E M Delafield

I was thinking – it only seems fair that I should share with you some of the fruits of my research, which means that you get the fun bits without having to write huge swathes and have your supervisor ask you to re-write them. Basically, you’re getting the fun bit of my doctoral work, without even having to pay university fees.

Don’t worry, I shan’t quote reams of literary criticism or anything like that, but part of my recent work has been looking through old periodicals for reviews of the Provincial Lady books. And I thought you might quite enjoy the review Time and Tide gave to my favourite of the series, The Provincial Lady Goes Further. A bit nepotistic, since PLGF was serialised in Time and Tide, but never mind…

Alongside this review is a picture I came across by accident in another issue of Time and Tide – not sure how flattered EMD would have been by this likeness, but thought I’d share it with you nonetheless.

Let me know if this sort of thing interests you, and I’ll pop some more contemporary reviews in as and when I find them.

Time and Tide, November 12th 1932
Review by Francis Iles
‘Miss Delafield’s last book about her Provincial Lady was the Book Society’s first choice for December, 1930; the present one, though obviously a better book, is not even on their recommended list. As so often before in connection with the Book Society, one wonders and one wonders. Oh, ruddier than the Ike… [Simon’s note: this is a reference to Red Ike, one of the Book Society choices]
Miss Delafield has always seemed to me a writer who has not received quite her due. I have seen it written, and by a responsible critic, that when one has read one of her books one has read them all. The only explanation of such a remark is that the responsible critic himself has not read them all; for, with the exception of the impishly experimental Mr. C. S. Forrester, I know of no other author who has ever produced four consecutive books more different in every respect than A Reversion to Type, Messalina of the Suburbs, Mrs. Harter, and The Chip and the Block.

For the sly humour that arises out of a maliciously penetrating observation of character, with never a word of superfluous explanation or a jog of the reader’s elbow, and still more for economical, mordant delineation of feminine character through dialogue (her men are not always so successful) Miss Delafield has no equal. Her technique is as brilliant as it is self-effacing. She can pack more self-revelation into a couple of ordinary spoken sentences, than any other novelist. I always remember a certain Vicar’s Wife in one of her books, who appears only once and who speaks only five words, but from those five words we at once know everything there is to be known about her; we know what her husband thought about her and what her cook, we know exactly how she would have decorated the parish hall for a Penny Reading, and why she could never cook an omelette. She is watching a set of very inferior country tennis, and one of the players has just muffed a shot; the Vicar’s Wife turns to her neighbour and says brightly: “Just like Wimbledon , isn’t it?” Miss Delafield, in fact, lacks only a rather stronger sense of construction and plot to be one of the most important novelists writing today; for her more serious work, though less intensely individual, will stand comparison with any other writer’s, while in her own particular line of satirical humour she is unsurpassed.
The Provincial Lady Goes Further is, of course, Miss Delafield at her very lightest, and it is one of the wittiest books that has appeared for years. I read it at a sitting; and, though perhaps it would have been better taken in 100-page doses, the book stood it, which its predecessor did not. It is a better book than The Diary of a Provincial Lady because the interest is more diversified. The scene shifts more rapidly, between the country and London and even to a Literary Congress in Belgium , with the result that we meet a better-contrasted set of people. Moreover the Provincial Lady herself is shown as less of a figure of fun than in the earlier book, so that we really can believe that she has written the important novel which has opened the doors of Bloomsbury to her, with such admirable results for the reader. The whole thing is a little masterpiece of sly fun, which one will want to buy and keep because it will bear endless re-reading.’

13 thoughts on “E M Delafield

  • March 10, 2010 at 10:23 pm
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    This is absolutely wonderful, Simon! So interesting, and I love the portrait! I find it fascinating to read old reviews and newspaper articles mainly for the writing style; isn't it amazing how much modes of speech and expression have changed over time? Please do post more of this sort of thing – I for one would be delighted to read them.

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  • March 10, 2010 at 10:56 pm
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    I adore reviews, old or new, and particularly love ones of favourite books or favourite authors (like Delafield). I'd love to see more!

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  • March 11, 2010 at 4:45 am
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    What a fun post! I love coming across old reviews of books I love, particularly if the reviewer is sensible enough to love them as I do. Please do post more like this!

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  • March 11, 2010 at 6:50 am
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    I can cook an omelette! Truly, I can!

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  • March 11, 2010 at 6:51 am
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    Yes please, do more posts like this. I love the Provincial Lady who I came to via Jilly Cooper (the Violets and Vinegar anthology)quite a few years ago.

    Thank you for sharing your research with your readers.

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  • March 11, 2010 at 8:43 am
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    Thanks for this, Simon, it's wonderful. Makes me want to reread TPLGF again. Feel free to share any more reviews you find, although I can't think you're doing serious research. Reading old copies of Time & Tide sounds like bliss to me. Does your supervisor know you're enjoying yourself this much?

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  • March 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm
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    Oh I really enjoyed that! Yes please to more reviews of the day! What was that line? 'her men are not always so successful' or something like that. Don't ask me why but it made my eyes widen as it says something about the time it was written. Wait a minute! There could be a book here. I for one could sit quite happily for hours reading reviews of books from this era. Sorry, just thinking out loud there.

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  • March 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm
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    Please keep posting more reviews and articles! It would be so interesting to learn how some of my favourite books were received on publication. What is the title of your thesis?

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  • March 11, 2010 at 3:26 pm
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    Yes, that is really interesting and I love the picture. She looks a very determined character – as I would have expected.

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  • March 12, 2010 at 1:27 am
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    I agree with Darlene. I love reading book reviews. Please continue with this type of post.

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  • March 14, 2010 at 4:28 am
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    I loved this review. Have been trying for ages to find a Delafield but have failed! Older books are available in my part of the world so its only a question of digging further.

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