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The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London [Paperback]

Lisa Hilton
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Jun 2012

'Oh, the horror of love!' Nancy Mitford once exclaimed. Elegant and intelligent, Nancy was a reknowned wit and a popular author. Yet this bright, waspish woman, capable of unerring emotional analysis in her work gave her heart to a well-known philanderer who went on to marry another woman. Was Nancy that unremarkable thing - a deluded lover - or was she a remarkable woman engaged in a sophisticated love affair?

Gaston Palewski, was the Free French commander and one of the most influential politicians in post-war Europe. His and Nancy's mutual life was spent amongst the most exciting, powerful and controversial figures in the centre of reawakening Europe. She supported him throughout his tumultuous career and he inspired some of her best work, including The Pursuit of Love. Lisa Hilton's provocative book reveals how, with discipline, gentleness and a great deal of elegance, Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski achieved a very adult ideal.

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The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London + The Other Mitford: Pamela's Story + The House of Mitford
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (21 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753827735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753827734
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 186,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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An excellent study of passion. (William Leith EVENING STANDARD 2012-06-14)

Hilton has no truck with those who claim that Nancy died of a broken heart; her crisply written book is instead something of a manifesto for a more pragmatic, Gallic approach to human relations. (Daisy Goodwin THE SUNDAY TIMES 2012-06-17)

An extraordinary, yet also typical, love affair told with sympathy and intelligence. (THE SUNDAY HERALD 2012-06-17)

Not a "Mitford book", says Hilton, but this nicely barbed reappraisal of Nancy's 30-year affair with politician and unlikely philanderer Palewski extrapolates heavily from her world and writings. (THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH SEVEN Magazine 2012-07-08)

For those who like the work and life of Nancy Mitford this will also be a most useful and entertaining biography. (CONTEMPORARY REVIEW)

Makes for fascinating reading. (THE GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

It is true passion that this volume focuses on. (THIS ENGLAND)


Book Description

The compelling love story of two extraordinary individuals - Nancy Mitford and Free French commander Gaston Palewski - living in extraordinary times.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great subjects; not such great writing 20 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Horror of Love" is a good addition to the Mitford canon. There is very little that is new about Nancy's struggles--personal, financial, romantic or gynecological. The introductory chapters do a brisk but thorough account of Mitford's early years, which are well documented in Mary Lovell's masterwork "The Sisters" and various volumes of Nancy's correspondence. The detail devoted to Palewski's career is fascinating. For many years, readers have been offered little about him that is not couched in "Duc de Sauveterre" fictions. His role during and post-WWII was crucial to the success of the Free French, and essential to DeGaulle's eventual assumption of power. He was clearly a man of formidable intelligence and political skill. His resume as a serial pouncer/adulterer no longer reads with charm, but as pretty creepy, frankly.

Hilton does a credible job of presenting both protagonists warts and all, and what a lot of warts both had! The descriptions of Palewski's appearance and traffic-stopping halitosis were especially frank. The author also takes the usual descriptions of Nancy's "talent to annoy" one step further, and details the viciousness, bitterness, and cruelty of which she was not only capable, but seemingly proud. I suspect that many of her famous prejudices (children, Americans, and her insistence that the two are interchangeable) may have started off as a tease, but later in her life, became ingrained and rather ugly.

Nancy Mitford's novels are wonderful romps, delightful to read, frothy and not particularly substantial. (Which doesn't mean I don't love them!) Her non-fiction works, particularly her biography of Mme. de Pompadour, are scrupulously researched and beautifully written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very rewarding read 4 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't naturally read this sort of biographical literature on the 20th Century. But it's a very good story - not just about two people, their affair and their family - but about the political and historical context of the huge changes that were talking place around them. The history of France in 1938/9 and during the 40's and the aftermath of WWII is particularly interesting and still relevant.Sensitivley written with excellent research and some humour, this is a book for anyone with a curious mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Biography of a love affair 24 Nov 2012
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
This is a spirited book which traces the on-off love affair between Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski, a commander of the Free French, immortalised in Mitford's books as Fabrice de Sauveterre.

Mitford fans here don't seem to rate this book but if you haven't read a biography of Nancy before, as I hadn't, then this is a vivacious introduction to her life and loves. The first part follows the early lives of Nancy and Gaston in alternative chapters: her elite upbringing, his somewhat different one as the child of Polish-Jewish immigrants to France. The repellent Fascist beliefs of Nancy's sisters, Unity and Diana, are well-known, as are the Communist sympathies of Jessica - Nancy is less extreme politically but comes out on the `good' side, at least in this very sympathetic view of her.

The run-up to, and proceedings of, the war are done particularly well: Palewski's time as a fighter pilot in the French air force; Nancy's work with Jewish and French refugees during the London Blitz; Palewski's support for de Gaulle after the surrender of the Pétain government, and the creation of the Free French government in exile.

