Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More than a provincial daughter: ROSAMUND DASHWOOD (1924-2007) (and a teaser about E. M. Delafield)

I'm very excited about this post, but also rather embarrassed to be writing it after such an inexcusable delay. I mean, I am known to be slow at following through on my bloggerly intentions, but honestly, this is a new low (or more accurately a new long).

My initial intention to dedicate a post to Rosamund Dashwood came about shortly after my post on her mother E. M. Delafield's First Love (aka What Is Love?), which was more than a year ago now. That post led fortuitously to a comment on the post and then an email from Judy Truelove, who turned out to be E. M. Delafield's granddaughter-in-law. Judy is currently at work on a biographical book about Delafield which is likely to excite her many loyal fans. Here's how Judy described her project to me:

My book's focus is a collection of letters written by EMD to her husband while on tour in Russia in 1936. She was there to write I Visit the Soviets. I use a frame story about a trip to the UK that I made with my daughter to learn about EMD and her family. Interspersed are many excerpts from Roz's unpublished memoirs. Together, EMD's personal letters and Roz's memoirs provide a window into the life and character of EMD, a woman so far known only through her fiction.

A completely enticing description, isn't it? Unpublished letters, unpublished memoirs, a more personal glimpse of a much-loved author—what could be better? Judy is hoping to have a draft of her book completed by the end of this year, so let's all send inspirational literary vibes her way…

Of course, the "Roz" from Judy's description is Rosamund Dashwood. Now, from the perspective of a blogger specializing in lesser-known authors and enjoying the quest for information about them, Delafield—unquestionably one of the great authors of the feminine middlebrow and possibly the most beloved of all of them—is old hat. Her daughter, however, whom most of you know published a single novel, an homage to her mother's beloved Provincial Lady series called Provincial Daughter (1961, published as "R. M. Dashwood"), has remained a bit more of an enigma.

Rosamund Dashwood, taken at the same time as
her Provincial Daughter author photo, circa 1961.
Photo courtesy of Judy and Patrick Truelove.

Like many readers, I came across Provincial Daughter while in the distraught state of withdrawal and anguish which typically follows the realization that one has finished the fourth and last of the wonderful Provincial Lady novels. I first read it a few years ago and found it a delightful updating of provincial lady-ish concerns and hilarity from the 1930s and early 1940s sensibility of the original novels to the early 1960s sensibility of Dashwood's novel. I then more recently used preparation for this post as an excuse to read the novel again.

No homage is likely to be quite as brilliant and hilarious as the originals to which homage is paid. But then, Dashwood herself would likely not have expected such a thing. Her original introduction to the book made this charmingly modest disclaimer:

It seemed natural to write it in the same idiom, but if the result seems to any reader too imitative, or even plagiaristic, I can only ask their forgiveness, as the original Provincial Lady would, I am sure, most warmly have given hers.

On the other hand, however, Provincial Daughter is hard enough to resist on its own terms. From the opening lines, I felt I had a treat in store:

Am disconcerted, at breakfast, to receive letter from old school friend saying What am I doing with My Brain these days, and isn't it a Pity to Let It All Go? Know what she means but am very angry nevertheless, and lose myself thinking out some really telling replies. Am recalled by Toby asking thoughtfully How Do You Make Soggy Paper? and by Ben flinging toast in all directions from his high chair. Two older children applaud this warmly, and James says, in tones of utmost besottedness, that Ben's Manners are Atrociable. Lift Ben down and send all three children away and give Lee a second cup of tea (why can't men help themselves?).

It was, in fact, difficult to choose only a couple of quotes to share with you, there were so many possibilities. There is, for instance, a marvelous set-piece about a young woman from the nearby horticultural college touring the provincial daughter's garden and offering advice:

Grand tour of garden ensues. Young Woman, says her name is Miss Englefield, is kind about everything and says we ought to be able to make something out of it. Fear Capability  Brown touch emerging and say All I want is to be told names of flowers and what to do about them, and produce piece of paper and pencil in what I hope is business-like way. Miss E then tells me a great many names, most of which I cannot spell, and adds sometimes You ought to Prune this, and sometimes I shouldn't Touch That. Get notes very muddled. Ask What about this, and indicate rather pretty little creeping flower that I think looks well. Miss E says Oh that stuff, it is a nuisance isn't it, terrible to get rid of, and I try to pretend I knew it was a weed all along. (Am well aware that Hermione is not deceived by this.) Miss E then comes to a sudden halt rather like a pointer dog and gasps in astonished admiration in front of meagre little bush that I have never even noticed before, and says Surely not a Carborundum Mysterioso (or something), crawls excitedly round it like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues, and finally admits that it is a Carborundum Mysterioso and we obviously go up by leaps and bounds in her estimation.

But my favorite passage must be one which deliciously skewers my fellow Americans, but in such a vivid and believable way that I couldn't possibly be offended (I've met more than a few such Americans myself—of both sexes, I should add). This is only part of the wonderful scene:

Charming American, recently met at cocktail party, rings up to say Its very short notice but she is giving small birthday party for Junior who is Ben's age and would Ben care to come along? Make rapid mental plans to send James and Toby to Susan on return from school, and accept. J and T are offended at not being included but agree to go and watch Television at Susan's and Ben and I set out. Quite incredible scene of confusion greets us at birthday party. Charming American is exactly like something out of Gone With the Wind, beautifully dressed and made-up but clasping a shrieking baby and in despair because she Seems to be Kinda Disorganised. Nothing is ready for the party. Charming American, name is Maybelle, says she has Sent Cliff round to the store for a Few Things but she can't think what's keeping him. "Few Things" apparently include all food for the party except what she refers to as Candy and Cookies, which she proceeds to ask me very nicely to arrange on the table for her. By this time am already holding the still-shrieking baby but do my best. Another mother is called into service to blow up balloons. Maybelle says again that she can't think what's keeping Cliff, and spills a bottle of orange squash all over the floor. Another mother mops it up.

I was laughing out loud all over again just queueing up that quote. I'm sure there must be ineffectual young British women (and men) as well, but to my mind there's just nothing like an ineffectual young American helplessly putting everyone around her to work. I'm afraid, as well, that it sounds a bit like a party or two I've given…

But this is not just an admiring review of Dashwood's one and only novel (or a bemoaning of the fact that she only wrote one, though I could certainly bemoan that).

Rosamund Dashwood in 1966.
Photo courtesy of Judy and Patrick Truelove.

One of the first things I mentioned in my initial email exchange with Judy—who is married to Patrick Truelove, the third of Dashwood's four sons—was that I very much wished for a better photo of her. When Virago reprinted Provincial Daughter in 2002, they used a tiny photo of Dashwood, looking eminently likeable but distinctly blurry, presumably taken around the time that her novel first appeared in 1961. And that's the only image I've ever been able to track down online. I asked Judy if she and Patrick might have another photo they would be willing to share and would allow me to use on this blog.

They certainly came through for me, with not just one photo, but five, spanning nearly a quarter of a century of Dashwood's life, from the days just before Provincial Daughter appeared to an adorable family photo of her with three of her grandchildren in 1983. Judy and Patrick very kindly granted me permission to use all the pictures here (see above and below), and I'm thrilled to be able to share them with you so that this talented and interesting woman isn't represented only with a tiny, grainy, black-and-white photo!

Rosamund Dashwood in Vancouver, 1979.
Photo courtesy of Judy and Patrick Truelove.

In addition, Patrick and Judy came through with a hilarious, provincial lady/daughter-ish anecdote about Rosamund that only makes her seem more charming and likeable.

In Judy's words:

Once in a crowded tube station in London, Roz asked a passerby for directions to a certain platform. He was in a hurry, so he brusquely responded that the sign was right in front of her. Embarrassed, she said, "I'm blind," meaning that she should have noticed it. The unfortunate man took her literally, apologized profusely, and insisted on taking her arm and guiding her to the platform. Too mortified to correct him, Roz had to act the part, pretending to be blind even after he'd left her in case he were watching!

Recalling our own experiences in the London Tube, and the frantic (if astonishingly polite) rush of commuters, I couldn't help but laugh at the mental image this story provides.

Meanwhile, with some additional details from Judy and a little trawling of the internet, I was able to piece together a bit more about Dashwood's life before and after her novel. From her rather sparse Wikipedia page I learned that she was in the WAAF during World War II and that her work involved radar, which was still very much top secret at the time. After the war, she attended Somerville College at Oxford and met her husband, Leslie Truelove, who went on to become a doctor, with whom she had four sons—Paul, Simon, Patrick, and Michael.

Rosamund Dashwood in Saltspring, 1980.
Photo courtesy of Judy and Patrick Truelove.

This of course means that Patrick is none other than the real-life model for the toast-throwing Ben in the quotation above, and I had to ask how he felt about this fictional representation. Judy said that he thought "it was fun to be a character in a book" and added, "he remembers that it was funny for our two kids, too, to read it and imagine their dad as a baby flinging toast around the room."

According to Judy, the family emigrated to Canada in April of 1960, where they settled in Winnipeg. Patrick remembers that Dashwood, like Delafield herself, was often on the phone doing work for three different women's auxiliaries: at the arthritis and rheumatism clinic where Dr. Truelove worked, at the school her sons attended, and at their Unitarian church. She also served as president of the Winnipeg chapter of Voice of Women, a feminist anti-war organization.

In 1968, with their children grown, Rosamund and Leslie relocated to Vancouver, where she was for a time a radio interviewer at local station CJVB. After the move, the couple decided to improve their physical fitness. In an interesting interview on the Prairie Inn Harriers website, Dashwood describes how they casually took up running after years of being couch potatoes and fast food junkies. After Leslie's tragic death while running in the Vancouver marathon in 1976, however, Rosamund's own running became both more serious and a part of her grieving process: "I would recommend that anybody who is going through a bad patch, for whatever reason, get out there and run. Or something. Centre yourself. It doesn't alter the situation, but it helps you deal with it."

