Modern American Short Stories – Philip Van Doren Stern (ed.) (1943)

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In this short story collection first published in 1943, there were 19 stories from the 1920s and 1930s by authors with whom I was familiar (Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck), some with whom I had only a name familiarity (Ring Lardner [one of Fitzgerald’s buddies], Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Katherine Ann Porter) and then some who were new to me (Jerome Weidman, Sally Benson et al.) and one whose story I just couldn’t finish.

(You get three guesses. Oh, OK: it’s you, Hemingway with your Snows of Kilimanjaro).

Specifically, I enjoyed the following, most of which are available on-line if you’re so inclined:

  • Profession, Housewife – Sally Benson (1938)
  • You were Perfectly Fine – Dorothy Parker (1929)
  • Babylon Revisited – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1931)
  • The Happiest Man on Earth – Albert Maltz (1938)
  • Going Home – William Saroyan (couldn’t find the date published)
  • The Night the Ghost Got In – James Thurber (1933)
  • Young Man Axelrod – Sinclair Lewis (1917)

Published towards the end of WWII, this collection of short stories seems to be poignant and innocent in some ways. (Not surprising when you realize that some of them were written not too long after the carnage of WWI or within view of the outbreak of WWII). Several of the stories seemed to be rather sad in some ways — as though the authors had seen too much or experienced too much — and there’s a general feeling of this lost innocence. However, there’s also an edge that seems to warn readers that these authors are not to be taken advantage of, either.

After reading a great book of lit crit on The Great Gatsby, I especially liked reading something from Ring Lardner (friend of F. Scott’s) and a few of his other writing friends, although Hemingway (never my favorite at the best of times) was not a good addition, not only as I happen to find him annoying as a human being and as a writer but also because he was mean to Fitzgerald during his lifetime. Fitzgerald may have had his issues, but overall he seemed to be a pretty sensitive and gentle writer so I see no reason for Hemingway to be so shitty towards him. No need to be mean, is there?

Some good quotes for you:

There were a few Tommies that showed minute and white against the yellow, and far off, he saw a herd of zebra, white against the green of the bush.”

(HEMINGWAY/Snows of Kilimanjaro)

(Disclaimer: This was the one sentence of the few that I read and really enjoyed. Just sayin’.)

 It had been given, even the most mildly squandered sum, things most worth remembering, the thing that now he would always remember – his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont. (FITZGERALD/Babylon Revisited)

The Ghost that got in our house on the night of November 17, 1915, raised such a hullabaloo of misunderstandings that I am sorry that I didn’t just let it keep on walking                  and go to bed.                                                                    (THURBER/The Night the Ghost Came.)

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The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

book213With all the recent hoopla about the recently released movie adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” and with the recommendation of a trusted fellow reader, I decided to pick up a copy of the book and see how it read.  The last time I had poked my head into it was during the rush and crush of grad school, and as that was such a rushed read, I don’t think I got a real appreciation of it. So read it again this week (and then immediately read it one more time to enjoy the writing and imagery at a much more leisurely pace).

Wow. What a difference a few years makes. This more recent reading was a completely different experience for me and I realized that I had not the same appreciation before due to the speed of grad school reading requirements or because I am much more experienced in the world of books now. (Perhaps it’s both.)

This is one of the few books that I immediately picked up and read again once I had finished it. I wanted to read it a second time to notice all the recurring imagery that Fitzgerald had put in there, and also, having read a brief biography of Fitzgerald and Zelda (both troubled in their own ways), it’s clearly much more autobiographical than I had realized before.

I’m not going to go over the plot – there are other resources for that and besides, I’d like people to read the original text to get their own ideas. This is fabulously written and seems to perfectly capture the rich idle ennui of the wealthy young in the Jazz Age (a phrase, incidentally, that Fitzgerald is credited with originating). The characters in this story drink to get drunk, they chat with people they don’t know about things they don’t care about, and all this in an atmosphere of excess – money, time, drink…

Fitzgerald and wife Zelda spent some time as expats in Paris at the same time as Hemingway and those guys, and although Fitzgerald and Hemingway were good friends, Hemingway rather sneered at Fitzgerald’s “selling out” and writing commercial stories to pay the bills. (Oh, how superior you must be, Ernie.) They both had alcohol problems and marital challenges, and obviously influenced each other in how they wrote – very spare sentences (despite the excessive and overloaded world Fitzgerald portrays).

