E. M. Delafield

black and white photograph of E. M. Delafield

E.M. Delafield

by Howard Coster
bromide print, 1930s
8in. x 6 5/8in. (216 mm x 168 mm)
Given by the estate of Howard Coster, 1978
Photographs Collection
NPG x10670

Made available with a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

National Portrait Gallery London © National Portrait Gallery https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw160465/EM-Delafield?search=...

E. M. Delafield


19 June 1890
Near Hove, Sussex, United Kingdom


11 December 1943
Croyle, Devon, United Kingdom


Authored By: Kathy Mezei

Edited By: N/A

Although best known for Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930), and its humorous portrait of a harassed, self-deprecating housewife, Delafield wore many other hats in her relatively short but busy life. Indeed, hats, suitable hats, constituted an ever-present preoccupation in her Diaries. Edmée de la Pasture was born in 1890 at Aldrinton, Sussex to the Count Henri de la Pasture, a Belgian aristocrat whose family had long resided in the U.K. and Elizabeth de la Pasture, née Bonham, descended from English squires, and a popular novelist and playwright. Both parents were Catholic. Educated at home by French governesses and at a series of convent boarding schools, Delafield was attached to her father who died suddenly in 1908, and found her mother domineering and distant. Several overbearing mothers would feature in her novels . As debutantes, Delafield and her sister, Yolande, failed to secure husbands. When her mother remarried, to Sir Hugh Clifford in the colonial service, and embarked for Ceylon, Delafield, lonely, shy, disconsolate, joined a convent in Belgium in 1911, this difficult sojourn later poignantly depicted in her novel, Consequences (1919).  After renouncing religious life, she returned to England, and at the beginning of WWI, joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment in Exeter, this experience providing the material for her first novel, Zella Sees Herself, published in 1917 by Heinemann. Its publication was encouraged by F. Tennyson Jesse, a reader for Heinemann, and later a colleague on the feminist, political, and cultural weekly review, Time and Tide.

In 1919, Delafield married Major Arthur Paul Dashwood, son of a baronet and a civil engineer assigned to Malaya. Delafield did not relish the expatriate life and the couple moved back to England, to Devonshire, where Dashwood became land agent for the Bradfield estate. In 1923 they settled into Croyle House, a country house near Kentisbeare, which, along with her family, the neighbours, and the vicissitudes of daily ‘provincial’ life supplied amusing subjects for her Diaries.  Also prominently featured are her two children, Lionel, who probably committed suicide in 1940 while in military service, and Rosamund, who emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada with her family in 1960. 

Delafield was active as a Justice of the Peace (from 1925) and President of the Women’s Institute in Devonshire (from 1924), but in order to supplement Dashwood’s income, Delafield pursued free-lance journalism in at least fifteen different periodicals. Her first three novels were brought out by Heinemann, but a literary agency noting her popularity, sought to win her away to Hodder and Stoughton who published ConsequencesWilliam Heinemann apparently was furious; she then changed agents to A.D. Peters with whom she developed enduring and cordial relations, and who thereafter ensured she had contracts (Powell 38). She subsequently published with Hutchinson, then Macmillan, and Harper, its affiliate in the U.S. 

Her fiction described by later critics as middlebrow, often focused on the marriage market and upper middle-class domestic life. Written in a traditional narrative style, it nevertheless tackled modern and challenging subjects including illegitimacy, adultery, lesbianism, sexuality, divorce, the constrained lives of women and wives, women and work, women and mobility and consumer culture as well as the oppressiveness of religion, Victorian morals and values, and unhappy parent-child relations. She was skilled in employing evocative description, convincing dialogue, and wither favourite novelist being E. M. ForsterMessalina of the Suburbs (1923) was based on the infamous trial and execution of Edith Thompson and her lover Frederick Bywater for the murder of Thompson's husband. Two plays, To See Ourselves (1930) and The Glass Wall (1932) were successfully produced in LondonIn 1922, Delafield began writing book reviews for Time and Tide, becoming a director in 1927. Responding to the editor, Lady Margaret Rhondda’s request for “light “middles”’ (O’Brien x), she created a series, Diary of Provincial Lady, in 1929, which proved a popular success and a financial boost to the periodical. In 1930, it appeared in book form with Macmillan, accompanied by Arthur Watt’s amusing illustrations, became a best seller in Britain and America, was chosen as the Book Society Book of the Month in December 1930, and spawned sequels: The Provincial Lady Goes Further, 1932 (The Provincial Lady in London, American title), The Provincial Lady in America, 1934, and The Provincial Lady in Wartime, 1940. As Cathy Clay points out in her study of Time and Tide “She was ideally placed to mediate Time and Tide’s feminism for women who may never have questioned traditional gender roles or envisioned themselves as feminist, but who were committed nonetheless to improving the position and status of women in society,” (Clay 181). In her gently ironic way she also mediated between highbrow and middlebrow culture. 