Rosamund Dashwood with three of her grandchildren, 1983.
Photo courtesy of Judy and Patrick Truelove.

By 1983, she had relocated again to Victoria and was running her first marathon, and she eventually became one of the top female masters runners in Canadian history. (If you aren't familiar with the concept of masters athletics—I wasn't—here's a Wikipedia page for your edification.) In 1989, at age 65, Dashwood scored two world records for her age group, and three more Canadian records, which is pretty extraordinary for a former couch potato. (Maybe there's hope for me yet—hopefully before I turn 65!)

The interview was given when Rosamund was 68 years old, but you can certainly see her energy and spirit coming through. I will, for example, remember her attitude toward injuries:

"I have an optimistic theory that exercise-induced injuries sooner or later get better, given half a chance. Injuries from stresses, aches and pains that you get from inaction, from just sitting around, become chronic. So I cherish myself with that one when I'm sore after a run."

And if this is not necessarily an attitude all doctors would agree with, she adds for good measure:

"Sometimes a doctor will tell a runner that they will never run again, but when that happens, a dedicated runner will find another doctor. One who runs."

(I wonder if the same could apply to readers overcoming eyestrain?)

Rosamund was still running and competing at age 73. When she died in 2007 at age 83, her running club organized a Rosamund Dashwood Memorial Walk and Run, and they also added her name to a memorial bench in Beaver Lake Park in Victoria (had I but known when we were there a couple of years ago, I'd have a snapshot of it to share with you).

My sincere and enthusiastic thanks again to Patrick and Judy Truelove for the lovely photos and the additional details of Rosamund's life. It's such a pleasure to share them. And keep writing diligently, Judy—that book can't come soon enough!


  1. Have much enjoyed all the Provincial books of mother and daughter so far, and am now awaiting the "memoir," or tribute or whatever - thanks for the heads up, Scott!

  2. Hi - what a lovely tribute to my grandmother (Roz) and great-grandmother (EMD), and my mom's upcoming book! It's so cool to see how passionate people still are about my ancestors' work. Imagine if they had known how far their words and funny 'little' daily life experiences would stretch! Thanks for the beautiful blog post.
    D. Truelove

    1. Thank you, DJ, I'm so glad you liked the post. It's great to hear from other members of the family!

  3. Thanks, Simon, this is brilliant. So complete, and so very generous of you. The 'inspirational literary vibes' are coming through loud and clear!
    PS: I don't really mean to be Anonymous!

    1. I think that this is your comment, Judy? I understand from the comment below how your slip of the tongue (or fingers) regarding my name came about! Thanks again for all your help, and glad the book is coming along!

    2. Sorry, Scott!!! I wasn't confusing you with my brother-in-law, but with another Delafield blogger, 'Stuck in a Book.' Not confusing you, in fact...just your name!! If you answer my emailed questions, I'm sure I'll never make that mistake again!
      Thanks again,

    3. No worries, Judy! Names are always a problem for me. I always say I have to be introduced to someone three times before the name sticks.

  4. Totally fascinating.
    I love the "Provincial Lady" series - so very recognizably English - so am most interested to hear about her daughter.
    What rich research you do!

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! And if you haven't read Provincial Daughter, do give it a try.

  5. As the rare reader who came to Provincial Daughter first and Provincial Lady second, thanks for this post! What a shame she never wrote a second. Looking forward to the Delafield book...

    1. Sorry I missed your comment before. Indeed, your perspective on all the books must be different as a result of reading them in that order! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Lovely post. I love the PL & I enjoyed Rosamund's book as well. Do you know Mrs Ford's Diary?
    A contemporary PL & very funny.

    1. Thank you, Lyn! I'll definitely check out the blog--I am very intrigued...

  7. Am intrigued by the post that says "thanks Simon" from Aug 19th. I am Rosamund's 2nd son Simon (aka Toby); however probably have done nothing deserving of this expression of gratitude. Its wonderful to see the interest in my mother and my grandmother, but is there another Simon?

    1. Thanks very much, Simon, and you've inadvertently provided clarification as to your sister-in-law's slip on my name. Very glad you liked the post, and so pleased to hear from another "character" from your mother's book!

  8. Very nice to read all of this! The London Tube story has always been a favourite of mine: so like my mother! Thank you so much, Scott, for your interest, your appreciation and your efforts.

    1. So glad you liked it, Pat, and thank you again for your input and for the Tube story--it was worthy of inclusion in a novel itself!

  9. What a fascinating profile, Scott! Thank you so much for sharing your research with all of us. I'll look forward to Judy's book.

    1. Thank you, Claire. I was very happy to be able to share it.

  10. Wonderful wonderful, Thank you very much. Great to see a woman look better as she gets older, and in color. Usually B+W photos of young people are so lovely; but without her blondeness they don't look as well.


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