Word-of-the-Year, so I'm thrilled you'll be leading the charge! Your To-Do List is admirable. Goals are important.

  7. Recrudescence used nonchalantly in a headline today! Toulouse : une recrudescence de vols à la roulotte dans les parkings Indigo de la ville, les usagers en colère
    The link:[newsletter]-20200917-[classique]

  8. I hit send too fast. A delicious detail in the report: a victim complained that the thieves had stolen golf clubs and fois gras. Who keeps foie gras in their car? For just in case they want a snack after golfing?

  9. ToF: Oh, that is too perfect!!! And I should think nothing less than a French gentleman would partake of foie gras after golf.

  10. Pippy, I am again reminded our souls are of the same vintage. What I would give to have a gaggle of these PLs to frolic with! When I was serving in Iraq, I stumbled upon Lady Chatterley in a book pile full of Clancey & Grisham. I always assumed the Big Fuss was over subject matter but the quality was first rate. Did make for awkward testimonials to semi-literate Privates who were more interested in those other Big Fuss aspects.

  11. GSL: How disappointing there was no name inscribed within the DHL, so you could discover which of your fellow countrymen was more inclined to the higher-browed reading materials with which to take off to War. Rather like the selections of soldiers from the Wars I & II, which you sometimes to get to hear of through memoirs, where some extraordinary Literary Companion has been selected to soothe and ground for the duration. The amount of Fuss over LCL could almost seem like a Marketing Ploy to the modern reader. As an aside, I made some pesetas on the side during one of my more impoverished periods working as an usher on a production of LCL which was set in the grounds of an historic home here. My post was in the shed, stage managing the shoe-box of chicks which were to be set loose during the scene, and then usher the audience of to a tree against which an earthy bit of intimacy under the moonlight was to take place in the next. I did think the whole thing rather ludicrous, but the Actors were very solemn about their interpretation of the Classic.


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