A slower, more meditative pace inhabits The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, less frenetic than her earlier novels. More fond, less satirical. Fanny Logan narrates this story of the Radlett family and, in particular, her cousin Linda’s pursuit of love.
The teenage Linda and sisters, and cousin Fanny who visits the Radletts at the fading freezing family pile, Alconleigh in the Cotswolds, want to grow up now. They are obsessed by sex and romance whilst being woefully ignorant of the practicalities. The reality, however, is more difficult and less romantic than they imagined. They form a secret society The Hons. When not out hunting, The Hons spend hours in a large warm cupboard gossiping about love and Fanny’s disreputable mother, ‘The Bolter’, who abandoned her daughter to pursue love. Fanny, raised by her Aunt Emily and stepfather Davey, spends all her holidays at Alconleigh with Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie and their family.
As with all Mitford novels there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Alconleigh is an eccentric world where Uncle Matthew rules his staff and family; he despises foreigners, Catholics, the nouveaux riche and people who say ‘perfume’ instead of ‘scent’. Desperate to find true love and not follow the family black sheep – The Bolter – into leapfrogging from affair to affair, the cousins are woefully naïve and unprepared for meeting men. Linda sums up true love, ‘it was like seeing somebody in the street who you think is a friend, you whistle and wave and run after him, and it is not only not the friend, but not even very like him. A few minutes later the real friend appears in view, and then you can’t imagine how you ever mistook that person for him.’
Published in 1945, the story starts in the Thirties and runs through the Spanish Civil War and the start of World War Two and The Blitz. The Radletts may be ‘hons’ but they suffer and slings and arrows of fortune in love. Fanny is the narrator of the family’s story and we are treated to occasional morsels about her own love and life. Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, the story therefore includes Fanny’s own interpretation of affairs as well as her recounting of Linda’s own stories.
This is a tale of lost aristocracy, and the levelling effects of love and war. Funny, witty and sharp featuring an absent parenting style completely alien today, The Pursuit of Love has at its heart a strong streak of sadness and tragedy. No matter who you are, love cannot always be found; if found, it cannot always be retained. Read the first paragraph here.
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