Book Review: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

I am a firm believer in the theory (invented by myself) called “the right book at the right time.”  This theory claims that you are often drawn (seemingly by accident) to read a certain book that turns out to be exactly the right book that you needed to read at that time.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

I’ve had The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady on my list of books to read for some time, but I only found a copy of it a couple of weeks ago at a local used book sale.  It’s a book unlike any others on my shelves.  Edith Holden created the Country Diary in 1906 as a record of her observations of nature during the year.  She wrote descriptions of things she saw (wildflowers blooming, birds building nests, etc.) as she walked or cycled around the countryside, and illustrated the pages with beautiful coloured drawings of wildflowers, birds, and insects.  She also copied into the Diary her favourite poems, quotes, and seasonal proverbs.

One thing I love about this book is that it is a reproduction of Edith Holden’s actual journal pages, which makes me feel closer to her and to her work.  It gives me the feeling that I’m looking through her actual diary.  And although Edith Holden wrote her Diary over a hundred years ago, her words and images still feel fresh.  She observed and took joy in the same kinds of things that I love to observe today (for example, when certain birds return or certain flowers start blooming in the spring).  Her descriptions are crisp, clear, concise.

I think that books chronicling an individual’s personal relationship with nature are my favourite kinds of non-fiction to read.  I find these kinds of books affirming: in my daily life, I encounter relatively few people who seem to be interested in nature, so it is encouraging to be reminded that I am not alone, that there are other people out there (in different places and different times) who think and feel similarly to me (this is also one reason why I love reading blogs).  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is evidence that nature observation and biophilia (the love of nature) have long traditions.  Books like this also inspire me to do more and to be better in my everyday life when it comes to my relationship with the non-human world.

At the beginning of this review, I described my theory of “the right book at the right time.”  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was the right book at the right time for me because I have long wanted to keep a regular nature journal, but I have never been sure just how I wanted such a journal to work in practice.  I’ve kept various journals in the past, but most ended up being boring and even a bit depressing to re-read, and I mostly abandoned keeping a regular journal last year.  Reading Edith Holden’s Country Diary, however, I realized that it contains the same basic format that I want my nature journal to follow – simple written entries (as short as a single sentence or as long as a page, and written only when she had something to write about, rather than every day), drawings (although I’m not even close to being the kind of artist that Edith Holden was!), and favourite poetry and quotes.  Reading this book was exactly what I needed, as now I feel ready to start keeping my own nature journal.

I don’t think that The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is a book that will appeal to everyone.  It’s not a book to rush straight through, but one to meander through slowly.  (I think it would make an excellent book to read over the course of the year, just as Edith Holden would have created it.)  And although Edith Holden had very neat handwriting, reading it is not as easy as reading printed text, and I found that also slowed me down.  But if you love journals, botanical illustrations, and nature writing, then I recommend The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.  Maybe it will even be the right book at the right time for you.

Have you already read Edith Holden’s Country Diary?  And what experiences have you had with “the right book at the right time”?

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5 Responses to Book Review: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

  1. I’ll have to check this out.

  2. ressacar says:

    I’ll adore to read this one. I love nature and diaries as you do, this book looks truly inspiring. Thanks for the sharing!

  3. This definitely sounds like it’s right up my alley. Anything to do with nature, I’ll read, especially if it’s a glimpse into history as well.

  4. Sabrina says:

    I first read about this book here, and thought I would like it. But never tried to find a copy. Then, over the last weeks, I found several more recommendations, so finally I decided to get a copy! No problem to find it on Amazon (used), and it was cheap, too. It arrived yesterday, and when I opened it I found a dedication written on the first page, with the date of my 13th birthday! This copy was waiting for me.
    The book is really inspiring. I struggle with keeping a nature journal, too, and it’s great to see how other people have done it before. Really good to see that she hasn’t written anything for days, and for others only a few words. Helps me a lot. I always think I need to write every day (or at least every other day) or it’s not a journal. Now I can look at this book and say “It’s OK that there is nothing to write today!” And the illustrations and drawings are so beautiful!
    Thanks for recommending this lovely book!

    • Heather says:

      I’m glad you like the book, Sabrina! And what an interesting coincidence that the date of your birthday was written inside… I also found it helpful that she did not write every day. I’ve often felt guilty in the past for missing a few days in my journal; now, I don’t worry if even a week or more goes by without an entry.

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