EM Delafield 

One of the funniest English authors, delicious humor/humour: best known for the outrageously funny and subtle Diary of a Provincial Lady, she also wrote delicate novels.  Regarded by some as a successor to Jane Austen.  She looks grossly under-represented on the Web ( I was inspired to make this page when I needed a link to EMD from a talk by Dom. Nicholas Seymour about Health & Wealth in Jane Austen) .

The Diary appeared weekly in Time and Tide magazine and featured her experiences very thinly disguised. Her husband, a dull but long-suffering land agent, is pilloried gently, and his employer is mercilessly guyed. My grandmother asked her how she got away with it, and Emmie replied that her friends always seemed to recognise other people in the diaries, but never themselves.  Indeed in the preface to The Way Things Are she writes: "A good many of the characters in this novel have been drawn, as usual, from persons now living; but the author hopes very much that they will only recognise one another"

EMD's Daughter and Grandchildren are living in Vancouver, BC! In May 2001 I got an email from one of them so hopefully there will be a lot more material about EMD available. (I gather they are still there in 2005, but no more material as yet alas!) Her daughter (Rosamund Dashwood) wrote a diary of her own called Provincial Daughter which adopts a similar style to describe her life as a housewife in the 1950.  It has been republished by Virago.  Rosamund Dashwood also wrote two articles for The Olide, see below.

Her real name was Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood and there are a 6 photos of her in the National Portrait Gallery.  Many of her literary papers are deposited in the library of the University of British Columbia - an inventory of them is here.

Other news:

  • EMD's daughter did some articles on her for The Oldie which they have sent me to post on the web:
    • Diary of  a provincial daughter - recollections of her mother.
    • Small heap in the road - reminiscences of Rosamund's childhood  not posted yet - alas they were sent on paper!
  • An e-correspondent has sent some coments on EMD's novels from Maurice McCullen's book E.M. Delafield.
  • There is now a webiste devoted to Arthur Watts who illustrated The Provinical Lady and much else.
  • Persephone books  re-published Consequences. And Virago would also like our ideas of any other EMDs they should re-issue. Do check Persephone and Virago!
  • Here is a photo of EMD as a baby, and a postcard she sent to her husband from Russia. (front & back)
  • Laura Bodon-Campbell, a Ca based Dela-phile has a few EMD books available from her website. She also discovered that EMD's husband had a relative (D Dashwood) in British Colombia, where EMDs descendants now live.
  • The Folio Society re-published The Unlucky Family - a delicious comic novel by EMD's mother - in 1980. This is sadly out of print but I have obtained a copy, which has some interesting material in the foreword by Auberon and Daisy Waugh.
  • An e-correspondent has some additional comments on EMD's books.
  • Anyone interested in researching EMD's war work in the PRO?  I've had a go but can't find anything
  • Here is an image of EMD's signature.
  • Here are some excerpts from Everyman's Modern Humor (1940)
  • An e-correspondent has kindly sent me a mini-biography from Book and Magazine Collector and her obituary in Punch.

This page last updated 6 Jan 2006.  If you have any contributions on EMD please EMail me.

We now have: 
  • The start of the Diary of a Provincial Lady 
  • An extract from The Provincial Lady Goes Further (in which my late grandparents make a brief cameo appearance) 
  • Who's Who - very partial at the moment. 
  • An extract from her first novel Zella Sees Herself 
  • A list of her published works 
  • Biographical Fragments and references to some books about EMD 
  • Other links: well at present The only link I have found is to a book catalogue (here). If there are more, please EMail me at and I will add them. 
  • A little about her Daughter's book called Provincial Daughter.
If you haven't read the Provincial Lady before try the opening. You will either love it or hate it, I think. 
Robert (with Cook) in 1939
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The start of Diary of a Provincial Lady

November 7th Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her, and beg her to sit down while I just finish the bulbs. Lady B. makes a determined attempt to sit down in armchair where I have already placed two bulb-bowls and the bag of charcoal, is headed off just in time, and takes the sofa. 

       Do I know, she asks, how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September really, even October, is the time. Do I know that the only really reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem? Cannot catch the name of the firm, which is Dutch, but reply Yes I do know, but I think it is my duty to but Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately, Vicky comes into the drawing room later and says: "Oh, mummie, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworth's?" 

