A short series of books that I have read recently has the character of “Our Vicar’s Wife” – a talkative lady who intends to stay for a few minutes and ends up staying for hours. Any resemblance to anyone…
The book is The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This edition actually has four novels included: The original Diary, The Provincial lady goes Further, The Provincial Lady goes to America, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime.
The first novel is probably the best one, being the one that sets the characters up. The Lady is writing her Diary which features largely her inability to cope with her unruly children, her tricky servants and her mostly silent husband, Robert. The locals are strange and wonderful, including Lady B, old ladies who have a strange attraction for everyone, their daughters, and of course the Vicar.
It may not sound so interesting, but the misfortunes and reactions of the lady makes for a very funny book, written in diary form. It is set in the early thirties, though obviously the following three books progress until 1939/1940. The lady is a writer, mainly of short magazine pieces, and her problems sometimes become the subject of her writing. She also does talks for the WI and other groups, and gets herself in all sorts of awkward situations.
The other books deal with odd holidays in France, a writing tour of America, (where everyone asks her the same questions ) and then finally trying to find something a proper job in war time. Odd characters turn up, such as another daft old lady who believes that everyone loves her, other workers in a shelter, artistic types and evacuees, all coping with blackouts, shortages and the general confusion of the early part of the War. Yes, these books won’t appeal to everyone, but they are the same daft humour as PG Wodehouse and others, set in a time familiar to readers of Persephone books. I enjoyed the first and last books most, the other two just not being as strong, but all are funny, interesting and feature some great characters.
For those of you who remain unconvinced, a more modern version ( the author says she was directly influenced by the above when beginning this novel) is A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.
In this book the heroine, Constance, begins a blog online detailing her relationship with her lawyer husband, her son – with -a- secret, her rebelling daughter and her excitable au pair. Her friends are also challenging in many ways, and include Reginald, the Vicar. Bell ringing is discussed, as are the underhand tricks employed by another church team. I recognised some of this lady’s preoccupations, as she struggles with her family, facebook and life in general in a wonderfully comic way. Again she goes abroad, and tries to even up the odds against her. This feels like a very up to date book, as written for a newspaper apparently, and I wonder if it will last as well as Delafield’s. It too is very funny, and a good antidote to more serious and worthy books. I suppose is is Bridget Jones for older women…or what happened to Bridget after a few years of married life. I enjoyed it, anyway.