Note on "Provincial Daughter"

by Michele Thomas

How many fans of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady series are aware that her daughter wrote a book as well, in the same genre? It was 1968 when I first happened upon this work at a library in St. Louis, MO. This book was my first introduction to EMD & her delightful works. It took decades & much hunting on the internet before I figured out the correct author & title for the book first read over 30 ago. The title is "Provincial Daughter" & the author is R.M. Dashwood. The copyright date is 1960, published by Chatto & Windus in the UK (and Simon & Schuster in the US) and are appealingly illustrated by Gordon Davies.

Rosamund Dashwood married a doctor (Lee) & had 3 sons. In the Author's note at the beginning she writes:

It was in the thirties that my mother, E.M. Delafield, wrote "The Diary of a Provincial Lady" & its successors. They were just written for fun, to give a lighthearted picture of family life in England at that time. It is in much the same spirit that I have tried, in this book, to paint the family life, in the fifties, of the Provincial Lady's daughter. It seemed only natural to write in the same idiom;but if the the result seems to any reader too imitative, or even plagiearistic, I can only ask his forgiveness, as the original Provincial Lady would, I am sure, have given hers..

The book is charming, well written & endearing as her mother's were. It is every bit as good as I remembered it. She writes of her husband & sons, money woes, servant issues & social events with an amiable, wry humor.  I think EMD would have been proud of Rosamund's efforts. I highly recommend  devoted fans of EMD take the trouble to look for "Provincial Daughter" by R.M. Dashwood. They won't be disappointed.

Here is an excerpt to get the flavour of the book:

Rosamund has gone to London with the children & first goes to visit her friend Janet.

Tuesday, 11th

Long-awaited trip to London. James & Toby immensely concerned as to What They Shall Wear, & my own sartorial problems pass comparatively unnoticed. (Only good coat & skirt definitely too tight; which looks worse, odd nylons or matching laddered ones?) Finally decide that I Will Do & that boys definitely look nice in clean shirts & ties, & Ben engaging in tweed coat & leggings.

Despite careful planning, reach station in fearful rush at eleventh hour, train on point of departure, & are thrust by helpful porter into very end carriage in nick of time. This proves to be labelled Ladies Only, which provokes Toby to unseemly mirth & James into panic that he will be Put Into Prison. Journey spent calming both & trying to dissuade Ben from crawling under seats. Tweed outfit looks steadily less & less attractive.

On arrival proceed to Janet's flat in Somerset Square only to find I have forgotten the number. Square is enormous & deserted, & taxi driver is sympathetic but not unnaturally unable to help. He finally drives away shaking his head over my improvidence, as well he may, & Ben gets heavier & heavier. James runs about distractedly, & Toby takes opportunity to sit on pavement & take shoe off which he says is Broken. Am very unsympathetic  indeed & beg him to get up, whereupon James suddenly shrieks There are Jeremy & Julian (sons of dear friend Janet), & so they are, both dressed in oldest & shabbiest of clothes, returning from playing with a friend. Thankfully follow them to their flat.

Janet (always so clever at school & college) presents remarkable appearance in striped tunic affair & tapered slacks, exactly like something in glossy magazine advertisements. Hair (surely used to be much darker?) scraped uncompromisingly back with wide velvet band; wonder how this would suit me but realise at once that such a style needs a better nose than I have ever possessed. She greets us with rather distrait effusion, flat is in a state of total, but cultured, untidiness. (Flowers in vase on floor, is this very contemporary or just absent-mindedness?) And remarkable picture hung very low on crimson
wallpaper is either very modern & clever or Janet did it herself.

Lunch in kitchen, homely touch here, but Janet succeeds in making it all seem Bohemian & arty, whereas with us it's just squalid. Food odd. (Can she have forgotten we were coming?) Hiss at Toby to eat up his peas without saying anything. He instantly says loudly that he Doesn't Like Tinned Peas. Second course, however, great success with all children as Janet has taken ingeniously simple way out of perennial What Shall we Have for Pudding problem by providing bars of chocolate allround. (Can foresee long arguments at home.) Do not really consider this a balanced meal but am bound to admit Julian & Jeremy look perfectly well nourished & are moreover much better behaved than my children.