Gatsby’s world seems to have been bought on every level – one evening, the “premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer’s basket…” Everything can be bought, everything can be sold.

Written in 1925, it predated the Depression years and reflects the over-consumption and deep feeling of detachment and isolation felt by some people at that time. Fitzgerald’s characters have a sense of despair unspoken and Gatsby is frequently portrayed removed from all his guests by him not drinking, by standing away from this guests, by the shallow chatter, and by the fact that most of his guests don’t even know the host.

Fitzgerald writes that Gatsby not only dispenses generous hospitality to people, but also “dispensed starlight to casual moths”.  Light plays a huge role in this book – just think of the green light at the end of the dock – as does color (especially colors linked with the sun: yellow, gold, orange… Once you see this, you tend to recognize it more than otherwise. At least, I did.)

It’s a love story (of so many things) on some levels, but it’s not one that the typical person would want to replicate – it’s unrequited (or is it?), it’s complicated, it’s delayed by five years and a marriage to the wrong person (Daisy to Tom). And throughout the story, I would argue that there’s a light veiled theme of same-sex attraction between various combinations of characters (mainly male).  Gatsby wants to go back to the past when he first met Daisy five years ago, although it’s not possible (and not healthy) to do so.

And the “five years” pattern repeats itself quite a few times: Gatsby and his rich friend Dan Cody were together on the nautical adventure for five years, it’s been five years since Gatsby has last seen Daisy, and he’s been living on West Egg for five years… Fitzgerald is not known for his “sticking to the facts” (was “not scrupulous about real details” is how scholar Dr. Matthew Bruccoli* put it) and “was incapable of factual meticulousness” (i.e. he says that Nick Carraway was from the Mid-West: San Francisco! – but details schmetails.) So – was the five-year period there for a reason?

“Can’t repeat the past?… Why of course you can!”

– Jay Gatsby.

This is really one of the best books that I have read this year, and I can’t believe that I didn’t really appreciate (or even like) this book on earlier readings. If this was a title forced on you in your younger educational days, I urge you to take another look at it. With the experience of years, it can be a completely different experience to read it again and I have loved reading it this time around.

Now I’m not sure about going to the movie – I can’t believe that it would do justice to such a rich storyline and characters. Highly recommended.

  • I am sure this guy has never received any guff about his last name. Nope. Never.

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Delving into Thirkell and Benson…

villageI’ve been diving into the fictitious and rather perfect worlds of English country villages and their inhabitants the last few weeks – one is Risholme, the home of Lucia and her gang, and the others are in Barsetshire with Mrs. Morland and her crew. Again, the books are very idealistic and probably epitomize the idea of “traditional English village” more than real life, but they are rather fun to read.

Angela Thirkell (1890-1961) was an English author who had an impressive family history: one of her great uncles was a Prime Minister (Stanley Baldwin), another great uncle was Rudyard Kipling , and her brother, Denis Mackail, was also a successful novelist.

bensonpicE. F. Benson (1967-1940) wrote a series of novels with the group title of “Mapp and Lucia”, all revolving around the social goings on of a group of (mostly? all?) upper-middle, upper class villagers who are vying with each other as to who should “rule village society”.  Lucia rules the roost so far in the series, but she’s had some serious challenges from Daisy et al. especially when she left for London for a while.

I am up to number 3 in the Benson series now* although I did read a couple of them (accidentally) out of order just to get a taste of things, and if you are after a light frothy read, then these Lucia books are *perfect* for that.  (It could be argued that the Mapp and Lucia books are a more domestic version of Wodehouse’s Bertie and Wooster, I suppose.)

barsetshire_mapAt the same time, I’ve been delving into Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, which seems to be very similar to me: same sort of time period (1920’s, 1930’s), social machinations of small rural upper class community, continuation of characters from one book to the next (so far)…Thirkell’s seem to be a little more serious in some way, a little more drama and perhaps more “soap opera” as opposed to “comedy”. Still funny but not as pointedly obvious as the omniscient and rather camp narrator in the village of Risholme of Lucia and company.

That’s not to say as a criticism of either author – they are both really good, just in different ways. Benson is much easier to get hold of – free electronic copies are all over the internet – and the only way I have found to get copies of Thirkell is either through buying them (but some are out-of-print) or ordering them through the inter-library loan (ILL) system. As I’m trying to cap how many books I am buying at the moment, I’ve been using the ILL system which is working nicely. (The e-copies of Benson’s Lucia series also meets this goal so that’s been very good as well.)

thirkellBoth Benson and Thirkell were hugely productive and wrote a prodigious amount of novels, short stories etc., but I am not too sure how wise it is to read both of the series at the same time. However, I am now sucked into both of them and must find out how things progress in their little social worlds. Really enjoying them though, so that’s the key fact.

