Love and Longing In-Between Wars
I read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for the 12 Months Classics Challenge Event (August – A Modern Classic) as well as my Women’s Classical Literature Reading event for the month of August. I am choosing to overlook the fact that I was supposed to read this in August, but finally ended up reading it in September. Like I say better late than never!
The Pursuit of Love is set after the end of World War 1 and follows the lives of the Radlett children, until the end of World War II, through the eyes of their cousin Fanny . Fanny is the daughter of the youngest sister of Aunt Sadie, being brought by her other aunt, Aunt Emily. Fanny’s mother is called “Bolter” and has had a string of affairs and marriages leaving her daughter to the care of her sister to be brought up. Aunt Sadie is married to Matthew Radlett, who owns Alconleigh, where Fanny spends her holidays in the company of her Radlett cousins, especially Linda, to whom she is closest too. Their childhood is spent hunting with their uncle and forming plans in the wardrobe, for their secret society “The Hons”. The Radlett girl cousins are not educated too much, Uncle Matthew being of the belief that girls to retain their feminine virtues, must know some French, play instruments and read and write, but no scholarship is needed. Aunt Emily however beliefs in education of women and ensures that Fanny receives a good education, even moving towns to enable her to attend a good school. At the age of 13, their lives are disturbed by the news that their Aunt Emily is getting married. Davey Warbeck is introduced to their lives and this gentle brilliant man with hyponchdriac tendencies is soon an accepted member of the extended Radlett tribe! Soon the young children grow up and Louisa the eldest of the Radlett tribes debuts in London and marries a solid, albeit boring Scottish peer.Linda and Fanny spend days dreaming of the “true love” and waiting for their time in the society circles. The years pass and Linda and Fanny debut and in one of the balls hosted by her parents, she meets Tony Kroesig a young banker, brought in the last moment, by the glamorous neighbor and Linda’s mentor Lord Merlin. This sets off an unprecedented chain of events over the next decade that sees Linda failing and then falling and finally finding the expected promise land.
I had heard much and much and much about this novel. It was cried out as one of the best coming of age stories and its humor and sensitivity was to touch one and all. It is a good book, it has many humorous touches. I loved the initial years of the Radlett children growing up and I loved the well drawn larger than life characters of Uncle Matthew,. Lord Merlin and Davy. I loved the brusque humor and the simple nostalgia of days and nights of doing everyday things and finding pleasure. I loved the relationships not bound by social stereotypes which spring forth and bring heart to this novel,. like Davy’s unvarying love and devotion to his nieces and Lord Merlin’s constant watching over Linda and the kind of care Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew bestowed on Emily and even her truant mother! These were wonderful relationships and I wish we had stuck to them instead of chasing Linda and her happening and non happening love life across the length and breath of Europe. I am told Nancy Mitford wrote this novel from her own recollections and experiences and I don’t know what to make of it; anyone who reads closely, will find that there is no bigger chicken head than Linda Radlett! She pines for true love; hello! who does not? But because she does not find it, she spend a whole decade doing nothing – I mean nothing!! She does even bother to take care of her daughter! She becomes a social butterfly then a communist before settling down to become a Mistress to her one true love! In between she does absolutely nothing, she does not read, she does not cook, she does not do anything except shop and spend days in parties and moan about her disastrous life!!Goodness! You would think, she is most unfortunate under privileged woman ever!Then I have a serious problem with the War; I mean there is a war on and the only thing Mitford focuses on is Linda’s pining away for her lover! I understand that the society then was different form us and society women doing nothing was the norm, but history testifies to many many woman who pinned for their lovers and still drove ambulances, worked in communal kitchens and patched up the wounded. During the war, there was no time for indulgence of grief; there was so much to do just to survive and all Linda does is lie in her bedroom in the posh London apartment! Ms. Mitford’s treatment of the war comes across as minor civilian disturbance; I am not sure what genre she was trying to fit in because she does not manage to in any! The plot that begins with so much promise ends in a ordinary cliche, which you know would have been the inevitable conclusion some 80 pages into the book.
I read the book and I now of read of “the books” but frankly I have read better and I am still bemused at the kind of rave reviews it has received over the years!