    Lady B stays to tea. (Mem. Bread-and-butter too thick, speak to Ethel.) We talk some more about bulbs, the Dutch School of Painting, our Vicar's Wife, sciatica, and All Quiet on the Western Front.

(Query: is it possible to cultivate the art of conversation while living in the country all the year round?) 

Lady B enquires after the children. Tell her that Robin - whom I refer to in a detached way as "the boy" so that she shan't think I am foolish about him - is getting on fairly well at school, and that Mademoiselle says Vicky is starting a cold. 

Do I realise, says Lady B., that the Cold habit is entirely unnecessary, and can be avoided by giving the child a nasal douche of salt-and-water every morning before breakfast? Think of several rather tart and witty rejoinders to this, but unfortunately not until Lady B.'s Bentley has taken her away. 

Lady Boxe
Finish the bulbs and put them in the cellar. Feel that after all the cellar is probably draughty, change my mind, and take them all up to the attic. 

Cook says something is wrong with the range 

November 8th - Robert has looked at the range and says nothing wrong whatever. Makes unoriginal suggestion about pulling out dampers. Cook very angry, and will probably give notice. Try to propitiate her by saying that we are going to Bournemouth for Robert's half-term, and that will give the household a rest. Cook says austerely that that will take the opportunity to do some extra cleaning. Wish I could believe this was true. 

Preparations for Bournemouth rather marred by discovering that Robert, in bringing down the suit-cases from the attic, has broken three of the bulb-bowls. Says he understood that I had put them in the cellar, and so wasn't expecting them. 

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From a Provincial Lady Goes Further

October 7th - Extraordinary behaviour of dear Rose, with whom I am engaged - and have been for days past - to go and have supper tonight. Just as I am trying to decide whether bus to Portland Street or tube to Oxford Circus will be preferable, I am called up on telephone by Rose's married niece, who lives in Hertfordshire, and is young and modern, to say that speaker for her Women's Institute night has failed, and that Rose, one being appealed to, has at once suggested my name and expressed complete willingness to dispense with my society for the evening. Utter impossibility of pleading previous engagement is obvious; I contemplate for an instant saying that I have influenza, but remember in time that niece, very intelligently, started the conversation by asking how I was, and that I replied Splendid, thanks - and there is nothing for it but to agree. (Query - I should very much like to know whether it was for this that I left Devonshire.) Think out several short, but sharply worded, letters to Rose, but time fails; I can only put brush -and comb, slippers, sponge, three books, pyjamas and hot-water bottle into case - discover later that I have forgotten powder-puff and am very angry, but to no avail - and repair by train to Hertfordshire.

Spend most of the journey in remembering all that I know of Rose's niece, which is that she is well under thirty, pretty, talented, tremendous social success, amazingly good at games, dancing, and - I think - everything else in the world, and married to brilliantly clever young man who is said to have Made Himself a Name, though cannot at the moment recollect how. Have strong impulse to turn straight round and go home again, sooner than confront so much efficiency, but non-stop train renders this course impracticable.

Niece meets me - clothes immensely superior to anything that I have ever had, or shall have - is charming, expresses gratitude, and asks what I am going to talk about. I reply, Amateur Theatricals. Excellent, or course, she says unconvincingly, and adds that the Institute has a large Dramatic Society already, that they are regularly produced by a well-known professional actor, husband of Vice-President, and were very well placed in recent village-drama competition, open to all England.

At this I naturally wilt altogether, and say Then perhaps better talk about books or something - which sounds weak, even as I say it, and am convinced that niece feels the same, though she remains imperturbably charming. She drives competently through the night, negotiates awkward entrance to garage equally well, extracts my bag and says It is Heavy - which is undeniable owing to books, but cannot say so as this would look as though I thought her house likely to be inadequately supplied - and conducts me to a perfectly delightful, entirely modern, house, which I feel certain - rightly, I discover later - has every newest labour-saving device ever invented. Bathroom especially - (all appears to be solid marble, black-and-white tiles, and dazzling polish) - impresses me immeasurably. Think regretfully, but with undiminished affection, of extremely inferior edition at home - paint peeling in several directions, brass taps turning green at intervals until treated by the housemaid, and irregular collection of home-made brackets on walls, bearing terrific accumulation of half-empty bottles, tins of talcum powder and packets of Lux.

