The Provincial Lady in America

Date of publication
Published reviews
Cook, Marjorie Grant. ‘The Provincial Lady in America’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 1700, 30 Aug. 1934, p. 588; Hilton, James. ‘Town, Country and Abroad’. The Bookman, Oct. 1934, p. 50; ‘New Novels: The Provincial Lady in America’. The Times, no. 46847, 31 Aug. 1934, p. 15; ‘The Provincial Lady [in America]’. The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 21 Sept. 1934, p. 5.
The Provincial Lady is invited by her American publisher to tour the US, on favourable financial terms which astonish her. She is anxious about telling Robert and puts this off, with the result that he is informed while taking down a telegram over the phone. They go to a local agricultural show where a small girl spills tea on Robert and neighbours ask lots of questions about the trip. A bad smell is detected in the bathroom. The next day, Robert takes up the bathroom floor to investigate it. An acquaintance, Mrs Tressider, calls, with her son, and wearing trousers. She is introduced to Robert, who has found half a dead rat under the bathroom floor. At tea, she suggests a prospective tenant for the Doughty Street flat, Caroline Concannon. Mrs Tressider is an expansive guest whose flood of conversation exhausts both Robert and the PL. There is an awkward conversation with Cook, who has heard about the US trip from others rather than her employer. The PL goes to Doughty Street and meets Caroline Concannon, who is an elegant young woman; they bond over a mutual friendship of Pamela Pringle and dislike of Mrs Tressider, and she agrees to rent the flat. Robin and Vicky arrive in London from their respective schools. Caroline needs to move in earlier than expected, and brings a large quantity of possessions, but gets on well with the children. Rose recommends a dressmaker for the PL's American wardrobe. At home, the summer holidays involve picnics and a visit from Caroline. Mrs Tressider writes to suggest that the PL travels on SS Rotterdam so that she can meet an American friend of Mrs T. She also warns that the PL may have to pay duty on arrival in America on any new clothes. Barbara Carruthers (née Blenkinsop) returns from India with her baby. Visiting neighbours give the PL extensive advice about America. Details of her accommodation in New York arrive, as do her new clothes which turn out well, although a backless evening dress is a worry. Mrs T's friend Ella writes to say that the SS Rotterdam sailing has been cancelled, and they must change to the SS Statendam. The PL takes the children back to school via London; the flat is very untidy. The PL attends a successful dinner party before returning to Devon. After much anxiety about the trip, she travels down from London to Southampton with Caroline; her friend Felicity sees them off at Waterloo. Robert and his brother William meet them at the boat and see the PL on board. Robert orders champagne and they drink her health. At dinner, she meets Ella Wheelwright and agrees to join her for meals, although sea-sickness keeps the PL in her cabin for several days. When they do meet, they get on, and the PL is constantly impressed by the elegance of Ella's wardrobe. Arriving in New York, the PL is almost immediately interviewed by the press and then met by her American publisher, before arriving at her hotel. Over the next few days invitations pour in and she is interviewed repeatedly before attending a dinner party with Ella where she sits next to a morose and antisemitic old man. Homesickness begins to set in. Her publishers confirm her schedule for talks and she is looked after by Ramona Herdman. She meets the libertarian critic Isabel Paterson. Ella arrives, and the PL asks her to recommend a hairdresser, but Ella merely describes the advantages of her own hair. The PL goes with Ella for a weekend at her luxurious Long Island house. The other guests are decorative and friendly, but conversation is as sticky as it often is at home, with the question of the American Woman and the novel Anthony Adverse recurring. Back in New York, the PL is prevented from reading letters from home by a Miss Katherine Ellen Blatt, a literary journalist who is prolix and tedious. She is more impressed by Alexander Woollcott who she meets at tea, particularly as he is able to actually turn down offers of work. Packing to leave for Chicago, she is interrupted by a visit from Mademoiselle, now working for an American family. She helps the PL with her packing and they lunch together. After taking the night train to Chicago, the PL is met by her literary friend Arthur, his friend Billy and a representative of her publisher, Pete. She is staying with Arthur and his family who are very kind and hospitable, and give a cocktail party for her and she receives many more invitations. She gives a talk at a department store, which displays many modern domestic interiors; a large crowd is assembled and the speech goes well. She signs many books and meets a rather stern woman who has met Mademoiselle and knows the family she works for. The PL visits the World's Fair and sees a replica Belgian village and an exhibit of live Native Americans, but eschews the display of live babies in incubators. At a dinner at Arthur's she meets other writers and a woman who knows Devonshire and the PL's neighbours the Frobishers. She visits, with Arthur, a beautiful Victorian house outside Chicago for lunch, then drives on, evening dress packed, to another immense house with a remarkable art collection and a heavily mirrored dining room. After dinner, another guest spills coffee over the PL and blames her for it. Katherine Ellen Blatt telegraphs to invite her to speak in New York, the PL refuses and then receives another telegram asking her to think it over. Presents are bought and she says goodbye to Arthur and leaves for Cleveland by the night train. In Cleveland, she is welcomed