In 1932 she began writing satires for Punch, remaining a valued and constant contributor until her death. With the royalties from the Diary she rented a small flat on 57 Doughty St. in Bloomsbury in 1930, and began a double life alternating between her domestic duties in Devon and a literary life in London where, tall, slender, and svelte, and perceived as witty and charming, she associated with authors like her colleagues at Time and Tide, Cicely Hamilton, Rebecca West, Winifred Holtby, and Lady Rhondda; Kate O’Brien became an intimate friend. On several occasions, Delafield encountered Virginia Woolf who described her as ‘the Holtby type’ (Diary 1935, Vol 4, 278-9), and as living in ‘an old house like a character in Jane Austen…But she has to scribble and scribble to pay for it and her children’ (18 November, 1935, Letters, Vol 5, 445). Woolf notes seeing Delafield at the funeral for Margaret West who had worked as a Press manager for The Hogarth Press in the 1930s (23 January 1937, Diary, Vol 5, 52). On one of their tours to promote Hogarth Press books the Woolfs stayed at Croyle; Delafield’s daughter, Rosamund, complained that Virginia, finding children unattractive, snubbed her (Powell 99). 

Since she doted on Victorian novels, particularly Charlotte M. Yonge, Delafield welcomed the opportunity to publish two academic studies at the Hogarth Press with Leonard and Virginia Woolf, who were establishing an innovative biography series and seeking to attract a wider audience: The Brontës, their lives recorded by their contemporaries (1935) followed in 1937 by Ladies and Gentlemen in Victorian Fiction. Although the Brontë book was the only one in the series to generate a profit, Leonard Woolf was unable to persuade Harcourt to bring out an American edition (Battershill 132). 

Delafield developed a warm relationship with Cass Canfield, her publisher at Harper’s who, banking on the popularity of the Diary of a Provincial Lady, arranged a lecture tour to America and Canada in 1933, and then persuaded her to travel to Russia where she visited Leningrad and stayed on a collective, subsequently publishing  an account of her insalubrious experiences in Straw Without Bricks: I Visit Soviet Russia, 1937.

Delafield also wrote scripts for the B.B.C., delivering three radio talks, ‘Home is Like That’ during 1938 , where, as in her Diaries, she captured the peccadillos of  domestic life; she was also invited to review fiction, at which she was apparently less successful (Powell 155-56). 

Conscientious in her war work, Delafield was sent to France by the Ministry of Information on a propaganda mission in 1940. But in 1943 she became ill with cancer and returned to die at Croyle, devotedly nursed by Kate O’Brien. “I used to wonder how that frail looking creature could stand the strain of the unending round of never ceasing work. I suppose it would be true to say that in the end she did not.” wrote Lady Rhondda in her obituary (Time and Tide, 11 December 1943 1019).

Novels and Short Stories:

Zella Sees Herself. London: Heinemann, 1917.  

The War Workers. London: Heinemann, 1918.

The Pelicans. London: Heinemann, 1918.  

Consequences. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919.  

Tension. London: London: Hutchinson, 1920.

The Heel of Achilles. London: Hutchinson, 1920.

Humbug. London, Hutchinson, 1921.

The Optimist. London: Hutchinson, 1922.

Reversion to Type. London: Hutchinson, 1923.

Messalina of the Suburbs. London: Hutchinson, 1923.  

Mrs. Harter. London: Hutchinson, 1924.

The Chip and the Block. London: Hutchinson, 1925.

Jill. London: Hutchinson, 1926.

The Way Things Are. London: Hutchinson, 1927.

What is LoveLondon: Macmillan, 1928 (U.S. title First Love).

The Suburban Young Man.  London: Macmillan, 1928.

Diary of a Provincial Lady. London: Macmillan, 1930; New York: Harpers, 1931; London: Virago, 1984; London: Persephone, 2014.

Turn Back the Leaves. London: Macmillan, 1930.

Challenge to Clarissa. London: Macmillan, 1931 (U.S. title House Party).

Thank Heaven Fasting. London: Macmillan, 1932 (U. S. title A Good Man’s Love).

The Provincial Lady Goes Further. London: Macmillan, 1932 (U.S. title The Provincial Lady in London).

Gay Life. London: Macmillan, 1933. 

The Provincial Lady in AmericaLondon: Macmillan, 1934. 

The Bazalgettes. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1935.

