We Think This Book Character Could Be Bridget Jones’ Great-Grandmother!




NOVEL: Diary of a Provincial Lady

AUTHOR: E.M. Delafield



This highly enjoyable, largely autobiographical novel was a best-seller when it was first published and has never been out of print. There’s not much to it by way of plot…the diarist has tiresome neighbors (including the condescending Lady Boxe), an emotionally distant husband, and children she adores in an undemonstrative way. She struggles with indoor bulbs, the family’s French governess, and the smallness of her life, worries about the bills piling up, occasionally escapes on trips with her friends to have adventures in London with literary types, gets the measles, organizes a Garden Fete, gossips with the Vicar’s wife, and endures the arrival of unexpected kittens, boring conversations, houseguests, and a chronic case of status anxiety.

There’s a lot to chew on here if you want to think about the changing role of women, the “servant problem” and social class, and the specific cultural practices of her time and place. I find, however, that humor doesn’t generally hold up very well to this sort of analysis—and this is an extremely funny book. Self-absorbed but never self-pitying, extremely perceptive regarding her own foibles and those of others, and rather sharp-witted, the Provincial Lady is great company. I think she is actually the great-grandmother of Bridget Jones—and while you might not relate to her specific circumstances and complaints, she somehow gets to something quite essentially human.


Opening the book literally at random, I find on page 98 of my paperback copy a description of a social gathering hosted by the insufferable Lady Boxe:

“…Find large party, all of whom are directed at front door to go to the Hard Courts, where, under inadequate shelter, in Arctic temperature, all are compelled to watch young men in white flannels keeping themselves warm by banging a little ball against the wall….Find myself next unknown lady who talks wistfully about the tropics. Can well understand this. On other side, elderly gentleman, who says conversationally that this Naval Disarmament is All his Eye. This contribution made to contemporary thought, he says no more. Past five o’clock before we are allowed to go in to tea, by which time am only too well aware that my face is blue and my hands purple.  Lady B. asks me at tea how the children are, and adds, to the table at large, that I am “A Perfect Mother”.  Am naturally avoided, conversationally, after this, by everybody at the tea-table. Later on, Lady B. tells us about South of France. She quotes repartees made by herself in French, and then translates them. (Unavoidable Query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?)”  

You get the idea.

It’s very much worth reading, and if, like me, you enjoy spending time with the Provincial Lady, there are four sequels in which you can read her descriptions of visits to America, to Soviet Russia, and to London.


 RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 1/2 Whistles




Lead-In Art Courtesy of Roman Nerud / Shutterstock.com; “THE CZECHOSLOVAK REPUBLIC, 1930s: Vintage silhouette of a woman, 1930s.”

diary of a provincial lady embed


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com



A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Anne Of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Here is New York, E.B. White

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

Lexicon, Max Barry

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Madeleine’s Ghost, Robert Girardi

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand, Alexander Elder

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel (illustrator), Maurice Sendak (introduction)

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Translator, Nina Schuyler

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Weird World of Wes Beattie, John Norman Harris

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

Ways of Seeing, John Berger

What If?, Randall Munroe

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff