Librarian's note: There are Alternate Cover Editions for this edition of this book here and here.
Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there’s her husband Robert, who, when he’s not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling recluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky sevants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our Provincial Lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with.
Also published here are the three enchanting sequels to The Diary of a Provincial Lady: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime.
Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture (9 June 1890 – 2 December 1943), commonly known as E. M. Delafield, was a prolific English author who is best-known for her largely autobiographical Diary of a Provincial Lady, which took the form of a journal of the life of an upper-middle class Englishwoman living mostly in a Devon village of the 1930s, and its sequels in which the Provincial Lady buys a flat in London and travels to America. Other sequels of note are her experiences looking for war-work during the Phoney War in 1939, and her experiences as a tourist in the Soviet Union.
I read a Goodread friend’s review of this book, and it sounded quite good, and so I put it on my TBR list and I read it today and I liked it quite a bit. 😊
It was a nice quiet read. Sometimes I just need that. Sometimes I don’t want to read a novel in which I am warned ahead of time that one or more godawful things will happen. Nothing godawful happened in this novel…well there were a couple of minor things that I questioned the political correctness of, but I can overlook them… 😉
I did feel put out by the Introduction written by a Mary Borden in which she said: • “I feel sure that all women who read this book in America will often pause as I did with a nod and smile, perhaps a rueful smile, of agreement.” • Well how about me? I smiled too with a nod and smile and I am a man. Harumph! 🤨
The novel is written as a diary written by the British wife/mother in the 1930s who has a husband, Robert, who seems like a nice chap but perhaps at times a bit insensitive (well he reminded me of Clarence in Life with Father) and a son Robin, often in boarding school, a daughter 6-year-old Vicky and her governess, Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle whenever she spoke in the novel spoke only French (which I cannot understand) except just once…she said in plain English, “More like a mansion”.
I don’t think The Provincial Lady’s name was mentioned in the novel, or if it was it went over my head.
There is mention of Elizabeth von Arnim in her diaries!!!!! Here it is: • February 28th—Notice, and am gratified by, appearance of a large lump of crocuses near the front gate. Should like to make whimsical and charming reference to these, and try to fancy myself as “Elizabeth of the German Garden”, but am interrupted by Cook….” (I like a number of Elizabeth von Arnim’s novels…)
Here is an example of the Provincial Lady's drollness (her maid upped and left her, so she is looking for a new maid): • Spend exhausting day …chasing mythical parlour-maids. Meet Lady B., who says the servant difficulty, in reality, is non-existent. She has no trouble. It is a question of knowing how to treat them. Firmness, she says, but at the same time one must be human. Am I human, she asks. Do I understand that they want occasional diversion, just as I do myself? I lose my head and reply No, that it is my custom to keep my servants chained up in the cellar when their work is done. This flight of satire rather spoilt by Lady B, laughing heartily, and saying that I am always so amusing.” Indeed, I found the Provincial Lady to be quite amusing!
A nice read. I wonder if I should read any of her three sequels to this novel: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime. Any comments where I should or shouldn’t, if you have read any of these, would be welcome.
Notes: • Here is a biography of E. M. Delafield (her married name: Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._D... • Persephone Books has published this classic so ergo, it must be good. My edition was from Academy Chicago.
I adore this book. The Provincial Lady is basically Bridget Jones, and I will eat my proverbial hat if Helen Fielding isn't intimately familiar with her - on first name terms, even.
The only part of it I dislike is the back cover, which reads:
"The Provincial Lady has a nice house, a nice husband (usually asleep behind The Times), and nice children. In fact, maintaining Niceness is the Provincial Lady’s goal in life—her raison d'être. She never raises her voice, rarely ventures outside Devon (why would she?), only occasionally allows herself to become vexed by the ongoing servant problem, and would be truly appalled by the confessional mode that has gripped the late 20th century. The Provincial Lady, after all, is part of what made Britain great."
It's probably the MOST WRONG and LEAST REPRESENTATIVE back-cover I've ever read. She is TOTALLY not like this. "Maintaining Niceness" is definitely not what she does when she's mentally eviscerating her nemesis, Lady B., and the diary itself IS a Confessional, albeit a 1930s one - it was first published in sections in a feminist women's magazine, and must have perfectly captured the bitter-sweet position of a 1930s wife and mother who also had the freedom and the empowerment of the women's movement behind her.
She has her own flat in London from which she write books, for goodness' sake, and her best friend is a lady-doctor. She's of her time, but in a good way, and one of the most rounded and real characters you'll ever come across.
E M Delafield is one of those ‘forgotten authors’. There are four books in one volume here, following the life of our anonymous diarist over ten to twelve years. The first book, “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” is wonderful period piece, of the trails and tribulations of life “in an village parish” in England in the period between two World Wars. It’s delightful, with some hilarious descriptions. The use of diary style (omitting articles, capitalising at whim) adds to the immediacy of the diary entries and their engaging wit. I did find that the diary style palled a bit over the course of four books, but my daughter, who lent me the book, didn’t find that at all. I was probably just being a bit picky. My favourite character in this book was Mademoiselle, the children’s French governess. She tends to speak in French, which, I suppose, E.M. Delafield’s target audience would all have read without difficulty. Mademoiselle is long-suffering par excellence and has a wonderfully enigmatic mode of expression verging on the 'prophet of doom' variety. The Provincial Lady spends a great deal of time fending off the bank manager’s letters informing her of her overdraft; this surprised me, but this was an age where a certain standard of living was expected of a certain class of people, whether they could afford it or not. The family’s house appears to stand in the only grounds capable of hosting open-air church events, and has a home farm where they send for extra eggs or cream when a visitor comes to stay. The household budget is tight, although they employ a cook, a housemaid and a gardener as well as the younger child’s governess (the older one, a boy, is at boarding school). The Provincial Lady often feels the urge to buy a new dress or hat (and does so), which is a rather endearing way of dealing with the bank manager. The book details the ordinary frustrations of such a life in a highly entertaining way – there’s not a hint of resentment or complaint, just a succession of her witty and hilarious descriptions of day-to-day events. As Book Two opens, The Provincial Lady is ready to spread her wings. This book is entitled, “The Provincial Lady Goes Further”. She’s had a book published, has a literary agent, and rents a flat in London, where she is introduced to modern ideas of feminism and self-expression. She’s horrified at all suggestions by her new acquaintances that she may one day ditch her husband Robert and her ‘dull’ life in the country. I was horrified in turn at a detail that would never be written today: her little girl is handed over to the guard in a train on her way to school, and asks if she can sit in the guard’s van with him – off they go, hand in hand! Can you imagine, today? Book Three is called, “The Provincial Lady in America”, in which she has been invited to undertake a literary tour, hopping into Canada as well. This was indeed very funny from a British point of view – I wonder how Americans and Canadians respond to it! I found her homecoming, at the end of this book, quite moving, although beautifully underplayed, as is all emotion here, the exaggerations being confined to the ridiculousness of social situations, and, in Book Four, at least two of the characters. I had high expectations of Book Four, “The Provincial Lady in Wartime”, in terms of the direction her life was taking. The accounts of English people setting their minds to war, keeping cheery while being prepared to send their sons once again to war promised well, and I was interested in how people reacted in 1939 to Hitler and the Nazis (expecting revolution in Germany at any moment) but I thought that in terms of The Provincial Lady’s attempts to do useful war work, and in what she ended up doing, the narrative became quite repetitive, and the two characters I mentioned earlier were overblown to an irritating degree. The book ends, like the others, with a new development about to begin for The Provincial Lady. I see that there’s another book, “The Provincial Lady in Russia”, which I will probably buy for my daughter and borrow from her!
Four books are included here, and each has its delights. The first: "Diary of a Provincial Lady" is just that--the life of a middle class wife and mother in Devon, complete with "Our Vicar", the snobby local grande dame in the manor house, the problems of cooks and housemaids, and a perfect stiff upper lipped husband who takes refuge behind the newspaper. (Robert, by the way, is one of my favorite characters!)
"The Provincial Lady Goes Further" satirizes London and London literary society of the period. "The Provincial Lady In America" has her view of American life, which is more benevolent than you'd expect. And the last book, "The Provincial Lady Goes To War" is perhaps the most delightful, showing Britons in the early days of the war, trying to "do their bit," and getting thwarted at every turn.
My biggest regret is that Delafield was not able to go on and continue the Lady's adventures for the rest of the war, but this book is going up on my shelf and will be there to enjoy again and again.
I’ll be discussing this on a book chat later this week so will return with a more detailed review. I don’t like rating classics as they’re classics for a reason which have stood the test of time but safe to say that this is an easy 5*. So very funny & relevant despite it being a household with ‘staff’ & despite too it having been written in the 1930’s. I defy anyone not to laugh out loud on every page! I loved it and will keep dipping in to it for ever more I suspect;)
Diary of a Provincial Lady is a wryly, gently satirical look at the lives led by upper-middle class British women in the period between the two world wars. For its time, it's quite subversive, with the Provincial Lady chafing against the restrictions placed on her by her gender and position. Delafield displays a marvellous ear for dialogue and a deft sense of the social requirements of 1930s Britain—after a particularly trying visit from the odious Lady Boxe, "Relieve my feelings by waving small red flag belonging to Vicky, which is lying on the hall-stand, and saying À la lanterne! as chauffeur drives off. Rather unfortunately, Ethel chooses this moment to walk through the hall. She says nothing, but looks astonished."
1.99 Kindle buy (great deal when these are hard to find.) Just finished first volume. Absolutely addicted. Can't put a finger on why I'm loving this so much because it seems to be a whole lot of nothing. Nevertheless, I'm just enchanted with it. I think I would have liked to have known this author in person. I'm REALLY looking forward to knowing her better...
-- "(Query here becomes unavoidable: Does not a misplaced optimism exist, common to all mankind, leading on to false conviction that social engagements, if dated sufficiently far ahead, will never really materialize?)" --
"(Query: Cannot man of our moral lapses from Truth be frequently charged upon the tactless persistence of others?)" --
"December 20th.--Rose takes me to see St. John Ervine's play, and am much amused. Overhear one lady in stalls ask another: Why don't you write a play, dear? Well, says the friend, it's so difficult what with one thing and another, to find time. Am staggered. (Query: Could I write a play myself? Could we all write plays, if only we had the time?)" --
"Go up to night-nursery and offer to read Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. Vicky says she prefers Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred. Robin says that he would like Gulliver's Travels. Compromise on Grimm's Fairy Tales, although slightly uneasy as to their being in accordance with best modern ideals. Both children take immense interest in story of highly undesirable person who wins fortune, fame, and beautiful Princess by means of lies, violence, and treachery. Feel sure that this must have disastrous effect on both in years to come." --
"(Query: Does motherhood lead to cynicism? This contrary to every convention of art, literature, or morality, but cannot altogether escape conviction that answer may be in the affirmative.)" --
"I go back to Rose's flat, and display waves (new hairstyle), and am told that I look fifteen years younger--which leaves me wondering what on earth I could have looked like before, and how long I have been looking it." --
"Go to a large establishment which is having a Sale in order to buy sheets. Find, to my horror, that I return having not only bought sheets, but blue lace tea-gown, six pads of writing paper, ruled, small hair-slide, remnant of red brocade, and reversible black and white bath-mat, with slight flaw in it. Cannot imagine how any of it happened."
So appeals to my sense of humor. Enjoying immensely. ----------------
THE PROVINCIAL LADY IN LONDON
Still the same self-abnegating lady, but now she's got a flat in London where she can go to escape domestic duties and "write." (She just published her first book: enormous success.) I envy her. At the same time, what domestic duties does she really have to complain about (and she complains about them rather well)...kids are at boarding school, husband is around but certainly not in the way in any manner, has a cook, a maid, a gardener. WHAT DOES SHE DO?? Write letters for groceries, pay bills (always overdrafting), go to lunch with friends, read, dabble in writing. I think her life sounds rather nice and easy.
Nevertheless, she's adorable and I LOVE reading this stuff!
-- "Cricket decidedly not my game, but this reflection closely followed by unavoidable enquiry: What is? Answer comes there none. (I sympathize)
-- Extraordinary and quite unheralded idea springs into my mind to the effect that it is definitely agreeable to find myself traveling anywhere, for any purpose, without dear Robert or either of the dear children. Am extremely aghast at this unnatural outbreak and try to ignore it.
-- (Have often wondered to what extent mothers, if left to themselves, would carry universal instinct for putting off everything in the world until after children have gone to school? Feel certain that this law would, if it were possible, embrace everything in life, death itself included.)
-- (Note: Self-knowledge possibly beneficial, but almost always unpleasant to a degree.)
-- Miss S. admits she is looking forward to a Nice Cup of Tea and perhaps a Lay-Down, when she gets home. Reflect, not for the first time, that there are advantages in being a spinster. Should be sorry to say exactly how long it is since I last had a Lay-Down myself, without being disturbed at least fourteen times in the course of it.
-- Query: Is it possible to reconcile hostile attitude invariably exhibited by all children towards process of teeth-cleaning with phenomenal rapidity with which they demolish tube after tube of toothpaste?
-- THE PROVINCIAL LADY IN AMERICA/THE PROVINCIAL LADY IN WARTIME/THE PROVINCIAL LADY GOES TO RUSSIA
Just finished this up last night (Dec 2, 2014). It became sort of an "in-between-other-book" read, you can easily drop it and pick it back up because of its diary rather than story-like quality.
I enjoyed it very much, give it 5 stars for that, not for life-changing content. Recommended to any anglophile or lover of good writing and lots of meandering. If you're the type who must have plot and flow, this is not for you. For me, it just felt like talking to an old and good friend, I could often relate to her and loved her voice.
Dismayed to discover the contagious effect of Delafield's pronoun-lacking style and am beginning to wonder when "I" shall return to my sentences. ;) ************************ Delafield offers a wry look at 1930s middle-class English life. A fun read and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read it in weekly installments, as it was originally published. Excellent reading for social historians.
Although this is not a Persephone book, I am putting it on my persephone shelf, because Delafield is one of the P. writers and Nicola Beauman, founder of P., wrote the introduction for the edition I read (not pictured here).
Screamingly, delightfully, deliciously funny. Lots of literary allusions as well as lots of "Yep, I've been there too" moments. She shows the hilarity and absurdity of ordinary, prosaic, frustrating situations. The original, London, and America are probably the best, although if you're insatiable for more Provinicial Lady (like me) it's great to have the Wartime and Russia diaries to dip into too.
January 28: First discovered Diary of a Provincial Lady by listening to the BBC radio adaptation (abridged) a few weeks ago, read perfectly by Claire Skinner. Then read Idarah's glowing and amusing review on goodreads. Bought and devoured hardback Virago edition with very apt rose print cover design.
January 29: Highly recommended this on goodreads. Find it absolutely delightful, often hilarious. Thinking of husband Robert's sudden opinion of Old Mrs Blenkinsop, children's discovery and strategic use of bad words, the perfectly captured literary celebrities plus ingenious ending, among so many examples. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mentioned? Humour is similar I feel - played straight but open to detection of hidden jokes.
Excellent introduction by Jilly Cooper who agrees that Life is Often Like This. Note: Essential that readers (a) have sense of humour (in short supply these days) and (b) not Take Themselves Too Seriously (ditto). (Query: Do I lend Diary to best friend, knowing I may never see it again? Sure she'll love it, too. Then remember it is her birthday soon.)
So wonderful. This particular omnibus contains the canonical 4 Provincial Lady books - Diary of, Goes Further, In America, In Wartime: it does not contain the misleadingly titled PL in Russia, as this was a non-fiction work by Delafield originally published as Bricks without Straw, and is not in the least in the style of the PL books. There is an excellent intro by her friend the novelist Kate O'Brien, which strongly makes the point that has been overlooked by so many writing about Delafield, that the Provincial Lady is not autobiographical and EMD was a very different character (I also suspect that her husband was less like 'Robert' than has been given credit for.)