*E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series:

  • Queen Lucia (1920)
  • Miss Mapp (1922)
  • Lucia in London (1927(
  • Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  • Lucia’s Progress (1935) (also known as The Worshipful Lucia)
  • Trouble for Lucia (1939)

Link to the Angela Thirkell Society page which has the huge list of novels she wrote and the order they’ve been published. Best to read them in order, I think.

Letters from Father Christmas – JRR Tolkien (edited by Baillie Tolkien) (1976)

book165*Pop*

That was the sound of my socks being charmed off when I read this adorable collection of letters which J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his kids from 1920 to 1942. Each letter comes from Father Christmas and each is a link in a long chain of narrative that continues from one year to the next. It’s actually really funny in places, and Tolkien really put his heart into the project.

It’s lovely to go through his correspondence and learn what happens as his four kids grow up and gradually stop sending letters to Father Christmas. FC is very stoic about this change, of course, but it was poignant to see the number of kids’ names on the envelopes dwindle over time.

And Tolkien doesn’t just stick to the typical Santa fare: he has a (not-very-helpful) helper in the form of North Polar Bear (NPB as he’s called) who ends up causing lots of inconveniences (such as uncontrolled fireworks being set off that catch the house on fire) and problems (such as flooding the bathroom), but really means well. He is one of the toughest fighters during the Goblin Wars and helps to train his two nephew Polar Cubs who come to live with him.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

What was also really nice was that Tolkien also drew illustrations which he sent with the letters that depict some of what happened that year before.  You can also see his affinity for words and languages as his NPB invents his own alphabet and the Elf Secretary he has writes some Elvish.  There’s also a brief mention of the Hobbit being published in 1937. (The LOTR trilogy came later in his life, but I think an aficionado could probably see future mentions in these letters. I’m not that familiar with them though.)

Interesting bio fact about Tolkien: once freed from WWI service, his first job was working at the Oxford English Dictionary where he focused on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter “W”…

Seeing that it covers the pre-WWII years (and then continues for some of those after), Father Christmas’ correspondence reflects some of the world events going on so it wasn’t all jolliness and ho-ho-ho. There was meaningful mention of kids and families who were in need and who weren’t going to receive any presents. I’d be interested to know how Tolkien’s kids responded to this: did they take it for the lesson it was meant to be, or, as early teens, would they have secretly rolled their eyes and sighed?… I hope it was the former.

Tolkien seems to have really gone above and beyond his role of FC here – it was obviously a tradition that was important to him (and perhaps to his kids), and the last letter that FC writes had me with tears in my eyes…

Lovely and charming read.

The Long Afternoon – Giles Waterfield (2001)

A short book (perhaps a long novella?) based in the earlier years of the twentieth century when a young and wealthy couple (a la House of Mirth characters) move to the French Riviera after having worked with the British Foreign Service in India and suffering tragedy there. Additionally, the wife is a full-time professional hypochondriac and insists on a quiet and indulgent life in a small Mediterranean town with a suitable English ex-pat community who all strive to recreate the idle life of the Raj Brits.

Organized year by year chronologically and interspersed with straight-forward prose and letters from various people and friends outside the family, the Williamsons (as the couple is named) live a sheltered life with a view of the sea on one side of the house and a steep cliff or mountain on the other. As one character notes, “For those who climb it, the mountain is a fun challenge; for those who cannot,  they are prison walls” – and, as life progresses and the family do their minimal work for various causes (including WWI), there is a sense of borrowed time, of foreboding and foreshadowing. Not a big surprise for modern readers, but Mr. and Mrs. Williamson (or Henry and Helen if you’re being casual about it) are blindly unaware (or ignore) the world events around them. You can feel, as a reader, as though you are watching a car crash happen in slow motion.

Additionally to the oncoming ominous world events (such as WWII etc.), the family has its own battles to contend with, battles between the two brothers and a battle between the eldest son and the parents as the kids grow up.  It’s more of an uncomfortable rejection of the idle rich lifestyle than rejection of actual people (although Helen receives some uncomfortable comments at times), and this lifelong tension causes more rifts – it’s not just Europe that is falling apart.