Faster! Faster! London: Macmillan, 1936. 

Nothing is SafeLondon: Macmillan, 1937.

Straw Without Bricks: I Visit Soviet RussiaLondon: Macmillan, 1937 (U.S. title I Visit the Soviets: The Provincial Lady in Russia).

Love Has No Resurrection, and Other Stories. London: Macmillan, 1939.   

Three Marriages. London: Macmillan, 1939.

The Provincial Lady in WartimeLondon: Macmillan, 1939.   

No One Now Will Know. London: Macmillan, 1942.

Late and Soon. London: Macmillan, 1943.  


To See Ourselves. (1931) London: Gollancz, 1931.

The Glass Wall.  (1932) London: Gollancz, 1933.  

Collections, Sketches, Biographies:

General Impressions. London: Macmillan, 1933.

The Brontës, their lives recorded by their contemporaries.  London: Hogarth, 1935.

Ladies and Gentlemen in Victorian Fiction. London: Hogarth, 1937.

Secondary Sources:

Battershill, Claire. Modernist Lives: Biography and Autobiography At Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. E. M. Delafield entry: Overview screen within Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. <http://orlando.cambridge.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/>. 06 July 2021.

Beauman, Nicola.  “Dashwood [née de la Pasture], Edmée Elizabeth Monica [pseud. E. M. Delafield] (1890–1943), novelist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 6 Jul. 2021, from https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-32720.

Clay, Catherine. Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

Hammill, Faye. Women, Celebrity and Literary Culture Between the Wars. Austin: University of Texas Press2007.

McMcCullen, Maurice. E.M. Delafield. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

O’Brien, Kate, “Foreword,” The Provincial Lady. London: Macmillan, 1947, vii-xi.

Powell, Violet. The Life of a Provincial Lady: A Study of E.M. Delafield and her Works. London: Heinemann, 1988.

Sullivan, Melissa, “ ‘I return with immense relief to old friend Time and Tide’: Middlebrow Expansions in E.M. Delafield’s Fiction and Journalism,” Modernist Cultures 2011, 6:1, 96-120. 

Sullivan, Melissa,“The Middlebrows of the Hogarth Press: Rose Macaulay, E. M. Delafield and Cultural Hierarchies in Interwar Britain,” in The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism, ed. Helen Southworth, Edinburgh:Edinburgh University Press, 2010, 52-73. 

Woolf, Virginia, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4. 1931-1935. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell, with Andrew McNeillie. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982. 

Woolf, Virginia, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 5. 1936-1941. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell, with Andrew McNeillie. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. 

Woolf, Virginia. The Sickle Side of the Moon. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Vol. 5. 1932-1935. Ed. Nigel Nicolson, Asst. Ed. Joanne Trautmann. London: The Hogarth Press, 1979.

British Library, Archives and Manuscripts, correspondence with Macmillan, Macmillan Archive, Add.MSS 54972:1908-1941; Add.MSS.89262/1/42; Letters to Eleanor Farjeon, Add.MSS.88962/2/3; Add.MSS.88962/3-8; Letters to Stella Benson, Add.MSS.88932/1/13.

Girton College Library, Cambridge, Yonge XIX.3-4.

Harvard University, Houghton Library. Letters to Theodora Bosanquet: Theodora Bosanquet papers, MSS Eng 1213-1213.8, MSS Eng 1213.3.

Hull, Hull History Centre, Letters in Winifred Holtby’s collected in-mail; Winifred Holtby Collection, 24.2-2.44.

King’s College Library, Cambridge, Letter to E.M. Forster, 1928, Forster Papers.

Newberry Library, Chicago, Letters to Arthur Meeker, Arthur Meeker, Jr. Papers.

The Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter, manuscripts of two novels, 1940-1942 NRA 38987

University of Bristol Library, Bristol, Hamish Hamilton Editorial Files, DM1352 (file l.i).

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. E. M. Delafield Fonds, Rare Books and Special Collections, University of British Columbia Library. Substantial collection of letters, unpublished manuscripts, plays, articles, book reviews, lectures, clippings and photographs. https://webcat.library.ubc.ca/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=3156823.

University of Exeter, Special Collection Archives (GB0029), Ref No.  EUL MS 202/1931/25; Playbill “To See Ourselves.”

University of Reading, Special Collections, Jonathan Cape General Collection, 1933.

BBC Written Archives Centre, Call Number: Radio contributors. Scriptwriters, file 1; Hogarth Press Archives, MS2750/63; Bodley Head, MS2606.

Chatto and Windus Correspondence, 1931, MS2444; George Bell & Sons, 1933, MS1640.