A wonderful book! Very witty and gives an insight into the pre war and war times. It was so of the time of the 1930's where people were still in service. There are great episodes like the constant trip to the pawnbrokers to spending more than their means which seemed to be a common occurance being overdrawn at the bank Robert the husbands view was that writing a diary was a waste of time. Wonderful characters from the vicars wife, Lady B to Helen Wheels the cat who was always having kittens and the plight of the bulbs! I loved it!
The day to day life of this provincial lady is not very exciting, she manages the household budget (badly), tries not to upset the staff or dote on her children too much, gets annoyed with the local 'bigwig', gets involved in local fundraising efforts, meets friends and enters writing competitions. It is all told with a wry humour, which makes the book enjoyable, but it was probably better as a series of anecdotes in ladies magazine "Time and Tide" than as a novel.
One of my favourite books. I'm currently on my third copy (the other two having been read so much they fell to pieces!) and still read it when I want to think about life the way it apparently used to be in Britain between the wars. Bear in mind though that it was meant to be serialised (in Time and Tide magazine), so won't bear reading in long sessions or might seem repetative.
Before Bridget Jones, there was the Provincial Lady. Once a roaring success on both sides of the Atlantic, this funny, ironic, and understated novel is little known now. If you are a fan of English countryside, the humor of floundering conversations, and the tyranny of domestic life, Read On.
Light relief of a purely English kind. It has a charm all of its own that meant I couldn't put it down. The whims and wherefors of British life are so comical and beautifully observed. We haven't changed all that much now you know. Toast
I enjoy reading books that give readers a glimpse of how life once was lived in by gone days. This book is the diary of what I would describe a middle class woman of her day. Some of her concerns can seem quite silly while other concerns are still the concerns most of us deal with daily....sick children, strained finances and keeping cordial relationships with others in our sphere. I found it a good book to read before bed each evening as it is a gentle story of a gentle woman.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield published in London in 1930 My first reaction to this book was that it is a direct precursor to Bridget Jones Diary. The dialogue, diary entries, move along at a rapid pace combining wit with a sharp eye on the social mores of the time. Where it differs is in the writer’s self-confidence, the sense you get that she knows that she is has independent identity even as she attempts to meet the expectations of the social world determined by her husband’s position as agent to the local landowner and his wife Lady Boxe who queens it over the town. The social hierarchy is minutely described particularly in the nuances of rank which have more to do with title than money. Committee positions are determined by the rank of the member’s husband. “Sudden appearance of Our Vicar’s wife, who says apologetically that she made a mistake about the time. I beg her to take the chair. She refuses. I insist. She says No, no, positively not and takes it.” The topic of money is a little confusing as the narrator is always being called on by the bank to reduce her overdraft, but at the same time she has enough money to have a nanny, parlor maid and a cook. When she is invited to spend some time in the South of France with a friend she is able to pay her way even if she doesn’t travel first class. It is very funny. The way she describes the torrent of gossip that always seems to pour from the mouth of Our Vicar’s wife not gives a great sense of the speaker and her sense of being possessor of all truths, but also paints a picture of the small community they exist in. Particularly funny too is the way the cooks and maids hold their employers in thrall. Good help being so hard to find it seems post WWI. But there is depth to the novella too. As much as women of my mother’s generation must have loved the humor of this book to make it and its sequels such a big seller, I am sure that for many of them identified with the Provincial Lady as she tried to cling to her own identity while negotiating the demands of a social position defined by her husband’s career. I can remember how frustrated my mother was when the Managing Director’s wife would expect her to drop everything to entertain the wife of someone visiting the factory. If my mother was on the phone when Lady X needed to talk to her she would just get the exchange to interrupt the call so that her demands could be issued without delay. Delafield wrote for the magazine Time and Tide in its early feminist days and every now and then she brings that into the novella to remind us that the Provincial Lady is a writer. After reading an article about George Bernard Shaw’s women she remarks that “intelligent women can perhaps best perform their duty towards their own sex by the devastating process of telling them the truth about themselves.” The Diary may at first seem shallow humor, but as it draws you in deeper ideas emerge. I can’t wait to read the next three novellas in the series.
