‘Love in a Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford -The Hilarious and Necessary Corrective to Downton Abbey

 

‘Love in a Cold Climate’  by Nancy Mitford   (1949) – 256 pages

 

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I watched and delighted in Downton Abbey as much as anyone else, tuning in each week to watch the adventures of the supremely aristocratic Crawley family and their household staff.  I figured that Downton Abbey was precisely calibrated to please those of today’s upper class who might still contribute money to public television, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Nancy Mitford was born into one of those aristocratic families in England but her view is entirely different from that of the writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes.    Hers is a much less humane, wickedly humorous, look at the aristocracy from the inside.  Somehow I trust Nancy Mitford in her picture of the upper class more than Julian Fellowes.  The aristocrats at Downton Abbey are portrayed as being nowhere near as obnoxious as many of them at that time actually were.

Whereas in Downtown Abbey, the family cares oh so much about all the trials and tribulations that beset members of their household staff,  in ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ Lady Montdore says “I love being so dry in here and seeing all those poor people so wet.”

Here is Mitford’s wicked description of Lady Montdore:

“Her curtsies, owing to the solid quality of her frame, did not recall the graceful movement of wheat before the wind.  She scrambled down like a camel, rising again backside foremost like a cow, a strange performance, painful it might be supposed to the performer, the expression on whose face, however, belied that thought.  Her knees cracked like revolver shots but her smile was heavenly.”

In Downton, the Maggie Smith character, the Countess of Grantham, says abrupt rascally things, but she is still lovable.  In ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ the aristocrats’ behavior is often unjustifiably hateful.

In ‘Love in a Cold Climate’, we have Boy Dougdale, the Lecherous Lecturer.  He is a rich uncle in his forties who flirts with the fourteen year old girls.

“But the fascinating thing was after the lecture he gave us a foretaste of sex, think what a thrill.  He took Linda up on to the roof and did all sorts of blissful things to her; at least, she could easily see how they would be blissful with anybody except the Lecturer.  And I got some great sexy pinches as he passed the nursery landing.  Do admit, Fanny.”

The whole family is appalled when the now eighteen year old Polly decides to marry her recently widowed uncle Boy Dougdale.

As Jassy truly observed, however, “Isn’t Sadie a scream, she simply doesn’t realize that what put Polly on the Lecturer’s side in the first place must have been all those dreadful things he did to her, like he once tried to with Linda and me, and that now what she really wants most in the world is to roll and roll and roll about with him in a double bed.”

The Mitford Manor House

The Mitford Manor House

You can be sharp and mean and wicked in fiction.  They don’t write them like ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ anymore.  I wish they did.

The idea that Downton Abbey misses is that all that money and free time gave these aristocratic families many opportunities to misbehave, and misbehave they did.  Many were unregenerate Nazis and needlessly cruel to their servants and less fortunate others.  And their misbehavior could take countless other forms.  I’m not saying that aristocrats were worse than the rest of us; they were just as bad, and considering the money and influence these people had the results were more pernicious.

I think Nancy Mitford would have agreed with that.

 

 

Grade:   A

 

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15 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds very charming and the type of book I would love!

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  2. HI Melissa,
    I have now read two novels by Nancy Mitford, ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’, and I can’t see how anyone could NOT love her novels. 🙂
    You may want to read ‘The Pursuit of Love’ first, since ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ is a bit of a sequel.
    I also find the story of the Mitford family fascinating yet in many ways revolting.
    Here is my earlier review of ‘The Pursuit of Love’:
    https://anokatony.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/the-pursuit-of-love-by-nancy-mitford/

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  3. It’s been a long time since I read anything by Nancy Mitford, but I’m hoping to return to her later this year. I think you’re right to trust Nancy Mitford in her depiction of the upper classes, more so than Julian Fellowes anyway!

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    • Hi Jacqui,
      I wasn’t too surprised when I found out that Julian Fellowes was a conservative member of the House of Lords. He pretty much stacked the deck in his aristocrats’ favor. I like Nancy Mitford’s irreverence about these people.
      I wonder what to read next from Nancy Mitford after these two most famous novels.

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  4. I may possibly be the only person who has never watched Downton Abbey and doesn’t care to. I do want to read this Nancy Mitford book at some point though…

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  5. I didn’t take at all to Downton Abbey, but then I’m distinctly not a Fellowes’ fan. This though, this sounds good. Useful to know however that it’s something of a sequel as I’d heard of this but didn’t know that.

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    • Hi Max,
      ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ does have several of the same family characters as ‘The Pursuit of Love’, but the plots are totally separate. There wouldn’t be much problem reading them out of order, but why do it?

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  6. I loved DA, but knew it was an realistic picture of the British upper class. Will have to look for this – looks like a fun read!

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  7. I want to read this one, not because of Downtown Abbey but because I had so much fun reading her Christmas Pudding.

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    • Hi Emma,
      Yes, I am sure there are other superior books by Nancy Mitford besides ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ lurking in the corners somewhere.

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