Wednesday, December 30, 2009

309. Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford

History: This book was first published in 1949. Love in a Cold Climate is a companion volume to The Pursuit of Love. The time frame of Love in a Cold Climate is the same as The Pursuit of Love, but the focus is on a different set of characters. Fanny remains the fictional narrator. Don't Tell Alfred (1960) is a sequel to the novel giving further insight into the married life of Fanny and Alfred.
Plot: In Love in a Cold Climate, Fanny narrates the story of Polly, to whom Fanny is distantly related through her father's family. Lady Leopoldina [Polly] Montdore, is the only child of the supremely aristocratic and very rich Earl of Montdore and his wife, Sonia. She is depicted by Fanny, as an avaricious, greedy snob, but not without charm. Her thrusting personality, allied to her husband's impeccable social standing, riches and political influence makes her a formidable woman. Lady Montdore, unbeknown to Lord Montdore, takes advantage of her husband's reputation to forward her own career as a hostess and manipulator of her social circle. After 20 years of marriage and no children, the result is Polly. So beautiful and so perfect, the narrator, Fanny, adores Polly, as do her parents. Fanny receives an invitation to visit the Mondores at Hampton, their country house upon the family's return from India. Fanny is torn between her affection for Polly and her anxiety about the complex social issues involved in such a visit. Her reunion with Polly is successful in that the two young women rekindle their childhood affection and establish a mature friendship. Unlike Fanny's Radlett cousins who "Told everything", Polly reveals little of herself. Slightly older than Fanny, Polly has "come out" in India and as such a beautiful and socially important debutante, is expected to have a very successful Season in London. Polly however, is not very interested in society and the London Season. She tells Fanny that when she "came out " in India, she found the whole thing very boring. Love affairs, so common in India, do not interest Polly. Lady Montdore, hoping that Polly will make an important marriage, is exasperated by her daughter's apparent indifference to love and marriage. "Important" potential suitors acknowledge that Polly is very beautiful, but find her cold and aloof. The self contained Polly reveals to no-one that she has been in love with her uncle, "Boy" Dougdale [the husband of her paternal aunt, Lady Patricia] since she was 14. Fanny and her Radlett cousins have long suspected that the sexually ambiguous "Boy" has pedophile tendencies and he is a joke amongst Fanny's cousins for his inappropriate touches and furtive, "lecherous" behaviour towards young girls. Polly marries her widowed uncle, shortly after her aunt's death, causing a scandal in her social circle and distressing her parents deeply. It is also known in these circles that Boy has been Lady Montdore's lover for many years, unbeknown to Polly. Polly is excluded from her father's will upon her marriage and she and Boy ostracised from society. They move to Sicily and away from Fanny for several years.
Polly's place in the family is filled by the heir to Lord Mountdore's entailed fortune and title, Cedric Hampton. Born in Nova Scotia to a minor member of the Montdore family, Cedric has cast off his colonial origins and has used his exceptional good looks and personal charm to establish a place within the homosexual mieu of the European aristocracy. Cedric has lived a life of luxury as the lover of rich and aristocratic men. Currently out of favour in that quarter, Cedric accepts an invitation to visit the Montdores. His natural love of beauty, innate good taste and his careful use of flattery, enables Cedric to win the affections of Lord and Lady Montdore and many others. Cedric focuses his attentions upon Lady Montdore in particular and encourages her to update her wardrobe and general appearance and revive her interest in social matters, which has diminished since the "loss" of her lover and her daughter. Lady Montdore uses Cedric's popularity and charm to reestablish herself as a leading society hostess, to Cedric's advantage.
Fanny, as a regular visitor of the Montdore's, shares with her readers all of the activities of the Montdore household and Cedric soon becomes a close friend of Fanny. Polly, heavily pregnant, returns from Sicilly with Boy. The marriage has turned sour and Fanny notes that neither Polly nor Boy is in love any more. Polly is regularly visited by the elderly Duke of Paddington while pregnant, who gifts her her with luxurious flowers. Polly reconciles with her mother after bearing a child who dies shortly after its birth. Cedric and Boy meet and fall in love. While Polly recovers from the difficult birth, Cedric whisks Boy and Lady Montdore to France, leaving Polly free to be carried off by the elderly Duke. While this outcome shocks the conservative social circles in which they mix, Fanny takes a broader minded view, pleased to see people she loves each finding happiness in their own way.
Review: This book follows the tradition of humorously depicting upper-class life and times, though with far more racy scandals. The characters are funny. The main character, Fanny, is first known among society as the daughter of the 'Bolter', because her mother continually bounced from lover to lover. Cedric Montdore is the Brüno of 1940s England. Boy Dougdale, who has a keen taste for young girls, is also a keen embroiderer.
British names of the early 1900s are so good, always: Boy Dougdale, Mrs Chaddesley Corbett, Leopoldina Montdore.. But, as much as I was loving the book, the end was so disappointing. In contrast to the rest of the book, the end is rather abrupt, neat and coy, probably owing to the fact that homosexuality was not the most acceptable topic in mid-1900s England.
Opening Line: “I am obliged to begin this story with a brief account of the Hampton family, because it is necessary to emphasize the fact once and for all that the Hamptons were very grand as well as very rich.”
Closing Line: “The Boreleys think it simply terrible,” I said.”
Quotes: “I supposed, in my simplicity that when people liked me I ought to like them back as much, and that whatever they expected of me, especially if they were older people, I was morally bound to perform.”
Rating: Good.

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