Tuesday, May 19

The Pursuit of Love - Nancy Mitford

Fanny is the daughter of feckless parents - her father was never interested and her mother abandoned her shortly after her birth, in pursuit of another man. Though the children aren't supposed to know it, society refers to her as 'the Bolter.' Fanny was raised by her mother's sister, the gentle and loving Aunt Emily. Life with Aunt Emily was nurturing and supportive, but considerably less exciting than her visits to Alconleigh, the home of her Aunt Sadie, terrifying Uncle Matthew, and her eccentric cousins. Fanny and romantically dramatic Linda are the same age, Louisa is older and relatively well behaved, and close knit Jassy (who saves every penny to run away from home) and Matt add colour. Less prominent are their siblings, Bob, Robin and baby Victoria.
Opening between the Wars, The Pursuit of Love recounts the Radlett children's unique upbringing, which eschews education (particularly for girls) over a good seat and love of the hunt. It offers a fascinating insight into a long-gone era, and introduces some fascinating characters, eccentric, unmistakable and singular. Events then unfurl into the Spanish and Second World wars, ending in 1945. A reminder that nothing really changes, The Pursuit of Love has references to abortion (the Bolter may have bolted often but Fanny's an only child), hunt sabotage, hypochondriasis and dietary fads.
I loved this book and its sequel, Love in a Cold Climate, when I was an adolescent, and fondly remember the mini-series of the same number. This enjoyment was shared by my mother, long a Mitford fan, and still serves as a bond between us. So closely are these elements intertwined with the books themselves that I cannot tell how much of my enjoyment and comprehension comes from these experiences and how much is due to the texts alone.
Fanny is a superb narrator, observing the eccentricities of a very British family from her own conventional (but superficially unconventional) position, alternately admiring and outraged. In the second half of the novel Fanny's focus shifts from the Radlett's as a whole toward the love-oriented Linda, who lurches from one doomed marriage to another. From her own happy marriage to an Oxford don, Fanny thrills and despairs for Linda by turn, each adventure making her more grateful for the stability of her own life. When Fanny sadly tells the Bolter that Linda's last, and also doomed, relationship was with the great love of her life, the novel closes:
"Oh dulling," said my mother sadly. "One always thinks that. Every, every time."

A melancholy-tinged joy. - Alex

No comments: