I would never have heard of R. M. Dashwood’s Provincial Daughter if not for Rhonda. We got carried away with book giveaways and started swapping books. Somehow personal swaps work better for me than Book Crossing and Bookmooch, where I keep looking up Leonard Woolf and finding the German title Mein Leben mit Virginia.
Dashwood is the daughter of E. M. Delafield, the author of The Diary of a Provincial Lady, and her diary-cum-novel about domestic life in England in the ’50s is charming and entertaining. I could spend all day reading diary novels like Provincial Lady, D. E. Stevenson’s Mrs. Tim books, Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. In fact I think I might devote myself to reading diaries for a while.
Dashwood says in the preface:
…if the result seems to any reader too imitative, or even plagiaristic, I can only ask their forgiveness, as the original Provincial Lady would, I am sure, most warmly have given hers.”
Although Dashwood does not write quite as well as Delafield, in some ways I like her better. I find her generation easier to understand: servants are not taken for granted, the narrator is constantly sweeping, mopping, and cooking badly, and though she does eventually get an au pair, she is still very much an ordinary housewife.
She has a doctor husband and stays home with three children. Her clothes no longer fit and she has nothing to say at dinner parties. When she goes to London to see a friend, she does not know what to wear.
Long-awaited trip to London…. (Only good coat and skirt definitely too tight; which looks worse, odd nylons or laddered matching ones; and do people in London wear hats these days?) Finally decide that I Will Do, and that boys definitely look nice in clean shirts and ties, and Ben engaging in tweed coat and leggings.”
The narrator wants to write and is very excited when an article is commissioned by a newspaper. Then the BBC contacts her about a script she sent out a year ago. Her writing flows so naturally that we want, of course, to read more. There are no more books, which makes me very sad.
I’m very entertained by Dashwood’s observations about housework, which is such a frustrating job, and clothes that don’t fit. Like many women, I have a wardrobe in two sizes–and when I had to go back to teaching, everything was too loose or too tight. The solution? Grab the loose pants when they are out of the dryer so they won’t fall down for the first hour of moving around the classroom.