On my autumn reading list was the book The Road to Monticello, by Kevin J. Hayes., I got this book in September and put it away for autumn evenings when the weather would be cool, the night would come early, and I would want to learn something new about one of our most interesting presidents, Thomas Jefferson. Given all of the tumult around here in the past few months combined with the busy activities of the holidays, I just didn’t feel like reading about Thomas Jefferson. I had neither the time nor the energy for reading an academic tome like this one. I think Jefferson was great, but I just needed a book I could read in snippets — at the doctor’s office, in the carpool line, during Tom’s basketball practice, while cooking dinners, and — yes — even after two funerals. I needed something light that could help cheer me up.
I was lucky enough to have found the perfect book.
Shakespeare? Tolstoy? More Laura Ingalls Wilder? Dante?
No. None of the above.
According to their website, British-based Persephone Books “prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget. We sell mainly through mail order, through selected shops and we have our own shops.”
After reading Persephone’s rather detailed and quite entertaining catalogue, I decided to track down the books of one of their featured authors: E.M. Delafield.
From Wikipedia: “Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture (9 June 1890 – 2 December 1943), commonly known as E. M. Delafield, was a prolific 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 tracked down Diary of a Provincial Lady stateside and ordered a copy. The kind bookseller generously threw in a copy of Delafield’s sequel, The Provincial Lady in London, free of charge. I was cheered by that friendly gesture even before I opened the book’s cover. While the (thinly-veiled) fictional diary of a British housewife who becomes a published author might not seem appealing subject material for everyone, the wit and humor with which this book is written has universal appeal. I frequently laughed aloud as I read the first book, and it was the kind of book I was sad to see end.
I’ll share some of my favorite funny excerpts from the books tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve now burned through The Diary of a Provincial Lady, The Provincial Lady in London, and The Provincial Lady in America, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Provincial Lady in Wartime in the mail. I also have I Visit the Soviets (titled The Provincial Lady in Russia in the U.S.) for future reading. I visited the then-Soviet Union in 1990 as a college exchange student, and I look forward to comparing Delafield’s view of her visit there with my own.
There is solace in good books. I’m ready and re-energized now. I look forward to re-connecting with Thomas Jefferson before winter’s end.