|Us - trying to look provincial|
For my birthday Jen sent me a voucher for a Persephone book and I chose Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. It is brilliant. Laugh out loud funny (God I hate that expression, and it's so often not true, but in this instance I think the mini-beasts became quite disturbed by my eruptive chortling) and perceptive of the everyday triumphs and failures that occur between couples, parents and children and friends/social acquaintances. In fact it's suprising how modern many of the observations on human nature are, which goes to show people don't change, and children certainly don't. I felt very much connected to the 1930s housewife narrator, a connection I found by turns reassuring, amusing, disconcerting and downright depressing.
I decided to keep a note of all the quotes I wanted to share but I think I gathered one every other page, so here is a selection of the highlights from a very illuminating book. In many of the quotes what I love is the contrast between the profound or violent nature of the sentiment and the lighthearted and elegant turn of phrase.
"Have a depressed feeling that this is going to be another case of Orlando about which was prefectly able to talk most intelligently until I read it, and found myself unfortunately unable to understand any of it."
"Reply that we shall be delighted to see her, and what a lot we shall have to talk about, after all these years! (This, I find on reflection, is not true, but cannot re-write letter on that account.)"
"Financial instability very trying." (Indeed...)
"Lady B. waves her hand - (in elegant white kid, new, not cleaned) - and declares That may all be very well, but if they could have got husbands they wouldn't be Feminists. I instantly assert that all have had husbands, and some two or three. This may or may not be true, but have seldom known stronger homicidal impulse."
"dear Robin, who climbs all over the furniture, apparently unconscious that he is doing so, and tells me at the same time, loudly and in full, the story of The Swiss Family Robinson." (Just insert Matilda for Robin and that's my life)
"Robin says essential to get gramaphone record called "Is Izzy Azzy Wozz?" (N.B. Am often struck by disquieting thought that the dear children are entirely devoid of any artistic feeling, in art, literature, or music. This conviction intensified after hearing "Is Izzy Azzy Wozz?" rendered fourteen times running on the gramaphone..." (Let It Go anyone??)
"Vicky and Robin behave well, and I compliment them on the way home, but am informed later by Mademoiselle [the French nanny] that she has found large collection of chocolate biscuits in pocket of Vicky's party-frock".
"Query: Why do people living in same neighbourhood as myself obtain without difficulty minor luxuries that I am totally unable to procure? Reply to this, if pursued to logical conclusion, appears to point to inadequate housekeeping on my part."
"Query: Would it not indicate greater strength of character, even if lesser delicacy of feeling, not to spend so much time on regretting errors of judgement and of behaviour? Reply almost certainly in the affirmative."
"House resembles the tomb, and the gardener says that Miss Vicky seems such a little bit of a thing to be sent away like that [to stay with her aunt], and it isn't as if she could write and tell me how she was getting on, either.
Go to bed feeling like a murderess."
"(Mem.: Candid and intelligent self-examination as to motive, etc., often leads to very distressing revelations.)"
"Query here suggests itself, as often before: Is it possible to combine the amenities of civilisation with even the minimum of honesty required to satisfy the voice of conscience? Answer still in abeyance at present.)"
"I am moved to exclaim - perhaps rather thoughtlessly - that the most wonderful thing in the world is a childless widow - but this is met by unsympathetic silence from Robert, which recalls me to myself, and impels me to say that that isn't in the least what I meant." (Robert is her husband, I love the word 'impels' here)
"Vicky bids me cheerful, but affectionate good-bye and then shatters me at eleventh hour by enquiring trustfully if I shall be home to read to her after tea? As entire extent of absence [a week in the south of France] has already been explained to her in full, this enquiry merely senseless - but serves to unnerve me badly, especially as Mademoiselle ejaculates "Ah! la pauvre chère mignonne!" into the blue." (Ejaculates into the blue, I love that!)
"Long before we are half-way there, I know I shall never reach it, and hope Robert's second wife will be kind to the children ... Death by drowning said to be preceded by mental panorama of entire past life. Distressing reflection which very nearly causes me to sink again." (When swimming out to a distant rock in the Mediterranean sea in order to impress a Viscountess)
"From time to time remember, with pained astonishment, theories subscribed to in pre-motherhood days, as to inadvisablity of continually saying Don't, incessant fault-finding, and so on. Should now be sorry indeed to count number of times that I find myself forced to administer these and other checks to the dear children."
"Cannot at the moment think of really good answer, but shall probably do so in church on Sunday, or in other surroundings equally inappropriate for delivering it."
"(Mem.: Theory that mothers think their own children superior to any others Absolute Nonsense. Can see too plainly that Micky easily surpasses Robin and Vicky in looks, charm, and good manners - and am very much annoyed about it."
Reading back my selection, I am slightly disturbed as to what this reveals about me but, in the spirit of the Provincial Lady I shall not dwell. Now go and read the rest of the book, I must go and see to the dear children.
(Mem.: Could it be that my dear readers will infinitely prefer the wit and wisdom of another to the lacklustre outpourings of my own beleaguered brain? A regrettable but unavoidable probability.)