Friday, May 29, 2015

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Front cover illustration
by Roland Pym.
I picked up Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love because of Simon's enthusiasm over at Savidge Reads, where he calls himself a Mitford maniac, and also because it pops up on lists with names like 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Verdict: enjoyable.

An upper-class family of siblings come of age in England in the 1930s. It's sort of like a shorter, fluffier version of George Eliott's Middlemarch. It also brought to mind aspects of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle - especially the setting and the romance; and (in the early part) Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks, for the pleasant sense of nostalgia and the relationships between siblings while they were still quite young. The Pursuit of Love has been compared to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but I'm somewhat abashed to admit I've only read a graphic novel adaptation of that classic, so I can only say that sounds about right: young women, skilled in the art of conversation, have romantic notions and run off with unsuitable men.

First published in 1945, the edition that I read - The Folio Society, London 1991 - has a dozen whimsical, stylish illustrations by Roland Pym. I do love to see pictures in books for adults.

The humour is what I liked best about The Pursuit of Love. Here's a bit where the sheltered eldest daughter Louisa, raised on a country estate, meets foppish men for the first time.

Back cover illustration
by Roland Pym.
   "The house party, when they finally appeared (some of them shockingly late) from their bedrooms, smelt even more delicious that the flowers, and looked even more exotic than the birds of paradise. Everybody had been very nice, very kind to Louisa. She sat between two beautiful young men at dinner, and turned upon them the usual gambit:
    'Where do you hunt?'
    'We don't,' they said.
    'Oh, then why do you wear pink coats?'
    'Because we think they are so pretty.'

Even though I enjoyed the book, I doubt that I'll read the companion novel, Love In a Cold Climate. I feel like I've been there, done that. There are at least 1000 more books to read before I die.

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