This delightful book is full of the daily dramas and frustrations of an upper-middle class English woman living in the West Country between the wars - Has the laundry lost a sheet? Will Cook give notice? Why is she yet again overdrawn at the Bank? Her pleasures are the Women's Institute, magazine competitions, visits from friends and occasional trips to London (less frequent than she would like from rural Devon), gossip with Our Vicar's wife and scoring off - in imagination, if not in reality- the local grande dame, the odiously overbearing Lady Boxe. From an earnest viewpoint, of course we recognise the conventional limitations of contemporary women's lives- the restrictions of class and constraints of a limited budget- the diarist is not well-off but complicated social expectations can't be ignored. E. M. Delafield wrote for publication in "Time and Tide", the periodical she often references, and evoked the experiences she shared with her readers. She was the least earnest of writers. Her gift was subverting the tedium and difficulties of life rather than lamenting them. Circumstances offer endless wry entertainment. Her sense of irony and the absurd finds plenty of fun in a rainy picnic with uncongenial companions as well as in the snobbery and self-importance of the big fish in little ponds she paints with lethal wit. The Diary teems with characters sketched in so sharply that they are unforgettable: husband Robert, taciturn and morose behind "The Times"; Mademoiselle perpetually anticipating disaster; her children Vicky and Robin to whom she is a fond mother, though carefully detached in public - as times required; demanding houseguests. The Diarist herself, self-deprecatingly humorous in all troubles but doggedly swimming through, is a marvellous companion. I couldn't enjoy a good read more.
This volume contains not only The Diary of a Provincial Lady but three sequels as well: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime. I have finished and enjoyed the first three books. I've decided that I will add each book to my shelf as a separate entity although this complete edition is the one I actually own.
We never get to know the provincial lady's name but her diary reveals much about her life and family in the 1930s. Daily life revolves around household and family needs, managing the servants but keeping them happy, keeping the bank at bay when they write about the latest overdraft, keeping the latest litter of kittens from husband Robert's notice.... There are social calls to make and to receive, the Vicar's wife with her constant demands for participation in concerts, fund-raisers, and Women's Institute meetings, Lady "B" before whom she strives to make a good impression, and "old friends" some whom our provincial lady really doesn't remember. Son Robin is away at school, daughter Vicky is still taught by a French governess when the entries begin. I've loved the dry humour of this series. For all her domesticity, and her fixation on clothing and a "shampoo and set" our lady aims to be a modern woman and a feminist. Her cynical asides are hilarious as are her interactions with Mademoiselle, Vicky's governess. Husband Robert is almost eloquent in his silence. Highly recommended to those who can appreciate books where "nothing much happens".
Rachel Johnson writes in the introduction of my copy, "Well done! If I might say so, you have made the perfect selection, for this book is a proper English treat, like a cream tea after a long, muddy country walk." Laugh-out-loud funny, this story reads like a journal of daily details of family, finances, class levels, and a delight in living. "Exchange customary graceful farewells with host and hostess, saying how much I have enjoyed coming. (Query here suggests itself, as often before: Is it utterly impossible to combine the amenities of civilization with even the minimum of honesty required to satisfy the voice of conscience? Answer still in abeyance at present.)" Or "February 28th - Notice, and am gratified by appearance of large clump of crocuses near the front gate. Should like to make whimsical and charming reference to these, and try to fancy myself as 'Elizabeth of the German Garden,' but am interrupted by Cook, saying that the Fish is here, but he's only brought cod and haddock, and the haddock doesn't smell any too fresh, so what about cod? Have noticed that Life is like that." Savor this one for yourself, trust me.
I first encountered The Diary of a Provincial Lady in the late 1990s when it was serialised on Radio 4. Coming to it as a reader, I still heard it internally in the voice of the lady narrator. I think in some ways that this was its ideal format, with Imelda Staunton maintaining that breezily optimistic tone that seems constantly about to crack but never quite does. Generally acknowledged as a thinly (very thinly) disguised autobiography, The Diary of a Provincial Lady has the same pin-sharp humour as Barbara Pym and Stella Gibbons with Delafield's only delightful blend of cringe humour and domestic mishaps. The nameless narrator is forever struggling to maintain her stance in the lower upper classes, all the while thwarted by her rebelling household. This is comedy at its most English, with a crispness and a clarity that makes it as fresh now as it was when it was first released.