E.M. Delafield's "Provincial Lady" novels have long been on my radar time thanks to seeing them praised by various book bloggers. I found a copy of the second in the series at a used book sale last year, but had it to put it on hold until I could get my hands on the first in the series. I finally did that last month when Persephone had a special preview sale of their new edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. I didn't intend to read both books back to back, but a few days after finishing the first I found myself missing the narrator's witty take on life so much that I just couldn't help myself from reading it sequel, The Provincial Lady in London. Both are utterly charming books.
Both novels take the form of continuous diary entries of the unnamed narrator who writes about her life between the Wars. Her self-deprecating, shorthand style might be said to be a forerunner of Helen Fielding's work. Unlike Bridget Jones's diary, however, the Provincial Lady's diary feels more true to life as it focuses on the minor absurdities found in everyday events. The novels aren't structured around one overarching plot arc. Instead, they ebb and flow with the tedious and the exciting sides of the narrator's life, all presented through the lens of her keen eye. We see her deal with disgruntled servants, mischievous children, an aloof husband, and tedious neighbors. While her life has that cozy English feel that I enjoy so much in books, it's not too cozy. The Provincial Lady is actually quite modern. She's a feminist and a writer with an active social life. She travels abroad on her own and, eventually, publishes a novel and rents a pied a terre in London. The point of view and sense of humor that the Provincial Lady brings to both her family life and her individual intellectual pursuits feels refreshingly relevant, even today.
E.M. Delafield wrote several other installments of the Provincial Lady--she apparently goes to America, visits Russia, and survives wartime. After reading these two, I'm now eager to see how she handles all of those adventures.