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The Edwardian Lady:
A 1970s icon?

Sarah Edwards

Edith Holden's bestselling nature notebook, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, was published in 1977. Most journalistic and scholarly commentaries on its success both as a publishing and a merchandising success, make a direct correlation between the entity itself, marketing strategies and the historical moment. The diary's perceived qualities of feminine gentility, sympathy for animals and folklore elevated it to the status of a representative symbol for a leisured, rural, provincial and thus 'quintessential' Englishness. Hence the evocative choice of title and the domestication of its rural themes by using its images in household furnishings. Its publication in the Silver Jubilee year facilitated easy reflections about how the diary chimed both with contemporary re-imaginings of the relation between femininity and national identity; and with the 'nostalgia' for an idealised past being experienced in a decade frequently depicted as violent, urban, and disorientated, as second wave feminism, among other new political ideologies, questioned the configurations of gender and class which popular depictions of the Silver Jubilee instated.

However, the continuing success of the 'Edwardian Lady' in the twenty-first century problematises the theoretical foundations of this account. How can the substantial female fan followings be explained by an essentially similar model of discontented nostalgia, but now in a different historical moment? After nearly twenty-five years, the 'Edwardian Lady phenomenon' is in itself composed of a dynamic set of discourses, derived from its own historical past and adapting to new cultural formations. I will argue in this paper that any consideration of 'Edwardian Lady' female fandom must re-evaluate the original concept of 'nostalgia' and integrate it with the themes of memory invoked within the personal narratives and histories of the fans themselves. To be an 'Edith Holden' fan today involves constructing a history of the late twentieth century icon and situating oneself in an intimate and developing relationship with her. Hence, even for recent enthusiasts, this means constructing a narrative rooted in the mythical beginning of 1977. Through deployment of a range of fan accounts, I will consider how ideas/ideals of femininity, nostalgia, Englishness and the 1970s become intertwined.

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