Forgotten Authors: E M Delafield
Sunday 10 August 2008
Edmée Elizabeth Monica De La Pasture lived through two world wars, writing immensely popular novels, stories and non-fiction, could be as laugh-out-loud funny as PG Wodehouse, and numbered housewives and prime ministers among her fans. The Sussex-born daughter of a Count, she enlisted as a nurse in the First World War and as a lowly ARP worker in the second, and also worked on a Russian collective farm. In the UK, only a handful of her 30-plus publications can now be found on bookshelves.
Her five most famous books are largely autobiographical. The Diary of a Provincial Lady chronicles the author's daily life as she tries to balance the housekeeping books and run a family. Written in a deceptively relaxed shorthand, it's a Pooterish masterpiece of 20th-century humour that shows how easily Delafield could communicate unspoken feelings of embarrassment and annoyance. Here she is at tea:
"Lady B asks me how the children are, and adds, to the table at large, that I am 'A Perfect Mother'. Am naturally avoided, conversationally, after this, by everybody at the teatable. Later on, Lady B tells us about the South of France. She quotes repartees made by herself in French, and then translates them. (Unavoidable query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?)" And here she is on the blackouts: "Serena alleges that anonymous friend of hers goes out in the dark with extra layer of chalk-white powder on her nose so as to be seen, and resembles the Dong With The Luminous Nose. (Query: Is it in any way true that war very often brings out the best in civil population? Answer: So far as I am concerned, Not at all.)"
Perhaps Delafield's gossamer charm is not suited to coarser times. Virago did her no favours by shoving four volumes into one dense paperback, prefaced with a peculiarly mean-spirited forward that they later had the good sense to remove. Provincial Lady was eventually serialised for radio in the UK, but Delafield's other novels remain virtually lost. The diaries are comedies of manners, but she also tackled lesbian feelings, real-life murder, alcoholism, all manner of family cruelties, adulteries and betrayals. Delafield's reasonable voice is currently out of favour, but thankfully she survives in the nation's second-hand bookshops, awaiting rediscovery.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 4 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 5 New Apple TV release date and price: streaming box and games console will launch in October
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
James Bond is a 'very lonely, sexist misogynist', says Daniel Craig
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms