It can often seem – in this age of instant celebrity – that being famous for doing nothing, is a rather modern phenomenon. When in reality, being famous for being a novelty is nothing new. Nancy Mitford, her sisters, and the young aristocracy where the celebrities of their day. ‘News’ of The Bright Young Things, of which Nancy Mitford was a contemporary, filled the gossip columns.
Reading The Pursuit of Love I can see why it was a popular novel, it reads as an almost autobiographical insight into the lives and loves of the landed gentry and upper class.
The Radletts of Alconleigh occupy the heights of genteel eccentricity, from terrifying Lord Alconleigh (who, like Mitford’s father, used to hunt his children with bloodhounds when foxes were not available), to his gentle wife, Sadie, their wayward daughter Linda, and the other six lively Radlett children. Mitford’s wickedly funny prose follows these characters through misguided marriages and dramatic love affairs, as the shadow of World War II begins to close in on their rapidly vanishing world. Synopsis from GoodReads
The Pursuit of Love was an enjoyable novel, but ran on longer than I would have liked. Mitford ties off the story too neatly; Fanny the narrator – a fictional substitute for Mitford – ends saintly in comparison to Linda, who the story revolves around. I found Linda self-involved, naïve and generally unappealing. At the time of publication I imagine Linda would have been an interesting subject to follow, with ‘bolters’ – as they were known – being particularly rare. However, reading at a time where you are free to date, marry and divorce without being denigrated, Linda’s explorations of love quickly became tiresome.
It is Mitford’s witty depiction of Fanny and Linda’s upbringing and class that makes The Pursuit of love a worthwhile read. Firstly, there are clear correlations between Linda and Mitford’s sister Diana – Diana left her first husband for the fascist Lord Mosley, and was considered the beauty of the family. Jassy, Linda’s younger sister who runs away to America, is mostly likely a depiction of Decca, another of Mitford’s younger sisters who eloped at nineteen and became a fierce communist. Once I read Decca Mitford’s memoir, Hons and Rebels, I am sure I will see even more of Mitford’s childhood replicated in the guise of Linda’s family.
The Pursuit of Love is a delightful little novel, while it goes on for a little too long it is definitely worth a perusal.