Fictional diary of an upper-middle class lady living in a small English village between the wars, trying to keep up appearances on a too-small budget; manage her moody servants; and deal with high-spirited children, a flighty French governess, and a cold, bored husband. It doesn't sound like it should be funny, but it is, in that dry, deprecating, witty English way. As one reviewer said, "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."
I liked it much better than the book it reminded me of: Bridget Jones' Diary. All I got from *that* book was a strong desire to smack Bridget up-side the head and tell her to get a life. I'd never want to spend time with irritating & shallow Bridget. But I think I'd enjoy being friends with the PL, who is intelligent & insightful, if a bit lacking in confidence and time to do any reading. I sympathized with her preoccupations (kids, household, neighbors, husband, lack of time for herself) more than Bridget's (dating, drinking, smoking & obsessing about her weight.) I don't think it had the same effect on me that it had at the time of publication (1931) though. While I laughed out loud several times at her observations about the human condition, I was also saddened by how women were viewed then and what narrow worlds they inhabited. A number of reviews have called the Lady whiney & shallow, but I think we'd all seem that way if we had to live in those circumstances and with her morose, hypercritical jerk of a husband. The saving grace of the book is her observations and asides about what she's really thinking. Here are some examples:
At a party given by the insufferably superior Lady B, "Lady B asks me at tea 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 tea-table" and later, "Shall she, Lady B, ring for my car? Refrain from replying that no amount of ringing will bring my car to the door all by itself, and say instead that I walked. Lady B exclaims that this is Impossible, and that I am Too Marvelous, Altogether. Take my leave before she can add that I am such a Perfect Countrywoman, which I feel is coming next."
"(Mem.: Theory that mothers think their own children superior to any others Absolute Nonsense. Can see only too plainly that Micky easily surpasses Robin and Vicky in looks, charm, and good manner – and am very much annoyed about it.)"
"Weather cold and disagreeable, and I complain. Robert [her husband:] asserts that it is really quite warm, only I don't take enough exercise. Have often noticed curious and prevalent masculine delusion, t othe effect that smypahy should never, on any account, be offered when minor ills of life are in question."
"To all enquiries as to whether [her children:] are cold, they invariably reply, with aggrieved expressions, that they are Boiling. Should like scientific or psychological explanation of this singular state of affairs, and mentally reserve the question for bringing forward on the next occasion of finding myself in intellectual society. This, however, seems at the moment remote in the extreme."