Gathering three of Nancy Mitford's most famous works --The Pursuit of Love
and The Blessing
are included here alongside Love In A Cold Climate
--this collection is the perfect introduction to a writer of great wit and charm, a singular voice in modern English prose whose themes are deeper and more profound than brief acquaintance might suggest. The first two novels, especially Pursuit...
, are semi-autobiographical: the Radletts of Alconleigh are portraits of Mitford's own eccentric clan, while she herself appears as Fanny, a family cousin and the novels' narrator. The irrepressible, precocious Radletts provide many of the early instances of Mitford's deliciously wicked humour:
There was much worse drama when Linda, aged twelve, told the daughters of neighbours, who had come to tea, what are supposed to be the facts of life. Linda's presentation of the "facts" had been so gruesome that the children left Alconleigh howling dismally, their nerves permanently impaired, their future chances of a sane and happy sex life much reduced.
Following the amorous trajectories of Linda Radlett and of Polly Hampton, the first two books here are at once extremely funny and deeply serious, delineating the possibilities for love in a world circumscribed by the formal expectations and conventions of marriage. Mitford's heroines dramatise the search for a true or ideal relationship, regardless of social institutions or sexual orientation. If her casual attitude to adultery and, particularly, her portrait of Cedric--a gay character who is charming, flirtatious, and above all happy--resulted in her work being vilified by contemporaries for its "decadence" and "immorality", her exploration of female sexuality seems now to be resolutely modern, arguing the right to happiness and fulfilment.
Nancy Mitford's considerable literary output--biography, journalism, translation, fiction--has been somewhat eclipsed by the biographical extravagance of her extraordinary family: her sisters Unity and Diana (the wife of Sir Oswald Mosley) were enthusiastic fascists who notoriously cultivated the friendship of Adolf Hitler; another sister, Jessica, ran away to America and became a left-wing journalist, later writing The American Way of Death. Her case has not been helped by her subject-matter, for the milieu of the wealthy upper classes and their deep-rooted snobbishness and casual bigotry is one that might easily repel a reader who misses the irony, satire and the surfacing of darker concerns that characterise the books. A shame, for she is one of the true originals of modern English writing. --Burhan Tufail
About the Author
Born into one of the aristocracy's more eccentric families and educated at home with a clutch of siblings, Mitford used childhood experience, lightly fictionalised, in her comic novels. She also wrote biographies, translated from the French and edited a celebrated symposium on English Aristocrats.