Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Fanny's mother is known throughout the family as "The Bolter." Leaving your child behind to be raised by your siblings isn't that odd in a family that uses children instead of foxes in hunts, has their own distinct argot, and lives in such an old house that only one closet has the warmth to be bearable in cold weather. It is in this "Hons" closet that Fanny and her cousin Linda spend all their time dreaming of true love. Because love is what life is all about. As they grow up their thoughts turn less from the fantasy of marrying the Prince of Wales and more towards any decent chap that can be lured to Alconleigh for their debut ball. Linda, growing up at Alconleigh, has not had the luxury of the education that Fanny has had living most of her time with their Aunt Emily in London. Linda therefore is so desperate to fall in love that she mistakenly falls for the first man who comes along. The wrong man, Tony Kroesig. While Fanny happily settles down with an Oxford don and starts having babies, Linda's marriage to Tony becomes nothing more than a sham. They have one daughter, whom Linda can't stand, but she keeps up the pretense of happy families, until one day she throws off her Facist husband for a Communist Christian. But yet again Linda has misstepped, thinking that she is in love when really she is just in love with being away from Tony. Always wanting so desperately to be in love Linda mistakes any male attention for the real deal. Could she be turning into Fanny's mother, The Bolter? Or will her desperate search for love pay off in the oddest of ways?

I remember one winter day when I first picked up the Vintage omnibus of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The selling point to me was the big silver sticker they had put on the cover for Masterpiece Theatre. I covet those PBS tie-in editions of yore with the beautiful artwork and here was a brand new one waiting for me to buy it. I have mentioned this before, but I am the book dork who must always read a book before watching the show, so I set to reading this before the miniseries was to air. This was a hard time in my life, I had just temporarily dropped out of college because of multiple deaths in the family and I took solace in this little escape. While I enjoyed the book, I was really looking forward to watching the miniseries more than anything. Of course, nothing goes to plan. My main problem was I was living with my family and we had only two tvs. This was to air on a Monday night, which meant one of the TVs was designated for my little brother watching Monday Night Wrestling, which meant I had to negotiate for the second TV with my mother. My mother agreed to watch it, so long as it was good. She lasted less then five minutes before she claimed boredom and changed the channel, to Two and a Half Men, to add insult to injury. I was so fed up with everyone else getting what they wanted when all I wanted to do was watch one episode of Masterpiece Theatre that I went into my room and cried. I had waited months and my mom had let me have five minutes. I had to wait more than four years to finally see the series... so logically enough, my memory of the book faded because of the incident and the emotion that followed.

Therefore a re-read was in order! I had remembered very little in the years that followed my initial reading, many of my memories were tied up in the aforementioned incident and in the second volume of the book, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I had forgotten and what I had remembered. The odd thing about this book is, truthfully, there really isn't a plot. Instead it is about the yearning and desire for love and how that can go unexpectedly right and horribly wrong. Of all the love stories told, the two that I enjoy the most were Jassy's and Linda's final love. Jassy, Linda's younger sister, has spent her entire life saving up money to run away, finally she does so in order to go to Hollywood and court an actor she has fallen for, who played a background artist in a pirate movie. The media sensation that follows is almost more entertaining than the end of the courtship, with her father viewing the reporters trying to sneak into his house as the first real and formidable enemies since he killed Germans with his entrenching tool in The Great War. While Linda's love of Fabrice is so unexpected when they meet at the train station as she is leaving her second husband, it is their banter and their easy natural conversation that makes you realize that it's not the money and it's not the looks, it's how you click that matters. Linda and I learned that love can be found in the most unexpected of places when you least expect it.

Yet, what I found most interesting about this book is how it was a mirror for the Mitfords themselves. The first time I read this book I knew about them in the vaguest of terms. Sisters, writers, one or two hung out with Hitler, whatever, it wasn't of concern to me, this was fiction. But as Nancy's sister Jessica points out in the introduction "we all know [Nancy's] got no imagination" because "there we were, larger than life, Mitfords renamed Radletts, reliving our childhoods as seen through Nancy's strange triangular green eyes." And this was a trait shared by all Nancy's books, just look to the controversy surrounding Wigs on the Green, therefore the more you know about the Mitfords the funnier her books are. Here Nancy revels in lampooning herself and her family. Her sisters Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah, and brother Tom are all fair game, from what they did to even how they spoke, Hons being the family argot for their honorable titles and here lovingly given to a closet. Let's look as to what happened in real life that was included in this book? Jessica running off to Spain with a communist, yes times two. Diana up and leaving her catholic husband for a fascist, yes, but in reverse. Nancy's affair with a Frenchman, thankfully showing she is willing to lampoon herself, also happens. But it's not just the big things, the life changing events that are mirrored, it's their love of animals, that weird language all their own, a million things that made up this family.

This book is the Mitfords as seen through a slightly wobbly magnifying lens and I love the book for this more than any other reason. It brings these people to life in a way a thousand biographies never could, though granted I've only read a few. And Nancy continued these characters stories in Love in a Cold Climate and Don't Tell Alfred. But here's the rub, Don't Tell Alfred is often forgotten and pushed aside. Albeit it is set twenty years later, and was written eleven years after Love in a Cold Climate, I find it odd that it's so often omitted. The first two books in this trilogy are often released as an omnibus and have even been dramatized twice, once in 1980 with Judi Dench and again in 2001, which was the version I mentioned above. Yet where is Alfred? I could be cruel and say it's because it's a far inferior book, which is my personal truth, but I just find it odd that Nancy Mitford only wrote a handful of books in her life, only eight "fiction" books, and of those so many were purposefully pushed aside. As I mentioned before her book Wigs on the Green had a bit of a to-do, which resulted in it never being reprinted until recently, and not many people rhapsodize about The Blessing, which overly romanticizes the philandering ways of French men, but it is my belief that we can't just omit something because it doesn't reach the heights attained by it's predecessors. For someone who so ruthlessly portrayed the painful truths of her family it's odd to me that Nancy would willingly excise parts of her own history. But that is the beauty of being the one who writes down the history am I right? You can make of it what you will. Or in this case you can just go read one of the books written by her sisters for another opinion.   


Newer Post Older Post Home