Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

This was recommended to me by glitzfrau because of my fascination with the 1930s, and I thank her for the pointer, because it was a lovely read. As the title would suggest, it presents the diary of an upper-middle-class Devon housewife, whose name we never learn - though this page makes pretty clear that the account is largely autobiographical.

We follow the diarist's life for a year as she struggles to run an evidently quite large house on the edge of a country village, navigating her way between financial disasters, servant problems and the demands of her social position. It's light-hearted and comically told, but at the same time presents a precisely-observed and often very poignant picture of English society in the 1930s. Moral codes, aspirations and social hierarchies are all deftly laid out and gently mocked - but only ever in a fondly self-deprecating way that brings a wry smile to the lips.

The diarist's world is also almost exclusively feminine. Her lifestyle is, of course, financially and socially supported by her husband, Robert. But allowing for that basic set-up, neither Robert nor any other man has very much influence at all over the day-to-day experiences of her life. Robert generally falls in line with the diarist's plans and activities happily enough, offering the occasional brief comment, but content on most occasions to nod, smile and fall asleep behind his newspaper. Meanwhile, the diarist has a busy self-directed life full of female friends, WI meetings, local community activities, visits to London, reading, writing and household management. For all her proclaimed self-doubts, she comes across as a highly autonomous character, who is fully in control of her own life.

Interestingly, the book also presents a critique of what must at the time have been the stereotypical face of proto-feminism. This comes with the arrival in the village of Miss Pankerton, an Oxbridge 'blue-stocking' with very fixed ideas about how the modern woman should aspire to behave. She swans into the diarist's world brandishing her artistic leanings and intellectual credentials, and tells her that she strikes her "as being a woman whose life has never known fulfilment", that she has "no right" to let herself become "a domestic beast of burden", and that she (Miss Pankerton) is "determined to scrape all the barnacles" off her. Meanwhile, the diarist fumes inwardly at being told how she should behave, and Miss Pankerton is quietly shown to be rude and narrow-minded without the diarist ever dreaming of spelling out any such thing. Before long she has realised that her efforts are wasted, and huffily removed herself from the diarist's society.

In other words, what we are shown is a conflict between an ostentatious but rigidly-defined form of female emancipation, and a sort of quiet, pragmatic feminism which just boils down to doing what makes you, personally, happy. Judging from synopses of some of E.M. Delafield's other books, it's pretty clear that she knew perfectly well that not all women are happy in the context of marriage, and nor do they have the luxury to pursue their own interests while someone else supports them financially. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see that she feels able to offer a critique of a model of feminism which in itself demands that women adhere closely to a particular set of pre-defined ideals.

My edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady came bundled into one volume with its three sequels; and I rather like the sound of Consequences, too. So you may just have started something here, young Glitzy!

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, now that does sound rather good fun - it's been added to The List, although it will be a while until I get to it!
Feb. 27th, 2010 10:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, it is. You can read a few snippets here if you'd like a quick taste of the prose style.
Feb. 27th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
I can't remember whether this was a discussion with stellanova or something I read somewhere, but I have a very definite recollection of someone saying not to take the satirisation of Miss Pankerton at nearly such face value. I've got some vague idea that E.M.Delafield herself was much closer to the caricatured feminist than she is to the diarist, and it's much more of a satire on the media for stereotyping the blue-stocking than it is a satire on the so-called millitant feminist. However, I cannot for the life of me remember any more about where I might have read or heard that. I will see if googling helps...
Feb. 27th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
Well, it seems pretty obvious to me that Delafield is distancing herself from the stereotype she presents in the book, but also that at the same time she clearly was quite strongly feminist in her own life. I thought I'd made both of those things clear in my original post. Maybe she felt women like her were being mis-represented in the media, and is presenting Miss P. in the way she is as a kind of distancing strategy to try to dispel that myth?
Feb. 28th, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)
Sorry, I've just read over my comment and it sounds more arsey than I meant it to when I wrote it last night! I guess I would just lean a bit more towards the "mischevious play on media stereotype of The Feminist" than "distancing herself from a particular group of feminists / version of feminism", which is what I thought you meant.
Feb. 28th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)
No, that's OK - reading back over it, I think I did actually slip off my original point a bit as I wrote. I started off by talking about the portrayal of Miss P. as "a critique of what must at the time have been the stereotypical face of proto-feminism." But in the final paragraph, I'm talking about it more as though it is a critique of a real model of feminism. So no wonder my point didn't come across very clearly. Anyway, I think we are both pretty much in agreement about this - just mis-communicating a little.
Feb. 28th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
I absolutely loved this book too, it's so funny! You might also like a similar book called Mrs Miniver, but I can't remember right now who wrote it...
Feb. 28th, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
No problem - Wikipedia will provide. Yes, it does sound similar. I'd heard of the character before, but didn't really know what it was all about. Thanks for the pointer.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
I like the sound of that.

I'm assuming you've read Rubicon - what did you make of it? I found it good but disappointingly thin on detail esp after reading Colleen McCullough's massive tomes on Caesar.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Do you mean the book by Tom Holland? No, I haven't bothered, although I have had bits of it quoted at me on occasion via student essays. I suppose I should one day in the name of seeing how the stories of the late Republic are being conveyed in popular history books - it might well provide insights into the research behind HBO's Rome, for example. But it's not something I would normally read for my own work.
Feb. 28th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
Good grief - students are quoting from this? I wouldn't have considered it 'proper' history to be honest - it is far too easy a read ;-)

It's good but I think he tried to cover too much in the time, so even having an outline of events from other places I found it hard to keep up with the host of minor characters.

Shame because his book Persian Fire was fantastic.
Feb. 28th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
students are quoting from this?

Not very often, thankfully! But yes, Republican history is like that, with the minor characters. I've always found imperial history much more enjoyable, because pretty much everything there revolves around the single figure of the emperor.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2019


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars