The Pursuit of Love
by Nancy Mitford
The cover of this book is disturbingly pink and in her introduction Zoë Heller describes it as an “unassuming bit of mid-century ‘chick-lit’” but then she also calls it “spiky and intelligent” and that, I think, comes closer to my experience. Do not be fooled by the bright pink – here be politics, acute observation of human life and some tragic events.
The infamous Mitford sisters had never really been on my radar until last year when a friend mentioned reading a volume of their letters to each other and I became instantly fascinated. That letters compilation is still on my wishlist but in the meantime this loosely disguised autobiography has provided my first insight into the Mitfords’ colourful world.
Colourful is certainly the word. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that if anything this novel tones down the reality somewhat, but the fictional Radlett family are engrossingly colourful. Narrated by cousin and confidante Fanny, the novel follows the lives of the many Radlett children, particularly the irrepressible Linda. From teenage crushes to marriage, divorce, infidelity and loss, the pursuit of love is ever central to Linda, but gradually less so to the novel. Like everyone living through such times, the Radletts’ world becomes increasingly preoccupied by politics and the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Radletts are thoroughly upper class, with an estate in Gloucestershire, a seat in the House of Lords and a love of hunting. As such it is good that Mitford does not make much effort to endear them to us, but instead lovingly picks apart their language, ideals and ideas. Linda has some fantastically flippant lines comparing the parties of Conservatives to those of Communists and insists on classing everyone as Hons or counter-Hons. In many ways I really wanted to dislike her but she was just so funny…
This small book packs a lot of historical and social observation between the comic lines and yet is still an easy, fun read. I look forward to delving further into the Mitford world.
First published in 1945