Sunday, November 29, 2009

289. The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

History: This book was published in 1945.
Plot: The narrator is Fanny, whose mother ("The Bolter") and father have left her to be brought up by her Aunt Emily and the valetudinarian Davey, whom Emily marries early in the novel. Fanny spends much of her time at Alconleigh, home of her cousin and great friend, Linda, the main character in this book. The early chapters recount the Radlett children's bizarre upbringing, including their contrasting obsessions with hunting and preventing cruelty to animals, and the activities of their secret society, "the Hons."
As soon as she is grown up, the romantically inclined Linda marries Tony Kroesig, a dull banker and MP. They have one child, Moira, to whom Linda takes an instant dislike; Moira is soon abandoned to the care of her prosaic paternal grandparents. Linda leaves Tony for an ardent Communist, Christian Talbot. She travels to France to help with the Spanish refugees , but is still unable to get Christian’s attention. She finds out he is having an affair and leaves him. On her way home to England, she runs out of money in Paris, and as she is weeping , siting on her suitcase, she meets Fabrice, a French duke. They have an affair, he is very rich and buys her lots of presents and puts her up in a beautiful apartment. However, the couple are separated by the outbreak of World War II. Linda goes back to her family in England, and Fabrice joins the fight against the Nazis. At some point Fabrice comes back to England and sees Linda, and tells her he loves her. As a result of their liaison, Linda becomes pregnant - against medical advice - and dies in childbirth. Fabrice having been killed in the war, their baby son is adopted by Fanny and her husband.
Review: When Nancy Mitford wrote The Pursuit of Love in 1945, it caused a sensation. Her family and friends were shocked, the public was titillated, and everyone was hugely entertained. Yet at first sight, it’s certainly a good novel, but nothing to cause so much fuss: through the eyes of Cousin Fanny, it follows the pursuits and the loves of Linda Radlett, daughter of Lord Alconleigh, and the wildly eccentric habits of her family. Why the furore? Because Nancy Mitford, as her sister Jessica pointed out, had no imagination whatsoever: the book is so clearly autobiographical as to be almost a memoir, stripping her family, friends, and self bare with her own brand of wicked satire. Mitford sends up her class endlessly, wickedly, and accurately. From the tiny indicators of speech that separate the Hons from the Counter-Hons (the genuine nobles from the pretenders), to the men with leisure to tease their neighbors or make a hobby of their health, she makes even this middle-class American see every strand in the complicated braid.
Opening Line: “There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh.”
Closing Line: “Oh dulling,” said my mother, sadly. “One always thinks that. Every, every time.”
Quotes: “The young man she had fallen in love with, handsome, gay, intellectual and domineering, melted away upon closer acquaintance, and proved to have been a chimera, never to have existed outside of her imagination.”
“Whatever quality it is that can hold indefinitely the love and affection of a man she plainly did not possess, and now she was doomed to the lonely, hunted life of a beautiful but unattached woman.”
“She reminded herself that nobody ever really knew he state of a man’s heart, not even, perhaps specially not, his moher, and that in love it is actions that count.”
Rating: Superb

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