If, while driving through the English countryside, you spot two girls running across a field pursued by a pack of hunting dogs and a crotchety old man, don’t be afraid. It’s simply the Mitford sisters and their father, out for a bit of fun.
Hunting tomorrow, girls.
I’ve no idea if the hunting scene in the opening chapters of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love is autobiographical, but I hope so. The Mitford sisters were the “it” girls at one time. Four beautiful young women, wealthy, eccentric family, aristocratic. Jessica Mitford went on to become a successful journalist while Nancy Mitford wrote novels.
Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love deals with the life of Linda Radlett, her eccentric childhood, marriage and affairs set between the World Wars. But it’s clearly the story of Nancy Mitford, novelized to protect the innocent, or maybe just the family.
Linda Radlett’s life is one of scandal. She makes a bad first marriage, has a daughter she does not love, gets divorced, makes a second bad marriage and then finds true love with a Parisian known for a long string of affairs. But a scandalous life can make for entertaining reading, and the Mitford sisters never fail to entertain.
I admit I had several problems with the characters’ snobbishness. Nancy Mitford is credited with coining the terms ‘U’ and ‘Non-U’ for upper class and not upper class. It’s difficult to find a character in The Pursuit of Love who’s not a snob. Even the communists look down on each other. But the novel’s charm and the author’s wit win the day. At her most heartless, Linda Radlett is an amusing character. Take for instance this passage where Linda tells her cousin why she dislikes her own daughter after discovering that the child is afraid of air-raids:
“I’m in such a temper,” she said, “I must talk to somebody. To think I ruined nine months of my life in order to have that. What do your children think about air-raids, Fanny?”
“I must say them simply long for them, and I am sorry to say they also long for the Germans to arrive. They spend the whole day making booby-traps for them in the orchard.”
“Well that’s a relief anyhow–I thought perhaps it was the generation.”
Perhaps it was the generation. A generation of Mitfords.
It’s been a while since I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. I admit that I have largely forgotten it. However, the Mitford sisters have never failed me once. While they do not always edify, they always entertain. I highly recommend anything with their name on it. Perfect summer reading.