It takes a truly talented mind to take the day to day life of a country house wife and convert it into a journal of light satire and human observation. It is a little wonder why The Diary..was a bestseller when it was published in 1933 and why the reprints are still so popular.
To be honest, when I got through the first fifty pages or so, I wasn’t entirely impressed – it did seem like a 30s chick lit. Breezy, funny and a little bitchy. Its only when I started paying attention to the little notes to self in every other “diary entry” that I realized the depth of the book.
Here is one of my favorite parts
“..financial situation being what it is, and moreover rapidly approaching when great aunt’s diamond ring must either be redeemed or relinquished forever, there is nothing for it but to approach the Bank on subject of overdraft.
Am never much exhilarated at this prospect, and do not in the least find that it becomes less unpleasant with repetition, but rather the contrary. Experience customary difficulty in getting to the point, and Bank Manager and I discuss weather, political situation, and probably Starters for the Grand National with passionate suavity for some time. Inevitable pause occurs, and we look at one another immense expanse of pink blotting paper. Irrelevant impulse rises in me to ask if he has other supply, for use, in writing table drawer, or if fresh pad is brought in whenever a client calls. (Strange divagations of the human brain under the stress of extreme nervousness presents itself here as interesting topic for speculation….”
Don’t we all let our minds wander during conversations to ask such questions to self? And how can you not laugh out loud when you read something like this??!!
As the novel in the form of someone’s personal journal, the writing style is highly informal and in some cases quite ungrammatical. Sometimes that can be a tad annoying, but keep reminding yourself that you are reading someone’s thoughts and they are not going to be structured. ( And to write a book this way is quite remarkable, in itself!)
The book truly is delightful and full of interesting characters. There is Lady B, the ostentatious, snobby and condescending neighbor, the talkative but sincere Vicar’s wife, glamorous Rose and the theatrical Madamoiselle. Yes, most of the interesting characters are female, as they clearly reflect the sphere of interaction of an English country lady.
Then there is our protagonist – the provincial lady herself. Though she is clearly an intelligent person, she is often fraught with spasms of inferiority as she compares her lives to people richer than her. She is devoted to her children and household, but often, aspires for the single and glamorous life of her friend Rose. She is far from perfect, but what makes her truly interesting, is that she handles all the drama in her life with wit and a pinch of salt.
My mother has been a housewife all along, and though it wasn’t in the British countryside, her problems are pretty much the same. Dealing with domestic help, financial issues and trying to run the house in the budget, unexpected guests and working for community clubs. If I told my mother to read this book , she would say – this is my life! Maybe I should contemplate writing – “Diary of an Indian Housewife” – but am sure even if I had all the material I wouldn’t have half the wit.
Although not in the same league of Elizabeth Gaskell whose satire on country life makes for brilliant prose, Delafield’s narrative is contemporary and close to the heart. I would not say this is for everyone, but if you read early 20th century British fiction you would enjoy this.
Trivia: Delafield was the pen name for E.M Dashwood who herself was a prolific contributor to the Time and Tide publication mentioned several times in this book