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The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love - Nancy Mitford “Always either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair they loved or they loathed, they lived in a world of superlatives.”

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Nancy Mitford, unlucky in love, like many of her heroines.

Nancy Mitford had five sisters and one brother and when you look her up on wikipedia all of her siblings are in blue which of course means that wikipedia has a worthy entry for each one of them. They were certainly a talented, artistic family, and if this book is any indication also quick with the witty dialogue. Mitford draws heavily on her family’s personal history to write these novels. I have a feeling that after each book she probably received a fair share of bristling letters from her extended family as they take exception to one caricature or another or maybe they just all had a laugh knowing that everyone was going to get “got” at some point in time.

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The Mitford Sisters

Fanny is the narrator and is reminded all the time how fortunate she is.”Oh, you are so lucky, to have wicked parents.” Her mother is referred to throughout most of the book as “The Bolter” as she runs through marriages like a crazed colt intent on escaping any form of stanchion. This means that Fanny spends most of her time at Alconleigh with her Aunt Sadie “Vague as she was, Aunt Sadie could not always be counted on to ignore everything that was happening around her.” and Uncle Matthew “Over the chimney-piece...hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915 Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dugout. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children.”. Fanny is best friends with her cousin Linda, a great beauty in a family of beautiful people. ”Isn’t it lovely to be lovely me?” This story is about Linda and from time to time as Fanny starts talking about herself too much she will remind herself and her reader, firmly, that this book is about Linda.

Linda marries a Conservative prig named Tony. He had been molded and shaped carefully by his family and they had reservations about Linda. ”Linda took no interest in politics, but she was instinctively and unreasonably English. She knew that one Englishman was worth a hundred foreigners, whereas Tony thought that one capitalist was worth a hundred workers. Their outlook upon this, as upon most subjects, differed fundamentally.”She had one odious, boring child with him named Moira who has all the attributes that will make her a quality member of her father’s parents. The issues the family has with Linda become more magnified as time goes on partly due to the way they treat her and refer to her. We do become what we are told we are if we are told it enough times.

She bolts.

She marries a Communist. He takes her to Spain to help with the Civil War. He falls in love with a friend of Linda’s, not a friend really but one of those friends that sometimes we are shackled with due to geography or family connections, named Lavender Davis. Linda is naturally affronted that he would find this shovel faced girl more attractive than himself, but then Lavender was more fanatical with the cause while Linda is, though proved to be more helpful than I would have thought, really just along for the ride.

She bolts.

She ends up being found at the train station in Paris, weeping over her luggage, by a well dressed (Is there any other kind?) Frenchman named Fabrice who turns out to be a wealthy Duke. He has just put his ex-girlfriend on the train and low and behold as if provided to him by a higher power is a beautiful young woman in need of assistance. A woman who needs his help in so many things.

”Now go on telling me about your husbands.”
“Only two. My first was a Conservative, and my second is a communist.”
“Just as I guessed, your first is rich, your second is poor. I could see you once had a rich husband, the dressing-case and the fur coat, though it is a hideous colour, and no doubt, as far as one could see, with it unbundled over your arm, a hideous shape. Still, vision usually betokens a rich husband somewhere. Then this dreadful linen suit you are wearing has ready-made written all over it.”
‘You are rude, it’s a very pretty suit.”
“And last year’s. Jackets are getting longer you will find. I’ll get you some clothes--if you were well dressed you would be quite good-looking, though it’s true your eyes are small. Blue, a good colour, but small.”
“In England,” said Linda, “I am considered a beauty.”
“Well, you have points.”

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Gaston Palewski, the inspiration for the Fabrice character and the great love of Mitford’s life. He was incapable of fidelity, but he was with Mitford when she died despite being married to someone else.

Linda falls in love with her Duke. Germany is on the march and soon she will have to bolt back to England, but for once she does not want to go. She is visited by a contingent of concerned relatives and friends who give her some insight into her Frenchman.

”Who is he?” said Lord Merlin.
“He’s called the Duke of Sauveterre.”
A look of great surprise, mingled with horrified amusement, passed between Davey and Lord Merlin.
“Fabrice de Sauveterre?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“Darling Linda, one always forgets, under that look of great sophistication, what a little provincial you really are. Of course we know him, and all about him, and, what’s more, so does everyone except you.”
“Fabrice,” said Lord Merlin with emphasis, “is undoubtedly one of the wickedest men in Europe, as far as women are concerned. But I must admit that he’s an extremely agreeable companion.”

Fabrice might be wicked, but he also has a different idea about sin.

”I’ve just been to church.”
“Fabrice, how can you go to church when there’s me?”
“Of course I am. What do you suppose? Do you think I look like a Calvinist?”
“But then aren’t you living in mortal sin? So what about when you confess?”
“On ne precise pas,” said Fabrice, carelessly, “and in any case, these little sins of the body are quite unimportant.”

Linda had hoped that she was more than just “a little sin of the body” to Fabrice.

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Drawing of Fabrice and Linda from the Folio Edition that I read.

This book sparkles with wit and charm. Everything is told in such a breezy and light matter that even when great tragedy strikes Mitford does not alter her tone as if to say “it is what it is”. The dialogue is snappy and gives us a good idea of what conversations must have been like among the Mitford clan. I ended up reading passages out loud to my wife and she chortled along with me. I had to restrain myself from not relating more of the dialogue in this review. This book is laugh out loud funny and full of eccentric behavior from pastel dyed doves to bejewelled dogs to a revered blood encrusted trenching tool over the mantelpiece. I will most assuredly be reading book two in the series Love in a Cold Climate.

My GR friend Michael Edwards shared a great story about Queen of England choosing this Mitford for reading. The quote is from Bennett's [b:The Uncommon Reader|1096390|The Uncommon Reader|Alan Bennett|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1317064291s/1096390.jpg|1792422]and it is just too good not to add to this review

The Pursuit of Love turned out to be a fortunate choice and in its way a momentous one. Has Her Majesty gone for another duff read, an early George Eliot, say, or a late Henry James, novice reader that she was she might have been put off reading for good and there would be no story to tell. Books, she would have thought, were work.
As it was, with this one she soon became engrossed, and passing her bedroom that night clutching his hot-water bottle, the duke heard her laugh out loud. He put his head around the door. 'All right, old girl?'
'Of course, I'm reading.'