‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford

‘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.

Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935

Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935

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.

8 responses to this post.

  1. I bought this one just a couple of weeks ago – thanks for reminding me why I really need to actually read it soon


  2. I’ll confess to admiring the two different video version of this (done under the title of Love in a Cold Climate) so much, that I have been reluctant to undertake the novel. Whatever else one might think of Mitford, she certainly knows how to create characters — perhaps that comes from the truly strange family background.


    • Hi Kevin,
      As you say, a truly strange family. I came into this pretty much a Mitford novice and was just stunned to find out all this stuff. After reading about Diana and Unity, it was only a short step to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. New information about Edward VIII keeps coming out all the time, none of it good.


  3. Tony, I love the Mitfords and have occasionally sent my husband out to Barnes and Noble to get the latest collection of Mitfords’ letters. Love in a Cold Climate is one of my favorite books. Am always glad to read another review of it!


    • Hi Kat,
      I didn’t realize the Mitfords’ letters were such an industry, but I can see how they could be fascinating. I believe Deborah, the youngest and the Duchess of Devonshire, is the only one who remains living.

      I’m checking Diana Mitford’s biography of Wallis Simpson out of the library just to determine if any secrets were accidentally or inadvertently revealed when it was written 35 years ago in light of everything that has come out about the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson since 2002.


  4. I’d never heard of this before. Did Mitford write many novels? I should google her I guess.


    • Max,
      Nancy Mitford wrote eight novels of which ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ are by far the most famous. I really do want to read another one,but have not a clue what her third best novel would be. If you start googling the Mitfords, be sure and google Unity as her story is the most outrageous and appalling of all. I did not have a clue about that either.


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