Sunday, July 27, 2014

Re-re-reading Diary of a Provincial Lady

Re-re-reading (for perhaps the 8th time) the brilliant EM Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady which remains an utter delight. Not least for her assuming the persona of a mere country wife when she was in fact at that stage a celebrated novelist and a Director of Time and Tide.

From the very beginning she lampoons her husband's employer mercilessly:
"... Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her..."
and even right at the end Lady Boxe is behaving outrageously at a party she has organised:
"Our Vicar's wife and I agree at some length that, really, nobody in the world but Lady B. would behave like this"
"Lady Boxe" was "the Honorable Mrs (Lottie) Adams" but I don't think it can be this one because the portrait was painted in 1902. Indeed she married her first husband in 1905 and he was killed in the War in 1915. Her son became the second Baron Waleran, and she was the daughter of George Coats, later Baron Glentanar and sister-in-law of the 5th Duke of Wellington). She was born in 1889 so would have been 40 at the time of the Diary (one year older than EMD). Her second husband Henry William Adams was born in 1884 and died in 1962 - he was a Commander RN in 1921 when his stepson accidentally shot and killed his farm bailiff but I don't know much more about him.

But the humour is delicious. EMD is on a train to London reading a magazine article about Christmas Gifts.
Why not Enamel dressing-table set, at £94 16s 4d or Set of crystal-ware...at moderate price of £34 17s 9d?
   Why not, indeed?
   Am touched to discover further on, however, explicit reference to Giver with Restricted Means - though even here, am compelled to differ from author's definition of restricted means. Let originality of thought, she says, add character to trifling offering. Would not many of my friends welcome suggestion of course of treatment - (six for 5 guineas) - at Madame Dolly Varden's Beauty Parlour in Piccadilly to be placed to my account?
   Cannot visualise myself making this offer to our Vicar's wife, still less her reception of it... (Indulge, on the other hand, in a few moments' idle phantasy, in which I suggest to Lady B. that she should accept from me as a graceful and appropriate Christmas gift, a course of Reducing Exercises accompanied by Soothing and Wrinkle-eradicating Face Massage.)
 Delicious!

She is of course unsparing on herself. Here is her conclusion.
Go home, and on looking at myself in the glass am much struck with the undeniable fact that at the end  of a party I do not look nearly as nice as I did at the beginning. Should like to think that this applies to every woman, but am not sure - and anyway, this thought ungenerous - like so many others.
   Robert says, Why don't I get into Bed?  I say, Because I am writing my Diary. Robert replies, kindly, but quite definitely, that In his opinion, That is Waste of Time.
   I get into bed, and am confronted by Query: Can Robert be right?
   Can only leave reply to Posterity.
Of course this book when published in 1930 was a great success, and has never been out of print since AFAIK. Indeed the sequel begins with her astonishment at receiving a royalty cheque which, although she doesn't say so, is from this volume, and the cheque is big enough that from part of the proceeds she can buy a flat in Doughty Street. 1-bedroom flats there now sell for £550-950,000 so he success must have been considerable. And well deserved.

May she rest in peace and rise in Glory!

PS Mrs Adams

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