One interesting touch was that as the unrest became closer and Williamsons gradually realized that life was never going to be the same, the style of writing reflects the unrest in their minds: long, rambling sentences which run on and on and then suddenly change to topics to a related but very different thread similar to dreaming… And this unstable world must have seemed to be a bad dream for the couple when compared with the stability and predictability of their earlier comfortable routines. This was an effective writing technique by Waterfield which worked really well and was quite unexpected by this reader.

This was a good read especially when it was completed in close succession with Wharton’s HoM and the various history books that I have been delving in to. It seems that the more widely I read, the easier it is to see the multiple connections between disparate aspects of life – rather like switching from old TV to the new hi-def image: lots of details that I just didn’t see before.

Good sudden ending which fits with the characters. Nice one.

Gone with the Windsors – Laurie Graham (2006)

This book had been well recommended at one of my favorite hang-outs on the interwebs which is Readers’ Paradise . Trusting my reading friends there, I ordered it with anticipation and then once it arrived, duly placed it on the tottering TBR pile to sit there for ages gathering dust. I had a hankering for an epistolary novel and a royal related one, and if it could be light-hearted and rather English, that would be great as well.

Graham’s novel fits the bill on all levels. It’s focused on the love affair of American divorcee Mrs. Wallace Simpson and the abdicated King Edward and is from the hilarious (although accidentally funny) view of one of Wallace’s close childhood friends from the US.  Maybell Brumby, the author of the fictional diary we are reading, is extremely funny in places, but is even funnier because she doesn’t mean to be hilarious. Others have compared her to the role of Bertie Wooster in P. G. Wodehouse and I think that is a fitting comparison – a sort of “blundering but well meaning idiot” type.

Maybell is a newly widowed wealthy lady from the bluestockings of Baltimore and has known Wallace (or Wally as she calls her) since they were school friends and Wally was a charity student at their posh school. Always having been filled with dreams of a grand life, Maybell achieved it through marriage, and then had watched Wally aim for the same thing. “Grand life” and “rich English men” rather went together as they had, much as they had during Victorian times (a la Downton Abbey), and so the book follows Maybell moving to England (at the behest of her sister who was also there) and then what happens when Wally arrives on those distant shores, meets the Prince and changes the path of the British Constitution and royalty for ever.

Maybell is an ideal foil for the canny and manipulative Wally who seems ruthless and determined to live the life of wealth and ease signified by marriage into the Royal Family. However, the path of love is not simple and as is commonly known (especially since the film, The King’s Speech was released), Wally was not crowned Queen and David (who was previously called King Edward the something) was forced to choose between throne and love. He chose love, which, according to this book, really really annoyed Wally who had much higher aspirations than living in exile with an excommunicated prince.

The names were a bit confusing at first as the royal men seemed to have constantly changing first names. Edward was also David was also Prince of Wales was also Duke when he abdicated. Bertie was Albert who was also King George the something and was his younger less well prepared brother. I did have to keep referring to the royal family tree to keep these straight and work out where the current Queen of England fitted in, but that was the only downside to the whole book.

Oh, and it could have been edited towards to the end. Once the abdication had occurred and the former royal couple were in exile, it was also the start of World War II and Graham has a great grasp of all the players, both big and small. But again, it was a bit confusing about who was who and doing what. Various equerries popped up and popped down and then there were also other members of staff who had roles. Minor quibble though.

It was very clear that Graham had done her research as the plot was detailed and spot-on as far as I could tell. (However, I am not an expert in these areas. Seemed good to me though.) And there were places when I just snorted out laughing in reaction to what Maybell writes in her mistakenly oblivious and very human way  — Edna Piaf, for example, was one of these errors and Harrold’s the department shop.  Close enough but no cigar as they say, and these ongoing errors were purposely made by the author and helped to make Maybell very human and real to me.

I am wondering if Graham is as hilarious in other books. I have previously read (pre-blog) her The Future Homemakers of America, but don’t remember much so may have to reread that. And then I have just ordered Perfect Meringues which was one of her back list books. Regardless of whether she is as funny in her other work, she gets a tip of the hat for being hilariously wicked in this one.

🙂

Right Ho, Jeeves – P. G. Wodehouse (1934)

This was my first venture into the world of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster – and I loved it. It’s so good when a reader comes across a book at just the exact right time and in the exact right mood.

