"The Pursuit of Love," is among the most widely-read novels written by blue-blooded British author Nancy Mitford who was very popular in the earlier twentieth century. If you consider England between first and second world wars, few girls were as famous as the Mitfords, five beautiful daughters of a well-known upper class "county family" as you British would probably still call them. Nancy, writer of the family, knew her debutante balls well. In fact, she later came up with a way to define English social class by defining speech as "U"for upper class; and "non-U" for those who weren't.
The Mitford girls were "brought up to marry,not fall in love,"Nancy once wrote. Unfortunately, of the actual Mitford girls, only one did as she was expected to do. Deborah (Debo) married the eleventh Duke of Devonshire. Unity, however, hung around Germany, striking up warmer friendships with the Nazis, and expressing herself more forcefully in their support, than suited the British public. Diana went and married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascists, who was "detained" for WWII. Jessica ran off to Hollywood, no less, took American citizenship, and wrote the whistle-blowing American Way of Death
,a heavily influential indictment of the funeral business. Nancy did marry an "Honorable," but then she turned around and published "The Pursuit of Love," and Love in a Cold Climate (Penguin Modern Classics)
two slender novels, only novella length really, that pretty well blew the whistle on society, and on the Mitfords.
For everyone agrees that the central family of these novels, the Radletts, are the Mitfords to the life. Eccentric, choleric father; vague amiable mother; clamorous, animal-loving, quicksilver charming children. PURSUIT follows the romantic fortunes of one Linda Radlett. The action is narrated by a cousin Fanny, who stays with them at Alconleigh, their Gloucester estate. Fanny seems to resemble Nancy Mitford a bit. But the heroine, Linda, the most beautiful and wayward daughter, who surely resembles Nancy quite a bit, gets most of the action. She falls first for a self-satisfied Conservative politician, then for a fire-breathing Communist, and finally for handsome Fabrice, a French duke. In fact our heroine Linda seems to have pursued love in most of the same places Nancy, her creator did, though she well knew what was expected of her.
How could she not? At one point, a powerful peeress advises Fanny, the narrator,"Don't you go marrying anybody, for love. Remember that love cannot last; it never, never does; but if you marry all this it's for your life. One day, don't forget,you'll be middle-aged and think what that must be like for a woman who can't have, say, a pair of diamond earrings. A woman of my age needs diamonds near her face, to give a sparkle. Then at mealtimes, sitting with all the unimportant people for ever and ever. And no car. Not a very nice prospect,you know."
But Fanny, our narrator, hardly seems to need warning. She remarks at one point, "Always be civil to the girls, you never know who they may marry," is an aphorism which has saved many an English spinster from being treated like an Indian widow."
On a deeper level, however, Fanny seems to reflect her creator's ambivalence on whether to marry for love, or "all this." But there's still substantial ambivalence on that question.
One of Nancy Mitford's most beloved novels, PURSUIT can be characterized as chick lit, of course, still it is a sparkling romantic comedy, bright and charming that vividly evokes the lost glamour of aristocratic life in England between the wars. It seems to pick up right where TV's Upstairs Downstairs - The Complete Series [DVD] [1971
] left off. Not to mention Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies (Penguin Modern Classics)
, and Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
. Trust me, if you liked them, you'll love this.