by Mrs Hallé, owner of a local department store where she is later to speak, and taken to see three schools, as the shop staff have decided she is interested in education. The third school, run on New Age lines, astounds her. Her talk goes well, although she is warned several times about the lock on the lavatory; a previous Pulitzer Prize winner managed to lock himself in so thoroughly that the door had to be broken down. Before leaving Cleveland she enjoys the film Private Life of Henry VIII with Charles Laughton, and receives letters from her family and friends, including an update from Robert on the winter bulbs. After a night journey she arrives in Toronto and is met by Mr and Mrs Lee, who take her to a Dr MacAfie's house for breakfast and a bath before an early morning trip to Niagara, accompanied by Minnie, the annoying child of a neighbour. The Falls impress her greatly but she is glad to return to the Lees' house and go to bed. The next day her talk is politely received and she visits a bank, the tallest building in the British Empire. At a lunch party before her departure, the PL is given a service revolver as a present for Robin and Vicky. This leads to a discussion with a Customs official as to why she has a gun in her luggage. Her next stop is Buffalo, where she is met by Mrs Walker who is her host, and also takes her to the women's club where she is to speak. She becomes trapped with the club's chair who tells her at length how she has always thought of writing a book. After a dinner-party, she travels on to Boston, which she has taken against because everyone has told her how English it is and how much she will love it. There she is met by Pete, who outlines her Boston programme. She asks him if he can arrange for her to visit the Alcott House in Concord; he is slightly surprised by this request. Interviewed by two journalists (the Problem of the American Woman recurs, but she also mentions her wish to visit the Alcott House) she is then taken to her hotel where a friend of Rose, Fanny Mason, arrives to take her to lunch and for a tour of the city. Pete arrives to take the PL to visit bookshops, and there is a short row before Pete prevails. The next day, everything is suddenly put in motion for the Alcott House visit, because Alexander Wollcott has read that she wants to go, and will mention her response to it in a radio talk. Before that, though, the PL is obliged to attend an American football match which she finds confusing and is perishingly cold throughout. The visit to the Alcott House is a great success, she meets a surviving relative of Miss Alcott and is given a present of a book for Vicky. She visits a friend of Caroline Concannon, and takes the opportunity to buy a foundation garment, as advised by Rose. Miss Katherine Blatt arrives at her hotel and the PL finds she has rearranged things with her publisher so that the PL can attend a tea she has organised. They lunch together and Miss Blatt drops a number of literary names. The tea party includes a number of awkward encounters. Finally the PL is able to catch her train to Washington. In Washington - after a disconcerting hotel transfer when the hotel her publisher recommended is full - she meets a General Clarence Dove, a connection of Ella Wheelwright, who is concerned that the PL is writing a book about America. He disapproves of this plan and refuses to acknowledge her protestations that she has no idea of writing such a book. After recovering from this discussion, the PL arranges to meet her friend James, who works in Washington, his wife Elizabeth and their baby daughter Katherine, which is a more pleasant social occasion. This is followed by another talk at a department store. James takes the PL around Washington, including the home of George Washington and the Lincoln Memorial. Through James, she is given a tour of the White House too. The PL's next stop is Philadelphia; she and her hostess Mrs. Elliot share a liking for the author Susan Warner, and her talk at a club seems to go well. Ramona Herdman arrives from New York with letters from home; Caroline Concannon is to have a book published. The PL and Ramona go to a bookshop where the PL gives a talk, followed by tea with a distinguished literary critic. The PL is daunted to find she is to give a talk at the Colony Club in New York, famed for its difficult audiences. She returns to New York to find a letter and some roses from Mademoiselle; they agree to meet to see the film of Little Women. Invitations pour in from previous acquaintances, and she visits Ella Wheelwright again; with Ramona and three men friends, she visits a speakeasy and a nightclub before going on to the Cotton Club in Harlem. Her final speaking engagement, at the Colony Club, goes better than expected. Struggling to sort her packing, and ensure she has presents for all at home who will expect them, the PL prepares to leave. Ella escorts her to the Berengaria and her cabin - tourist class this time - and Mademoiselle also comes to see her off, leaving the ship just in time before the gang-plank is pulled up. At dinner - her table consists of three Canadian brothers, possibly triplets, and a know-it-all Englishwoman called Mrs Smiley - the steward recognises her from a previous journey, and is very attentive. Sea-sickness prevails for a couple of days, but once she is recovered sufficiently to sit on the deck, she meets a fellow writer, H. Cyril de Mullins Green, who is disgusted with the state of modern fiction. Mrs Smiley attempts to get the PL to read at a charitable concert she is organising, with no success. Finally arriving at Southampton, the PL mistakes several strange men for Robert, and bursts into tears when he finally arrives. The table-steward appears, is pleased to see Robert, and sees their luggage through to the boat-train, where Robert produces letters from the children and an invitation to tea from Our Vicar's Wife.
comedy novel