Considering that I have little in common with a 1930’s suburban upper-class English housewife and mother struggling with servant problems, I found this novel very funny.
The novel begins with a visit from Lady B., for whom the narrator’s husband Robert works as a land agent. Lady B. is in turn patronizing and demanding, first nearly sitting on the indoor bulbs, then questioning where the narrator got them and telling her where she should have got them, then telling her it’s too late to plant them anyway. The bulbs appear throughout the novel as a running joke. They get moved to the basement and then to the attic, are over-watered and under-watered, get stepped on by Robert when he is bringing down the suitcases, and are nibbled by mice. What they don’t do is bloom.
The house is made lively by a constant stream of visitors, including Our Vicar’s Wife, who always must be getting along but stays another hour. Another less pleasing visitor is the hearty Miss Pankerton, who barges her way into invitations and thinks nothing of bringing along an extra three people and two dogs on what was supposed to be a family picnic.
The narrator has two lively children—Robin, who makes frequent visits from prep school, and Vicky, who is at home with a very French governess, Mademoiselle. I had to break out Google Translate for Mademoiselle, who continually manages to insult her employer and persists in being overly dramatic.
The narrator’s husband is taciturn except when complaining about expenses or the condition of the house, but he never denies her and is often kind. Many paragraphs, though, end with “Robert said nothing,” which begins to be very funny after a while. In fact, there is a lot that Robert finds nothing to say about. Meanwhile, the poor narrator is constantly scrambling for money, hocking her grandmother’s jewels and so on, to be able to keep up a decent appearance.
To some extent Delafield is depicting types but they also seem like real people, very funny real people. Delafield’s sense of humor is dry. Particularly amusing are her memos to herself and her queries. For example, after arguing with the children about washing up for tea:
(Mem: Have sometimes considered—though idly—writing letter to The Times to find out if any recorded instances exist of parents and children whose views on this subject coincide. Topic of far wider appeal than many of those so exhaustively dealt with.)
All I can say is, I can’t tell you how many times a page I chuckled, or just plain laughed out loud.