About Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood (de la Pasture)
Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture (9 June 1890 – 2 December 1943), commonly known as E. M. Delafield, was a prolific English author. She 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. In sequels, the Provincial Lady buys a flat in London, travels to America, attempts to find war-work during the Phoney War, and tours the Soviet Union.
Delafield was born in Steyning, Sussex. She was 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 was also a well-known novelist. The pen name Delafield was a thin disguise suggested by her sister 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, who governed the colonies of the Gold Coast (1912–19), Nigeria (1919–25), Ceylon (1925–27) and the Malay States.
In 1911, Delafield was accepted as a postulant by a French religious order established in Belgium. Her account of the experience, The Brides of Heaven, was written in 1931 and eventually published in her 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 account includes being told by the Superior that if a doctor advised a surgical operation "your Superiors will decide 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, she worked as a nurse in a Voluntary Aid Detachment in Exeter, under the formidable command of Georgiana Buller (daughter of a general who held the Victoria Cross, and later a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire), and her first novel Zella Sees Herself was published in 1917. At the end of the war she worked for the South-West Region of the Ministry of National Service in Bristol, and published two more novels. She continued to publish one or two novels each year until nearly the end of her life.
On 17 July 1919, she married Colonel Arthur Paul Dashwood, OBE, an engineer who had built the massive docks at Hong Kong Harbour. After two years in the Malay States, Delafield insisted on coming back to England and they lived in Croyle, an old house in Kentisbeare, Devon, on the Bradfield estate where he became the land agent. She had two children, Lionel and Rosamund. At the initial meeting of the Kentisbeare Women's Institute, Delafield was unanimously elected president, and remained so until she died.
She was a great admirer and champion of Charlotte M. Yonge, and an authority on the Brontës. In 1938 Lorna Mesney became her secretary, and kept a diary to which Delafield's biographer was given access.
Delafield's son Lionel died in late 1940, some suggest by his own hand, something from which she never recovered. Three years later, after collapsing while giving a lecture in Oxford, Delafield died on 2 December 1943 after a progressive decline which first necessitated a colostomy and visits to a neurologist. She was buried under her favourite yew tree in Kentisbeare churchyard, near her son. Her mother survived her and died in October 1945. Her daughter, Rosamund Dashwood, emigrated to Canada.
Delafield was parodied in a 2004 episode ‘Diatribe of a Mad Housewife’ of The Simpsons as the character Esmé Delacroix.
Diary of a Provincial Lady
Delafield became great friends with Margaret Mackworth, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda and became a director of Time and Tide. When the editor 'wanted some light "middles", preferably in serial form, she promised to think of something to submit'. It was thus in 1930 that her most popular and enduring work Diary of a Provincial Lady was born. This largely autobiographical novel substituted the names of "Robin" and "Vicky" for her own children, Lionel and Rosamund. It has never been out of print.
The novel inspired several sequels which chronicled later portions of her life: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime. She later worked for the Ministry of Information. The Dictionary of National Biography says "On the outbreak of the Second World War, she lectured for the Ministry of Information and spent some weeks in France." - however we can surmise 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.
In 1961, Delafield's daughter, Rosamund Dashwood, published Provincial Daughter, a semi-autobiographical account of her own experiences with domestic life in the 1950s.