Three Nancy Mitford Novels

Recently (well, last time in Bavaria), I read three novels by Nancy Mitford. Nancy Mitford was the oldest of the (in)famous Mitford sisters, members of an English aristocratic family. They were famous for their eccentricity and their politics, ranging from fascism to communism. One of the sisters was friend of Hitler’s, another married a leader of British fascists. Another sister was a communist. Several of them wrote novels or memoirs. Nancy Mitford was the chief writer of the lot, writing novel, biographies, and shorter pieces, such as essays and reviews. One of these days I would like to read a biography about them, as I think it would be fascinating (maybe horrifying in parts).

I don’t remember what made me pick up Nancy Mitford’s novels, but I really enjoyed them. They are very well written and entertaining to read – just what I needed after spending three hours driving to Bavaria. The three novels all deal with lives of more-or-less eccentric English (or French) aristocrats during the first half of the 20th century. They are nostalgic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic. They show the bad (for instance, some of the characters are quite xenophobic and denigrate people of other races and nations) as well as the good.

The three novels I read all revolved around the problems of love and marriage and how the passing years affect families. Just a little bit like more modern and realistic Georgette Heyer novels (which are, however, a lot more light-hearted and always have a happy end). Nancy Mitford’s novels can be tragic in places and don’t necessarily have happy ends. The characters sometimes fail or make the best of circumstances and just muddle through, as one does in life.

These are the three novels I read:


The Pursuit of Love

The novel tells the story of the Radlett family, especially of Linda, one of the daughters. It’s told by Fanny, a cousin who has been abandoned by her flighty mother and is brought up in normal circumstances by an aunt. In contrast, her cousins, the Radlett children, have an unconventional upbringing and some of them, especially Linda, have unconventional lives. I find Fanny very interesting. She seems to live vicariously though the exploits of her cousins, especially those of her best friend Linda, but we only learn a few asides about her own life without the Radletts.

Linda is very romantic and eager to fall in love, especially after the marriage of her older sister. Unfortunately, her romantic ways of looking at the world lead her astray. She falls in love with the conservative scion of a banking family (with German roots) and marries him despite both families being against the match. She has a daughter, Moira, whom she dislikes, and she is advised to have no other children, as Moira’s birth was difficult.

After some years Linda leaves her banker husband and hooks up with a communist, who is more interested in saving the world than in Linda. Interestingly, this lover takes Linda out of England to France, where she becomes, after she has left her communist, the mistress of a French duke. She has finally found the love of her life. But things are complicated by the advent of WWII…

The novel contains events and topics inspired by the lives of Nancy Mitford and her sisters. I really do want to read up on their lives.

Love in a Cold Climate

The novel is also narrated by Fanny, and again the reader only learns a few bits and pieces of her own life. It’s about the exploits of the Earl of Montdore’s family, especially his wife Sonia and their daughter Polly. Polly was a friend of the Radlett’s and Fanny’s, but they lost touch when the Earl became the Viceroy of India.

On their return from India, Polly is grown up and her mother wants her to become a successful debutante and make a good marriage. Polly, however, is not interested and is instead in love with her uncle, Boy Dougdale (the husband of her father’s sister). To the Radletts, this uncle has been known for his lecherous and abusive behaviour toward young girls. It appears that Polly has somehow mistaken his abusive behaviour as love. After her aunt dies, she marries him, and they are both ostracized by the Montdores and the rest of society. Especially horrific is the fact that Dougdale had an ongoing affair with Polly’s mother before marrying Polly. Almost needless to say, the marriage was doomed from the start.

The Montdores are plagued by the fact that they don’t have a son and that the Earl’s title and assets will go to an unknown young man from Nova Scotia. However, that young man, Cedric, turns out to be the saviour of the family and brings about a happy end for everyone. The part of the novel is really very odd and funny.

Apparently, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are part of a trilogy, but my collection of Nancy Mitford novels doesn’t contain the third novel. It’s called Don’t Tell Alfred and is apparently about Fanny and her family (at last), so I’m determined to read this at some point soon.

The Blessing

This novel tells the tale of Grace, daughter of a well-to-do English family, who meets, falls in love and marries a French aristocrat just at the beginning of WWII. She becomes pregnant straight away and brings up her son, Sigi, “the blessing”, by herself, as her new husband, is busy with the war and only returns to his family some years after the war.

After his return, Charles-Edouard takes Grace and Sigi to France, where at first they struggle to cope with life in the French aristocracy. They both rather take to it, except that Grace finds out that Charles-Edouard has a long-time mistress and various other lovers. She, naturally, takes umbrage and leaves her husband to return to her father’s home in England. Both Grace and Charles-Edouard are not very happy at this turn of events, but Sigi soon grasps the advantages of being able to manipulate his separated parents for his own ends. He proceeds to do everything to keep them apart and the question is, will Grace and Charles-Eduard notice his nefarious plots, and will they come to a compromise that will allow them to live together?

As I said, I really liked the novels. They make for deceptively light summer reading, but also open up questions about the nature of romantic love, idealism and many other topics to ponder, if one is so inclined.

Keep safe, world.

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