Wednesday, September 28, 2011

And to think, I've never been able to keep a diary for more than two days in a row

This was an impulse check-out because when I stumble across this at the library:
I can't just leave it there, can I?

Originally published in 1933, The Provincial Lady in London is actually the second of a series. I couldn't find Diary of a Provincial Lady at the library (although the catalog says they have it), but they did have the others in the series: The Provincial Lady in America, The Provincial Lady in Russia, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime.

This is one of those books where, for me at least, the historical value easily outstrips any literary or entertainment value. It's not too much to say that nothing happens in this book. When the book opens, the Provincial Lady has published a book (it's unclear whether this is supposed to be the "diary" of the first novel) and quickly decides to rent a flat in London as a writing retreat to work on the second one. She never actually gets any writing done; mostly she muddles her way through family vacations, household problems, and awkward social occasions in and out of the city.

I was hoping this would be a book that would give a sense of the city as it was, but this was not to be. That said, it's a fantastic slice of interwar middle class life. A taste:
Vicky meets me on the stairs and says with no preliminary Please can she go to school. Am unable to say either Yes or No at this short notice, and merely look at her in silence. She adds a brief statement to the effect that Robin went to school when he was her age, and then continues on her way downstairs, singing something of which the words are inaudible, and the tune unrecognisable, but which I have inward conviction that I should think entirely unsuitable. Am much exercised regarding question of school, and feel that as convinced feminist it is my duty to take seriously into consideration argument quoted above.
Two things to note here: First, Vicky is the daughter, but you have to really use your Context Clues because characters who were introduced in the first book get zero introduction in this one. Second, yes, the entire book is written in this telegraphic style, which can be downright annoying at certain times of day.

Here's a quick cameraphone rendition of the charming-if-somewhat-random illustrations:
That's the Provincial Lady on the right, her Provincial Husband sitting on the left, with their two kids and their Holiday Tutor (!) between them.

The Provincial Lady's adventures in America, Russia, and, uh, Wartime are no doubt also very interesting, and this was a light, quick read. I sort of doubt I'll pursue the rest of this series though, unless I'm curious to read a contemporary take on those topics. Maybe if I'd read the first book I would know and love the characters but just based on this one I have to conclude, historically fascinating but otherwise boring.

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