Monday, April 26, 2010
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Fanny is the narrator, a cousin to the six Radlett children and whose mother is known as The Bolter. She's raised alongside this blue-eyed bunch who are thinly veiled as the Mitfords themselves, at Alconleigh, their upper-class English estate. In fact, in the beginning I had a bit of trouble separating fact from fiction having read some of The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters.
The girls dream of their future husbands and of course at least one is in love with the Prince of Wales. Their imaginative play reminded me of my own childhood, a time before digital devices. Huddled in the Hons cupboard...'We had a tape measure and competed as to the largeness of our eyes, the smallness of wrists, ankles, waist and neck, length of legs and fingers, and so on. Linda always won.
As the girls form attachments, it is Linda's story that we follow. Marrying into a German family against her family's wishes and then giving birth to a daughter she is painfully indifferent about (although we do find out her reasoning later) is only the beginning of her foray into womanhood. Realizing that she is bored beyond belief, a handsome Communist named Christian easily turns her head and another marriage is unwisely entered into. Of course it all ends in tears and Linda finds herself sitting on her suitcase at a railway station with no money and a very wet hankie. Enter the worldly and wealthy Fabrice, who can't stand to see a woman cry and offers a shoulder to cry on, then lunch, then dinner and a hotel. Oh what's another affair now that she's already had two husbands? But will a gorgeous flat in Paris and trunks full of haute couture bring Linda happiness and contentment?
Meanwhile, back at Alconleigh, Davey Warbeck, who is engaged to The Bolter is absolutely hysterical as a health-crazed house guest. 'The fact is, dear, that if Mrs Beecher were a Borgia she could hardly be more successful - all that sausage mince is poison, Sadie. I wouldn't complain if it were merely nasty, or insufficient, or too starchy, one expects that in the war, but actual poison does, I feel, call for comment. Look at the menus this week - Monday, poison pie; Tuesday, poison burger steak; Wednesday, Cornish poison-'.
There are desperate moments when the extended family rallies at Alconleigh, preparing for a German invasion during World War II. Rations are tight, the house is freezing, some of the sisters are expecting babies and suicide is mentioned should the Germans actually show up. The Pursuit of Love was published in 1945 so the dialogue is most likely all too real. At this point, I was well and truly captivated by this family and then all too soon, it was over and I was unprepared for the ending. I actually sat there and looked for more pages, not wanting to believe that this was the end!
Due to the fact that I seem to manage only one book every couple of weeks, I've decided to start my Persephone Reading Week early with Richmal Crompton's, Family Roundabout. I'm very much looking forward to getting back to the second story by Mitford included in my book, Love in a Cold Climate. Can there ever be too much Mitford? I think not!