Leave Ben to have his rest under Janet's auspices & depart with Toby & James for Madame Tussaud's.

Expedition great success, only marred by fact that Death of Nelson tableau which boys particularly want to see is shrouded in curtains, being cleaned. Execution of Mary Queen of Scots, however, proves absorbing, & reflect, not for the first time, that my sons appear to be devoid of the desirable quality of compassion. After what feels like hours & hours walking about & gazing, including aeons in hall devoted to penny-in-the-slot machines at which we spend a small fortune, but not  Chamber of Horrors because of Toby's nightmares, decide it is time to go. Boys both assume expressions of extreme agony & say very loudly that They Must Spend Pennies First. Escort them to Gents' & wait outside for ages. Finally decide that one or both have fallen down dead inside, & with some diffidence ask total stranger, just going in, if he would mind sending the two little boys out if they've finished. Realise this might have been more prettily put, but total stranger (must be a father) is kindness itself & causes J & T to emerge instantly.

Return to Janet's flat, Ben weeps at the sight of us but Janet assures us he has been Very Good Up To Now (hope this is true), & we all eat enormous tea, are collected by Lee in the car & get home very late. Boys instantly demand another meal, & have to be pacified with tinned soup in bed.

Am incredibly exhausted by whole day & go to bed shortly after children.

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Visit of Grandpapa ('Robert')

Sunday 21st October.  Visit of Grandpapa.  He has as usual refused to be fetched by car from nearby town where he lives, on grounds that this will give too much trouble to everyone, and arrives instead by one o'clock bus at neighboring villiage. Wholly inconvenient for everyone including himself, but intentions are good. Over lunch he tells me about old friend whose son has just become engaged.  Grandpapa gloomy in the extreme about wisdom of this, and wants to know how I think he should tell old friend that he doen't care for son's financée?  Ask if it wouldn't be simpler to say nothing at all? but Grandpapa shakes his head over this and says No, no, he feels he must just drop a tactful hint, perhaps it would do if he said he thought the boy was making a Great Mistake?  Can only reflect that Grandpapa's idea of tact and mine are never likely to coincide...
  Spend remainder of afternoon making tour of garden with Grandpapa and Lee.  Grandpapa has much to say about apple trees, and points out many unusual features about them: American Blight here, canker there, this one dead and that one ought to have been pruned properly years ago.  Lee takes it all in and looks depressed, but Grandpapa becomes increasingly more and more cheerful and says that Upon his word he's never seen American Blight as wide-spread as this.  Seems delighted about it and assures us that we'll Never Get Rid of it.  Toby causes diversion at this point by walking on rater weedy flower-bed and is told by Grandpapa very briskly indeed to Get Off That At Once.  (Bullying tones that all my little books on Parentcraft are united in agreeing should never be used when correcting sensitive growing boys.) To my unbounded astonishment Toby abeys instantly without a word of argument, not even a mutter or a scowl, and i later overhear him confiding to James that he Doen't advise him to try to get away with much with Grandpapa, he's tried it and it doesn't work. (Food for considerable thought here...)
  Before leaving Grandpapa assures me that I have Three Fine Boys, but evidently feels that they are rather too much in evidence as he goes on to tell me all about a splendid device called a play-pen which is used with much success by a young friend of his.  Assure him that play-pens have been a great feature of our lives in the past but that even Ben is too big for one now, but Grandpapa is far to engrossed in the subject to pay any heed to this and goes on to tell me more about play-pens and their advantages, and winds up really eloquent speech by saying that he thinks they were invented quite a long time ago and Was I ever put in one myself in early childhood? Lee says afterwards that he can't imagine anything more blissful than to be a father who doesn't even know whether or not his own child has a play-pen, and we ponder the joys of a bygone age whilst putting the children to bed.