Wodehouse was mentioned in the NF book that I was reading about the history of the English country house (where they had a lot of house parties) and since I would like to embrace the reading style of one book leading to another, this was a good way to start. (It was also a shortish volume so I know that I could finish it quite quickly before the end of the year if I liked it.)

Most people, I would imagine, have a vague familiarity with the duo of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, but I had never actually read one of them before. (Nor have I seen their TV series either with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.) I wasn’t too sure if I would like the humor, but really, I enjoyed this whole book. (I have had a really good run on enjoyable titles lately – lucky.)

This was very, very English in an upper class 1930’s way – lots of “jolly hockey sticks”, “What ho?”, and big parties of idle rich people and their various machinations of trying to pair each other off. Not a deep and meaningful book by any means,  but as a funny and “palate-cleansing” read, this was fun and a fine intro to the works of Wodehouse. (How do you pronounce that, btw? Woodhouse? Woadhouse? Something else?)

Will definitely be reading more of Wodehouse in the future.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt – Caroline Preston (2011)

A lovely and very different novel of a young woman growing up on the East Coast with a widowed mother and two brothers during the 1920’s. What’s particularly interesting about this particular book is that it is composed entirely of snippets and various scrapbooking bits and pieces to tell the story of Frankie’s life as she graduates from high school and moves on (thus the “scrapbook” of the title). Scraps such as old event programs, magazine ads that have been snipped out, locks of hair, old photos – all are gathered and arranged to further story very effectively.

Most of Frankie’s friends had traditional dreams of getting married and having children right after high school, and Frankie also would like that, but first, she wants to attend college and be a writer. However, life is not that easy and as the story details the twists and turns that Fate sends her way, the reader is drawn into the various ephemera that Frankie uses to illustrate her life in the scrapbook. Vintage clippings and other odds and ends all add detail to give a complete picture of her as she graduates from  Vassar and moves on to the next stage of her life.

This was really an interesting reading experience: the various bits that were used to describe the events of the story on each page had been carefully chosen and then placed artistically on the page. Lovely old typewriter fonts were used for the labels and I really did feel as though I was going through a vintage scrapbook of someone’s life.

One reviewer of this book added that the vintage scrapbook idea (of using multiple objects to detail a life and its many aspects) was pretty representative of the 1920’s in the US: it was when people started to experiment more, life was more prosperous now that the country had almost recovered from the Great War, and women had had a taste of career freedom which they could not forget.  Preston also does a good job of expressing the excitement and anticipation of a young high school graduate and then a college graduate.

If you have enjoyed the “Griffin and Sabine” books by Nick Bantock, or perhaps “Radioactive” (by Lauren Redniss) that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, then you would like this. The story by itself is not the most entrancing, but the addition of the pictures and other details that raises this book above that.

The author is an archivist for the Peabody/Essex Museum and for Harvard University so she has a good grasp of using the various historical pieces of social history and life back then. She has also had a lifetime hobby of collecting vintage scrapbooks which was put to good use here.

An enjoyable and quick read (or browse) of the early life of a young and interesting woman she navigates her way through her early adult years. This was a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to read.

Other reviews from across the Blogosphere:

* Sophisticated Dorkiness review

The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery (1926)

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Another charming (and funny) book by Canadian author, L. M. Montgomery, and one of the few novels that she set outside Prince Edward Island (PEI) where most of her stories were set.  I did not have any knowledge of what this book was about before I started, and only entered into the reading as I had enjoyed her earlier “Anne of Green Gables” so very much beforehand. This novel is one of her few novels for an adult audience, but I think that probably a lot of her work would be enjoyable for multiple age groups. (However, bear in mind that I have only now read two of her work, when she has loads more including short stories, poetry, and non-fiction.)

“The Blue Castle” in set in a small fictional town called Deerwood in Canada during the 1920’s. The main character, Valancy, feels stuck in a dull and limited world of being unmarried, 29 years old, and having few options apart from living with her overbearing mother and cousin. Montgomery’s descriptions of these two family members are actually quite funny in an awful way, and as the story continues, it’s clear that Valancy is completely miserable and with no way out that she can see.

Until she receives a letter from her doctor that details news that ends up giving Valancy the freedom that she has craving for. This news gives her a new look at life, and provides the catalyst to Valancy launching a new lease on life. She is no longer afraid of everything, of people, of what they might think of her, of how she is responsible for
everyone’s happiness. No, this new Valancy is the opposite of all that – she speaks her mind, she throws off the fetters of her restricted life and moves out of the social prison that was her home for years before.

