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Monday, June 01, 2015

The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford

The fabulous Mitford sisters, "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur."

The Pursuit of Love (1945)
 by Nancy Mitford

  The Mitford sisters were the ultra-fashionable off spring of an old aristocratic English family.  In the period between World War I and World War II they repeatedly made headlines for a variety of reasons, often scandalous.  They are summed up, pop-group style, "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur."

  Nancy's two biggest novels are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, both of which cover the same events, characters and time span.   Both are particularly thinly veiled roman-a-clef's about Nancy's bizarre upbringing as the 20th century off spring of a very 18th century aristocratic English family.  Uncle Matthew, the patriarch by default of the sprawling clan is like a character out of a Henry Fielding novel: a minor aristocrat who hates books, ideas and other people, preferring to hunt and fish.  The sisters are raised without a formal education because Uncle Matthew and his wife Sadie think that education is unbecoming to young, aristocratic women.  As a result, Linda, the sister who draws the most attention in The Pursuit of Love, ends up marrying literally the first man who expresses an interest, the German descended scion of a wealthy London banking family.

  Linda quickly bears a daughter whom she despises, loses interest in the marriage and runs off with a dashing young Communist, and ends up being abandoned by said Communist, taking up with a raffish French Duke, having another child and dying. All of it brings to mind the work of other between war English novelists, Evelyn Waugh, for one, but no one can quite match the sparkling vivacity of the Mitford sisters as protagonists.  Reading The Pursuit of Love is like looking deep into the beginnings of the maelstrom of 20th century celebrity culture.  Mitford draws her portraits of the English upper class as only one who has been there can.

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