Niece shows me her children - charming small boy, angelic baby - both needless to say have curls. She asks civilly about Robin and Vicky, and I can think of nothing whatever to the credit of either, so merely reply that they are at school. N.B. Victorian theory as to maternal pride now utterly discredited. Affection, yes. Pride, no.

We have dinner - niece has changed into blue frock which suits her and is, of course, exactly right for the occasion. I do the best I can with old red dress and small red cap that succeeds in being thoroughly unbecoming without looking in the least up to date, and endeavour to make wretched little compact from bag do duty for missing powder-puff. Results not good. We have a meal, am introduced to husband - also young - and we talk about Rose, mutual friends, Time and Tide and Electrolux cleaners.

Evening at Institute reasonably successful - am much impressed by further display of efficiency from niece, as President - I speak about Books, and obtain laughs by introduction of three entirely irrelevant anecdotes, am introduced to felt hat and fur coat, felt hat and blue jumper, felt hat and tweeds, and so on. Names of all of them alike remain impenetrably mysterious, as mine no doubt to them. (Flight of fancy here as to whether this deplorable but customary, state of affairs is in reality unavoidable? Theory exists that it has been overcome in America, whose introductions always entirely audible and frequently accompanied by short biographical sketch. Should like to go to America.)

Niece asks kindly if I am tired. I say No, not at all, which is a lie, and she presently takes me home and I go to bed. Spare-room admirable in every respect, but no waste-paper basket. This solitary flaw in general perfection a positive relief.
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Books by EM Delafield

I have drawn mostly on Violet Powell for the descriptions of these books, most of which I have not read (yet).  The ones I have are starred.
There is also a delightful book by EMD's daughter called Provincial Daughter (which I have now got and read. I also have a spare copy if anyone needs it - do email).
* Ed Knoblock is the subject of one of the delightful Gielgoofs when Gielgud was having lunch with Knoblock at his club and remarked, of someone who had just come in "that's the second most boring man in London"  "Who's the most boring?" "Ed Knoblock" replied G immediately, and then realising .. "O I didn't mean you, I meant ... some other Ed Knoblock"
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Biographical Fragments

Her real name was Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood I understand she was known as "Emmie" (or "Emdée") to her close friend and Elizabeth generally. She was born on 9th June1890 in Steyning (or Aldrington), Sussex, the elder daughter of Count Henry Philip Ducarel de la Pasture, of  Llandogo Priory, Monmouthshire, and Elizabeth Lydia Rosabelle, daughter of Edward William Bonham, who as Mrs Henry de la Pasture, became known as a novelist. (EMD's nom de plume Delafield was a thin disguise suggested by Yoe).  She was a debutante in 1909, although it is not known if she ever formally 'came out'. After Count Henry died her mother married Sir Hugh Clifford GCMG, a distinguished colonial governor who governed the Gold Coast (1912-19), Nigeria (1919-25), Ceylon (1925-27) and the Malay States with Borneo (1927-29) when he resigned, due to insanity.

In 1911 EMD was accepted as a postulant by a French Religious Order established in Belgium. Her moving account of the experience The Brides of Heaven was written in 1931 & published in Powell's Biography. "The motives which led me, as soon as I was 21, to enter a French Religious Order are worthy of little discussion, and less respect" she begins. This chilling but not un-symapathetic account includes being told by the Superior that if a doctor advised a surgical operation "your Superiors will decided whether your life is of sufficient value to the community to justify the expense. If it is not, you will either get better without the operation or die. In either case you will be doing the will of God and nothing else matters." She finally left when she learned that Yoé was planning to join another enclosed Order: 'the thought of the utter and complete earthly separation that must necessarily take place between us was more than I could bear'

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 she worked as a nurse in a voluntary aid detachment in Exeter, under the formidable command of Georgina Buller (daughter of a VC-winning General and later a DBE) , and her first novel Zella Sees Herself was published in 1917.  At the end of the War she was working for the South-West Region of the Ministry of National Service in Bristol, and had published 2 more novels. She continued to publish 1-2 per year until nearly the end of her life.

