‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford (1945) – 214 pages
Many writers have turned their early years of family life as a child into a novel, but few have succeeded so brilliantly as Nancy Mitford in ‘The Pursuit of Love’. She seemingly without effort turned the characters of her childhood – and I do mean ‘characters’ – into frivolous eccentric figures of comedy.
Uncle Matthew Radlett has mounted over the fireplace a photograph of the entrenching tool with which he ‘whacked to death eight Germans one-by-one as they crawled out of a dugout’. The entrenching tool is covered with blood and hairs, ‘an object of fascination to us as children’.
Meanwhile young daughter Linda cries enormous tears over the death of any animal, even a white mouse. The story in ‘The Pursuit of Love’ is told by Fanny who is almost like an extra daughter in the Radlett household. Her mother ‘ran away so often, and with so many different people, that she became known to her family and friends as the Bolter’:
‘Though she (the Bolter) was silliness personified, there was something engaging about her frankness and high spirits and endless good nature. The children adored her…’
Fanny was left with Aunt Emily who made sure that Fanny was rarely alone by having her stay frequently with Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew and their 6 children. As Linda tells Fanny,
“You are so lucky to have wicked parents.”
Most of the novel is about daughter Linda’s romantic escapades as she turns out to be a bit of a Bolter herself. First a Germanic businessman named Tony who bores her to distraction, then an out-and-out Communist named Christian, then a French resistance fighter named Fabrice.
The story of the Radlett family continues in a second novel, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’.
“The Pursuit of Love” is a lively merry story about an unconventional family that will leave you smiling uncontrollably. Men who do not believe that women can do comedy should not read this novel; otherwise their illusions will be smashed.
I have been studying on the Internet the fascinating frequently outrageous lives of the Mitford sisters. They have been famously described by The Times journalist Ben MacIntyre as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover, Nancy the Novelist, Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur” . Their stories, especially those of Unity, leave me speechless and not with admiration.