Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-1765 by Cleone Knox

Poking about in the minor sub-genre of fictional diaries written for humorous effect, I discovered a reference to this little book, in which twenty-year-old Cleone Knox, of a wealthy County Down family, travels with her father, and brother Ned, on a grand tour of Europe. At the opening of the book, she is being courted by David Ancaster, whom she loves, but her father is against the match. After a bungled attempt at elopement, Cleone is hurried away to see whether travel will bring her to her senses. We travel with her to visit her sister in Derbyshire and then on to London, Bath, a French chateau, Paris, Switzerland and finally to Venice. Despite her affection for Mr Ancaster, Cleone is a lively diarist and not averse to a little flirtation; she is also greatly interested in matters of dress; she is constantly surprised and amused by the people and places she encounters; and given to Random Capitalisation to express the Strength of her Feelings.

On its publication in 1925, the Diary was taken to be genuine, having been presented as edited by one Alexander Blacker Kerr, a distant descendent of Miss Knox. After about six months, there was a minor scandal when the Daily Express revealed that the diary was in fact the work of Magdalen King-Hall, then aged twenty-one. The real author contributes a foreword to the copy I have, explaining that she was inspired by her sister’s suggestion to make a first attempt at a novel in the form of an eighteenth-century diary. The result is an amusing little book; Cleone’s style is a well sustained pastiche, and some episodes are extremely funny indeed. Magdalen King-Hall went on to have a successful career as a writer, and her work includes the novel which inspired The Wicked Lady, for which we should all be grateful. Margaret Lockwood would have also made a marvellous Cleone Knox.

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