Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford

Posted by lea at 11:55 AM
I'd never heard of Nancy Mitford until reading reviews of Sophie Dahl's Playing With the Grown Ups, which was widely compared to the works of Mitford, apparently a major figure on the English social scene in the 40s. Her writings satirise the life of the upper classes in England and reflect the very bohemian lifestyle of herself and fellow 'bright young thing' sisters, who apparently soclialised with the likes of Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels (one was married to the leader of the fascist movement in England).

The Pursuit of Love is largely autobiographical in the sense that most of the characters are drawn from her own family and acquaintances, and simply renamed. The heroine, Linda, is partly an image of herself with dashes of her sisters thrown in (although she's made to be very beautiful and from what I've seen of the Mitford sisters, this is a bit of a stretch). She's also largely (from a modern point of view) a flighty, frivolous and irritating thing. She's far more in love with the idea of love than with the people she's meant to love, and content to live a most empty-headed and feckless existence bouncing around from one man to another.

The narrator, Linda's cousin Fanny, fades against the backdrop, and the details of her life are presented in dot point compared to the vivid multicolour strokes of Linda's story. But Fanny is a great narrative vehicle because she's able to bring the reader in close as a member of the family circle. Fanny's voice is also very humorous (unlike the character herself) and Mitford clearly shines as a very witty and articulate author. Particularly funny are the references to Fanny's mother, 'the Bolter' (named for her propensity to run from one affair to another), and the colourful descriptions of her roaring Uncle Matthew, hypochondriac Davey and the eccentric Lord Merlin.

The Pursuit of Love is a great peek into the pre-WWII aristocracy, funny and irreverent of the upper classes it satirises. However, perhaps due to its very British nature, it never becomes emotionally engaging, and the sudden ending is rather abrupt. Overall though, it is a great read and just as easy to devour today as when it was first published in 1945.


Rebecca said...

Have you seen photos of Diana Mitford (later Diana Mosley)? No stretch at all to call her an incredibly beautiful woman.

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