The Pursuit of Love (1945)

by Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford was the oldest of six sisters in an aristocratic English family whose romantic exploits between the world wars were notorious. In Nancy's semi-autobiographical novel, The Pursuit of Love, the eccentric Mitford clan becomes the Radlett family. The fictional narrator, cousin Fanny, whose parents left her to be brought up by another relative, spends her free time at the Radletts' Alconleigh country estate in Gloucestershire. She is especially close to Linda, the sister nearest her age.

Taught only by nannies, with no expectations except to marry well, dreamy Linda Radlett falls for the first young man to come along. Tony Kroesig is a banker, Conservative MP,  and — Linda discovers too late — a pompous, money-grubbing bore. They have a daughter, who is given over to the care of the Kroesigs when Linda runs away with a Communist journalist, Christian Talbot. It's clear to Fanny that Linda's second marriage is also doomed, for Christian, though kind, is more interested in ideas than romance. When Christian and Linda go to Spain to assist refugees from the Spanish Civil War, Linda watches Tony grow closer to a woman more serious than she. Linda flees to Paris, intending to go home to England. But fate intervenes, and she meets a Frenchman, Fabrice de Sauveterre, with whom she finally finds true love.

This book doesn't have a happily-ever-after ending, however, and can't be dismissed as entirely light-hearted froth. Those looking for serious statements can find a few. Fanny, who is sent to school and expected to develop her mind, makes a much better choice of a husband than does Linda. And what is one to think of Linda's abandoning her daughter with hardly a thought?

Yet this isn't primarily a book to be read for any message. It's to be enjoyed for its wit. The dialogue and observations are wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, and the characters are vivid and amusing, especially explosive but charming Uncle Matthew, who hunts his own children with bloodhounds; the lovable, hypochondriacal Davey, husband of Fanny's guardian aunt; and the saucy Radlett girls.

Mitford wrote a sequel to The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate (1949), which Fanny also narrates. Although the Radlett family members appear throughout the book, Love in a Cold Climate features an upper-class family of their acquaintance, the Hamptons, whose only child, Polly, doesn't marry according to parental wishes. The novels are bound together in a Vantage Books edition.


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