The Provincial Lady Goes Further – E.M.Delafield
Published in 1932, this is Delafield’s sequel to her best-selling The Provincial Lady, reviewed elsewhere in this blog (https://windowthroughtime.wordpress.com/2018/01/24/book-corner-january-2018-3/). It is better known as The Provincial Lady goes to London in America, as indeed she does. It is written in the same breathless, chatty style of its predecessor, definite articles and personal pronouns jettisoned with gay abandon. It’s like reading a diary full of pensées or a certain type of blog.
Our heroine, the provincial lady, has found some sort of minor literary fame as a result of her first novel. The book opens with various of her acquaintances feeling somewhat miffed about the way they were portrayed. (Note to self: don’t use real, live people in next book). But life is still its chaotic mess, trying to run a family on a meagre budget, dealing with a temperamental French nanny who always seems to be having a crise, problems with the domestics and a husband who is less than helpful, monosyllabic and happy to snooze behind a copy of The Times.
Still, the royalties from her book do give some welcome financial relief, allowing her to rent a small flat in London, ostensibly as somewhere to write her next book but, in reality, a bolthole from her crazy domestic life in Devon and an opportunity to set her foot gingerly into the literary and social world that the capital offers.
She meets up with an old school pal, Pamela Pringle, who leads a rather complicated love life, several husbands along the way and a string of male admirers in tow, and involves our heroine in the complicated stratagems to cover up her traces. Any invitation to a soiree, dinner, or an event prompts a clothing crisis. She never seems to have the right clothes to wear. Delafield delights in satirising, in a light and gentle way, the mores and behaviour of the upper middle classes at play.
Our Lady ventures abroad taking a trip to Brussels to attend a literary conference, arriving typically late and feeling rather awkward and out of place, left to socialise with other social misfits and outcasts, and the family on a holiday to Brittany. She is spreading her wings and she talks, at the end of the book, about going to America.
The book has a gentle wit throughout, portraying a clever woman but one who is out of her depth and disconcerted by the complexities of modern life. She seems always to be on the verge of some disaster and, of course, pressure from her editor to complete her next book. The book is full of parenthetical asides, notes to oneself, ideas for articles which are never pursued or observations of a more philosophical nature.
Our Lady is a bit of a feminist but lacks the confidence or the readiness of wit to stand her ground. A case in point is this passage where Robert, her husband, volunteers her services to perform at the village concert; “Definite conviction here that reference ought to be made to Married Women’s Property Act or something like that, but exact phraseology eludes me, and Robert seems so confident that heart fails me, and I weakly agree to do what I can”.
The book is somewhat autobiographical. The magazine, Time and Tide, appears frequently in the book and Delafield was a director of it. She had two children and lived the life of an upper-middle class woman in Devon, struggling to keep a ramshackle home going.
It’s great fun, at least as good as the first, and I shall probably be travelling with her to America.