On 17 July 1919 she married Major Paul Dashwood. After two years in the Malay States (was this connected in any way with her step-father - though of course he was governor later), she insisted on coming back to England and they lived in Croyle, a lovely old house in Kentisbeare, Devon, on the Bradfield estate where Paul became the land agent.   She had two children (Lionel and Rosamund, known in the Diary as Robin and Vicky).

At the initial meeting of the Kentisbeare Women's Institute EMD was unanimously elected President, and remained so until she died.

She became great friends with Lady Rhondda and became a Director of Time and Tide and when the Editor 'wanted some light "middles", preferably in serial form, she promised to think of something to submit'.  Hence The Provincial Lady was born in 1930, and (in my view) her immortality was assured. This carried on until she got some war work - apparently for the Ministry of Information.  The DNB says "On the outbreak of the Second World War, she lectured for the Ministry of Information and spent some weeks in France." - however we know from The Provincial Lady in Wartime that in fact she spent quite a bit of time vainly looking for 'proper' war work and working in an ARP canteen.

A chronicle of her books is given above, from which it is clear that she was enormously prolific, and most of the hard information is contained there.  She was a great admirer and champion of Charlotte Yonge, and an authority on the Brontes.

In 1938  Lorna Mesney became her secretary, and kept a diary that Lady Powell has had access to.

Her son Lionel shot himself (accidentally? the DNB says "he death of her newly called-up son in late 1940, most probably by his own hand, was something from which she never recovered." on the other hand according to BMC he was buried with full military honours at Kentisbeare) while training for National Service on 4th Nov1940. This, understandably, broke her heart. Three years later (after collapsing whilst giving a lecture in Oxford)  EMD died on 2nd Dec 1943 after a progressive decline which first necessitated a a colostomy and then visits to a neurologist (cancer spreading to the brain?).  She was buried under her favourite yew tree in Kentisbeare churchyard, near her son. Her mother survived her and died on Oct 1945.

The only works of hers currently in print in England are the Provincial Lady  books. (Virago re-published 2 of them in the 80s.) and Consequences from Persephone.

An e-correspondent writes that he is building a website for Simon Watts whose father Arthur Watts illustated EMD and much else. Simon's grandmother - C.A.Dawson-Scott (also known as Mrs. Sappho) was a close friend of Delafield's and Simon's mother has written fondly of her memories of Delafield in her youth during Delafield's many visits to their home.
He adds:
If you are looking for more information about Delafield, particularly her early involvement in Dawson-Scott's "The Tomorrow Club" which was a precursor to the later P.E.N. Club (of which Delafield was also a member) I'd like to recommend the biography by Simon's mother, Marjorie Watts, entitled "Mrs. Sappho, The Life of C.A. Dawson Scott 'Mother of International P.E.N'". It's easily available via The account he then quotes is as follows: "We had so little money during those last years of the war that, to make ends meet and yet have a roof over our heads in Cornwall, from about 1917 Sappho used to let Wastehills to summer visitors and herself rented an old stone cottage called "Levorna" for 12 a year. Although it was small, we could manage and even have friends to stay.

"...I remember that year's group of visitors very clearly. If they stayed at Levorna, it was as paying guests; if there was no room with us they stayed at nearby farms and paid for the meals they had with us. Sappho found their company stimulating and often persuaded her friends to copy her and walk barefoot round Trevose Head or down the rocky coves.

"Then there was E.M. Delafield - Elizabeth - sitting happily on a stool by Levorna kitchen fire, writing a novel, whilst we played ball against the wall - from the inside. She was the one writer friend of Sappho's whome we all liked and we thought her one of the most delightful, sympathetic and beautiful young women we had ever met - tall and dark
and stately." (It's interesting to note that the last vistor to Levorna that summer of 1918 was a young man of 18 named Noel Coward.)

Books about EMD

The (new) DNB gives the following my comments added in blue




Wealth at death  11,548 16s. 11d.: probate, 13 March 1944, CGPLA Eng. & Wales (her Inland Revenue Death Duties file exists but is sealed for 70 yrs.

Please EMail me with more information to add to this page at
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