It's only about a third or so through the book that our couple meet but we have a strong sense of who they are by then. Hilton is very sympathetic to the Gallic nature of their relationship, and refuses to see Nancy as in any sense either a victim or an unhappy woman, drawing on her novels and letters to support her argument.

Key society figures from the time flit through this book - Duff and Diana Cooper, Violet Trefusis, Evelyn Waugh who was a life-long friend and correspondent of Nancy's. If you've loved the Mitford books (especially The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, The Blessing) then this is a sparkling look behind the scenes at the woman who created and the man who inspired them.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Stick to Hastings.. 4 Dec 2011
By mermaid
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This appalling waste of money is 262 pages long. Lisa Hilton does not begin her pointless 'exploration' of Nancy Mitford's 30 odd year relationship with Gaston Palewski until page 133. There is no structure to this book, the literary style is risible and there are no new insights; just a skewed attempt to make readers believe Nancy had some say in what was a rather sad scenario . There is more detail about M. Palewski's career than might ordinarily appear, but he would be no more than a very minor footnote in a biography of De Gaulle if it were not for his involvement with a Mitford. Selina Hastings' biography of Nancy has all the information contained here, and more. I am taking 'The Horror of Love' to a charity shop tomorrow. Good luck to someone - I wish I hadn't bought it and feel somewhat daft for having done so...
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The pursuit of Palewski. 16 Nov 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book treats of the protracted love affair between Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski, known to the 'Nancy Fancy' as Col or the Colonel, and also as the model for the thinly disguised Fabrice de Sauveterre in The Pursuit of Love. They met in London when GP was with the Free French delegation assisting Charles de Gaulle, and from then his career was entwined with de Gaulle's. He was also amorously entwined with Nancy from then on (and sometimes off) until her death, although to her despair he had affairs with many other women, sired an illegitimate son without her knowledge, and eventually married a stratospherically wealthy duchess; ironically a Protestant divorcee like Nancy herself. Gaston was clearly one of those men who can charm and entrance women despite unprepossessing looks and epic halitosis, and surely one of the great links between him and Nancy was their love of "things" and of furnishing a home with lovely and interesting pieces.

The main interest of this book for me was the filling in of Gaston's family, background and career, which makes this an essential addition to the Mitford Shelf. After the war he was never far from the centre of power, and probably the apogee of his career was to be the French Ambassador to Rome, where he lived in the Palazzo Farnese. Sadly Nancy was unable to enjoy this success as she was constrained to visit him there only occasionally and quietly, mainly in August, when no-one of any note is at home in Rome. Maybe Peter Rodd's refusal to grant Nancy a divorce for such an age actually protected her from what could have been a tragically unhappy marriage with Gaston?

Like Nancy, who disguised painstaking research with an effortless writing style, Lisa Hilton has written a fascinating and most readable book on the affair between Nancy and Gaston, and fleshed out Nancy's life in Paris following her move there after the war. For anyone with an interest in this period, it really is a must.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh oh oh
I loved this book. It was well researched, well written and brought the joy and sadness to life. Also very good on post war French politics about which I knew nothing
Published 10 months ago by Charlotte J. Bevan
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
The rather titillating title suggests the author will examine what exacty it was about Gaston Palewski (an ugly, self-obsessed man with halitosis, apparently) that made Nancy... Read more
Published 13 months ago by helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor Woman
This woman somehow has a miserable existence with her somewhat uninterested lover. Although titled and moneyed she suceeds in making a spectacle of herself. Read more
Published 18 months ago by S. R. Hutchinson
2.0 out of 5 stars A very long essay
The book is beautifully presented and one cannot fault the overall presentation of the text and photographs, it makes a lovely collectors item for anybody besotted by the Mitfords. Read more
Published on 12 May 2012 by LS
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange Terms
Have not finished yet, so I am ambivalent (though I have some sympathy with the criticism of using untranslated French phrases, balanced by some enjoyment in learning more about... Read more
Published on 2 May 2012 by Mrs. E. Cook
2.0 out of 5 stars So disappointing
It took as far as chapter twelve for Nancy Mitford and Palewski to get together and I was so disappointed . Read more
Published on 29 Feb 2012 by warthog
2.0 out of 5 stars Nancy and Gaston in Paris and London
This book does what it says on the cover. It tells you about Nancy and Gaston in Paris and London - and in Morocco and Rome and Venice and everywhere else they went, either... Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2012 by SRH
5.0 out of 5 stars The Horror of Love
This is not a usual biography - it is the biography of a love affair between Gaston Palewski and Nancy Mitford. Read more
Published on 16 Nov 2011 by S Riaz
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