The Provincial Lady in London Paperback – 15 Jan 1983
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About the Author
E M Delafield; Illustrated by Arthur Watts
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Top Customer Reviews
Words cannot describe the brilliance of these novels - this one (known to many as The Provincial Lady Goes Further) is unquestionably my favourite.
The first novel was clever, and in many ways her best, but the second has lost the tension of the first book. The last two, whilst good, rather lapse into autobiography and staidness in places.
This book is one of my favourite, and I'm very glad it has been brought back into print.
The heroine (whose name we never learn) relates the habitual pitfalls and triumphs of her life in a diary form. Detailing her life, neighbours and friends she comes across as self depracating and extremely personable - exactly the sort of person one would like as a next door neighbour. Her situations are those known to all and therefore wonderfully easy to read dealing as they do with the mundane everyday trivia (from walking to the post office to deliver a letter, to getting a new hair do). Comedy can date very quickly, but, like Faulty Towers, these books have a timeless quality.
Delafield can capture the essense of everyday activities and relate them in hilarious detial - so easily identifiable to today. It is extremely important that you buy this series of books, then retreat with them to your desert island.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I never read the first one, just landed on this, and I can see why people so admire the author, who conjures up an irresistible atmosphere of wit and embarrassment, and has made herself the butt of most of the jokes, so that she nowhere fits in, and always winds up feeling ridiculous. Her opposite number is a schoolfriend who has kept her girlish looks and sex appeal far beyond their selling point, yet who manages still to turn heads everywhere she goes, a selfish and avaricious woman in a way, but one to whom our narrator still looks for excitement and reflected glamor: she never puts her down fully, she remains as marvelous as she herself believes she is--she's the immortal "Pamela Pringle," so often married that the narrator can never remember what her current surname is.
Meanwhile the verbal texture of the novel, imitating as it does the telegraphese of a shorthand diary, eliminates most articles like "the" or "a," and in fact gets rid of "I" most of the time, as though she were trying to write as much as possible in an abbreviated space. So the complexities of each sentence reflect, i suppose, the modernist and surrealist chic of the day like Gertrude Stein, Mina loy, Nancy Cunard, etc. "Should like to deny violently having ever taken any advice of Miss P's at all, or even noticed that she'd given it, but she goes on to say that I ought to pay more attention to Style--and I diverge into wondering inwardly whether she means prose, or clothes. (If the latter, this is icredible audacity, as Miss P's own costume--on broiling summer's day--consists of brick-red cloth dress, peppered with glass knobs, and surmounted by abominable little brick-red three-tiered cape, closely fastened under her chin.)"
Adding to the difficulty of the book is the fact that Arthur Watts' cunning illustrations are set in plates pages and pages after the incidents they illustrate, so you feel yourself constantly pulled back into the past narrative just when you should be churning forward. It's bizarre (but must be some hangover from primitive printing processes)? And not a problem for Provincial fans.
I love the fast-paced style that whisks us through her day and her thoughts as she deals with the in and outs of being a woman of limited means trying to write and run a household. As a thirty-something mother of two school-aged children myself (who also loves to write), I identified a more than a little bit with her, having experienced many of the more domestic travails she describes, and definitely the balancing of self with motherhood. Although definitely situated in a distinct place and time (English countryside between the wars), this book translate well to the concerns and dilemmas of the modern middle-class working mother (except perhaps her ongoing issues about servants--that is just not an issue most of us have these days). Humorously, E.M. Delafield looks carefully in this volume at how one can be both a mother, wife, and find intellectual fulfillment and employment outside the home. Of course it helps immeasurably that her children attend boarding schools, but there is much to be gleamed from this book nonetheless.