Tuesday 3 January 2012

Book Society Review of Provincial Lady in Wartime

Every now and then I like to share contemporary reviews of much-loved books, and this review of The Provincial Lady in Wartime from a 1940 copy of the Book Society News looked like something you might all enjoy.  I like to make Stuck-in-a-Book have something of a scrap-book feel... and this is a fun way to do it!  Over to Edmund Blunden, and his review:

‘This is one of the occasions where expectation has been busy, and is to be abundantly rewarded.  Is the Provincial Lady as entertaining as ever?  There is no doubt of it.  Whatever else may be said about the past few months on the home front, they have been satisfactorily productive of the kind of conservations [sic] and encounters and minor comedies and tragedies which Ms. Delafield’s humour delights in.  From September onwards her quiet satire plays upon the worthies of village and town, and the experiences which have befallen (it may be) a good many of those who have been endeavouring to give their services to their country in the Emergency.

The Provincial Lady succeeded in the end, but it was a queer time until the official mind decided to make use of her talents; and meanwhile she had been filling her sketch-book with studies of Aunt Blanche, Our Vicar’s Wife, poor Mrs. Winter-Gammon (who claimed to have been, during the last war, a favourite of Lord Kitchener), the Blowfields, the mysterious but incompetent Monsieur Gitnik, and lots besides who will be seen to have flourished at this period.  There they are, doing so in her books, to be our recreation now and the discovery of future readers when the war has receded.  Let us hope to look back in some measure of serenity later on, and remind ourselves through these social pages that such were the themes, the rumours, the people of the second half of 1939; that there was a lighter side.

And, apart from all that the future will want to know about us, let all those who have recoiled from recent interviews with a sense of injustice – vague, burning or blatant – see how the Provincial Lady made them thoroughly enjoyable, and say, content with the artistic revenge, “Here’s my comfort”.  But sometimes a truly doleful note is struck, which may sound really like the horrors of war.  “An attractive pamphlet,” says Lady Blowfield, desirous of directing the literary energies of the Provincial Lady, “on the subject of Root Vegetables might do a lot just now.”

Then there is a Commandant who “lives in description” here so fiercely that some of us may be grateful for past mercies; but presumably the successful conduct of a canteen depends on such displays of energy and dictatorship as the Provincial Lady records with such unheroic candour.  Or does it?  There are signs of instability about this dictatorship by the fifth week of the War, and the Provincial Lady, when last engaged, appears to be winning the war of nerves.  But she finds other people who would be sufficiently difficult to disturb: the old lady, for instance, who arrives at Coxton Hall with a protest.  “She was paying a visit in Scotland when National Registration took place and her host and hostess registered her without her knowledge or permission. This resulted in her being issued with a ration book.  She does not wish for a ration book.  She didn’t ask for one, and won’t have one.”

But, naturally, this is a book of countless touches of the kind, and it is clear that the time we have just been living through was one particularly likely to offer Ms. Delafield the “minor calamaties of life” which she presents so easily and wittily.  I can scarcely think that The Provincial Lady in Wartime will fail of a big welcome even while we move from day to day under the vast gloom and insistent injuries of this war.  We may as well make the best of all the opportunities for cheerfulness and the pleasantly absurd while we can; and so, here is a first-class opportunity.’


  1. That's a striking photograph.

    Black and white is haunted by time as color is not.

  2. Shelley - I do love b/w photos - and always find it slightly hard to believe that the scenes themselves must have been in colour!

  3. Fantastic!

    I'd like to cite this. Which issue of the Book Society News does it come from?


    1. Lovely! I've dug into my doctorate notes, and it was the February 1940 issue, pp.7-9


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