In Zoe Heller’s introduction to this novel, she makes the point that people either love or hate a Mitford novel. I wonder if that’s really true?
The Mitford sisters grew up in a rag tag bundle, on a manor in England, the children of Upper Class parents, in the early part of last century. Nancy, out of the six of them, was a writer, and her humor encapsulates the British way of gently making fun of herself, her family, and anyone who takes themselves too seriously. I think that perhaps this subtly might be lost on people who don’t like her, since she comes across as caring about superficial things, like romance and sex in this book for example, when I think it’s clear that that’s not the case.
The Pursuit of Love was published in 1945, and though it was not her first novel, it was more successful than previous volumes and started to make her name as a writer and humourist. Vaguely based on events and people in her own life, it’s the story of Fanny, whose mother and father have left her to be raised by an Aunt, and who spends time at Alconleigh with her cousins, one of whom, Linda, is like a sister to her. She tells the romantic story of herself and Linda, their ideas about love, and how those ideas are challenged as they grow up. It takes in childhood ideas of love, the realities of marriage, and the tumultuous emotions of real love and affairs. Whilst Fanny meets a quiet, kind man and settles down, Linda first marries a Capitalist, then a Communist, and goes through adventures on her way to The Real Thing.
It’s a funny novel, Mitford managing to capture the eccentricities of her characters in lovely ways, and also managing to get across that whilst men with ideals can be charismatic, they’re often terrible conversationalists. But it’s also a novel in which tragedy is very real. Published in the 40’s, it takes in the events of the war, and the way politics was ruling people’s lives, dividing people.
Mitfords own sisters were political, one marrying a lord, one a fascist and another a communist, and their lives were so interesting. (If you like this book, I highly recommend Letters Between Six Sisters by Charlotte Moseley, which is a book of their letters to each other over the years. Fascinating reading) This book is full of life, humour, and captures the feeling of another age, and the type of British humour that I really love. I think Mitford is a genius, and I really enjoyed this book, sighing over the romance, giggling over the characters, and felt the punch of the sad moments. Delightful.
Read It If: an old school, British read, lovers of humour and romance will enjoy this one.