Having treated myself to the new Persephone edition of Diary of a Provincial Lady I decided to re-read it right away. One of the things that sold me on the new edition (already owning an old Virago copy of the complete Provincial lady) was the lovely endpaper – which will remain one of my favourites.
Our eponymous Provincial Lady – is an upper middle class wife and mother – who records in her journal the daily vicissitudes of life. Married to the often taciturn Robert, mother to Robin and Vicky, the provincial lady has large house and is served by a cook, house-parlour maid, and French governess. She is a nice lady; she tries to keep everyone happy although frequently assailed by hilariously irreverent thoughts – which she shares with her journal. Socially speaking she is frequently embarrassed, not having read the right books, seen the right plays or got around to seeing the exhibition that everyone else seems to have. Hopeless at tennis, tennis parties are awkward, and the PL finds her children not always quite as well behaved as the other children. The provincial lady – whose name we never learn, lives in Devon, battles with her indoor bulbs and is driven to quiet distraction by the dreadful Lady Boxe – who not only knows exactly what to do with bulbs but holidays in the South of France at the height of the season.
“Find myself indulging in rather melodramatic fantasy of Bentley crashing into enormous motor-bus and being splintered to atoms. Permit chauffeur to escape unharmed, but fate of Lady B. left uncertain, owing to ineradicable impression of earliest childhood to the effect that It is Wicked to wish for the Death of Another. Do not consider, however, that severe injuries, with possible disfigurement, come under this law – but entire topic unprofitable, and had better be dismissed.”
In the company of the delightful provincial lady, whose wit is really quite infectious, we meet a number of memorable local characters from the village including ‘our vicar’s wife’, Barbara Blenkinsop and her mother, about whom the whole village is talking when Barbara becomes engaged. With aspirations of authorship, our dear P L casts her wry observant eye over her friends and neighbours – including her old school friend Cissy Crabbe – who lives in a bedsit with a gas ring in Norwich, her best friend dear Rose, and a school friend of Robin’s, who the P L is forced to admit is more attractive than her own children. Despite her social position, her servants and her furs, the PL is often in rather strained financial circumstances, which forces her to visit the pawnbroker with her great aunt’s diamond ring. Constantly worrying over the state of her wardrobe and her general appearance she is driven to try modest improvements with mixed results.
“Later. – Worst fears realised, as to hair. Dear Mary, always so observant, gazes at it in nerve-shattering silence but says nothing, till I am driven to make half-hearted explanation. Her only comment is that she cannot imagine why anybody should deliberately make themselves look ten years older than they need. Feel that, if she wishes to discourage further experiments on my part, this observation could scarcely be improved upon.”
Included in this new Persephone edition are some lovely original 1930’s illustrations by Arthur Watts, which I think are a brilliant addition to what is already a beautiful product. I suspect that this Persephone book (number 105) is likely to be one of those books that is often bought as a gift, a lovely thing to receive for anyone I would think.