This new freedom that Valancy experiences is described in such great detail in this novel that even you as the reader feels her excitement and her new-found confidence. It’s actually rather funny how the new Valancy deals with old restraints of dealing with her extended family and its annoying and limited social rules, and it is really exhilarating to see her take on life with such enthusiasm and with such little fear – a completely
different Valancy than before.

She ends up in a happy relationship with someone who her family views as completely unsuitable, and the only way that her relatives can make sense of her new behavior is that she has gone “dippy – completely  dippy” as her uncle says. Valancy builds a new life with her new beau, but when she senses that something is wrong with her original diagnosis, she revisits the doc who reveals that there has been a huge error which leads Valancy to believe that all her new life and all her changes have been for aught.

(Actually, there is a lot more to the plot than this, but I don’t want to give it away as I am hoping others will go out there and read it. I found it on the Australian Gutenburg project on-line, so thanks to whoever typed up all that.)

The story is also a great example of just how well Montgomery can tailor a sentence: the “lemon-hued twilight”…, “she was so tired that she wished she could borrow a pair of legs from a cat”…, a “hesitation of ecstasy” at a beautiful view, and a pearl necklace “like congealed moonshine”… Blissfully good writing and use of words.

And a favorite quote:

Warm fire – books – comfort – safety from the storm – our cats on the rug – Moonlight,” said Barney. “Would you be any happier now if you had a million dollars?”…..

The story ends up well and happy with an ending that is a little trite, but one that fits really well. And when you consider that this novel was written during the 1920’s, there is an argument for it being an early feminist novel in some ways, having a feisty independent female character who takes charge of her own life (at times).

Not quite as sweet and charming as “Anne of Green Gables” but again, this was a novel for a different target audience and at a different time of Montgomery’s life. Research shows that Montgomery felt that she would not marry, although she did receive a few marriage proposals. Each proposal was turned down as she did not feel romantic towards her suitors.  So when describing Valancy and her impending spinsterhood, this was probably a subject that Montgomery had already thought about for her own life. She did end up marrying a pretty decent guy but married life was not easy as he is believed to have been mentally ill and requiring a lot of emotional support. It’s also rumored that Montgomery herself suffered from depression, and her granddaughter has made the claim that Montgomery actually overdosed when she died, as opposed to dying from coronary thrombosis.

Regardless of how Montgomery died (and how important is that, really?), she left a whole raft of good reading material for the world to dig in. “The Blue Castle” seems to be one of the more neglected works of the Montgomery oeuvre, but it’s a winner all the same.

Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M. Delafield (1930)

Another book that I can’t believe I waited until now to read, despite it being on the bookshelves for at least a decade prior to this. Sigh. Still, pleasure denied can sometimes be pleasure increased. This Virago edition of A Diary of a Provincial Lady (and including three other vols as well) was absolutely exquisitely hilarious, caustic and dry. Delafield has developed a winning character with the nameless protagonist with a subversive sense of humor who writes about her everyday life in Devon between the wars.

The book is written in the format of a diary (of course), and includes such gems as this one:

“Robert, this morning, complains of insufficient breakfast.
Cannot feel that porridge, scrambled eggs, toast, marmalade, scones, brown bread and coffee give adequate grounds for this, but admit that porridge is slightly burnt…”

Almost every diary entry has a witty comment or dry observation about her life: the troubles with the all-powerful Cook, the unpredictable Mademoiselle, Robert (hubby who is usually asleep behind the newspaper), and the two children. The Provincial Lady is one character who I would LOVE to meet: she is charmingly ordinary, endearingly normal, and really funny. This is not a book that lets you put it down every now and then; every diary entry pulls you in and it is very easy to think “just one more page”…. Her ongoing financial battles, the politics of the village, the stress of finding
(and keeping) good help, the onerous Lady B…

According to Wiki, Delafield had become friends with one of the editors of a magazine called “Time and Tide”. When the editor wanted something light to fill space, Delafield agreed to think of something to write, and The Provincial Lady was born. It is quite autobiographical, according to various websites, so will have to check this when/if I can track down a biography or autobio of Delafield. The original volume of “The Diary of a
Provincial Lady” was so well received, that she went on to write The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America, and the Provincial Lady in Wartime, each of which covers later portions of her life (and are also hilarious as well). My edition also happened to include each of these, which was a very nice bonus.

Really truly funny read. Highly recommended.