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Larchmont Buzz Hidden Treasure Book Review: The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love 

by Nancy Mitford

Wait, wait! Don’t be put off by the romantic title of this tartly delicious book, a thinly-veiled novelisation of the coming-of-age of England’s fascinating, notorious Mitford sisters.

On a decaying estate with a dotty, distracted mother and a ragingly eccentric father (played by Alan Bates in top form in the BBC adaptation from 1990), they were given no education and exposed to little social life.  In this hothouse of benign neglect, they depended on the manor library, the farmyard and themselves for entertainment and knowledge, becoming — in this version of their true story — dreamy, idealistic, and endlessly endearing.  Beginning in the 1930’s as they are just entering adolescence, the story is quite emphatically an adult tale, cagily incorporating the great and scandalous figures of this tumultuous and charged era.

Written from the point of view of Fanny, a young Mitford cousin dumped onto the estate when she is abandoned by her aristocratic and much-married mother, The Bolter (read her biography, Too Close to the Sun, for the photographs alone!), the story focuses on the vicissitudes of the eldest, the lovely Linda (a composite of the author and her sister Jessica) as she moves through the turmoil of history, love and life.  No ordinary storyteller, here’s how Mitford superbly and effortlessly introduces Linda, through Fanny:

“…I adored all my cousins, and Linda distilled, mentally and physically, the very essence of the family.  Her straight features, straight brown hair and large blue eyes were a theme upon which the faces of the others were a variation; all pretty but none so absolutely distinctive as hers.  There was something furious about her, even when she laughed, which she did a great deal, and always as if forced to against her will.”  — The Pursuit of Love, Part I, Chapter 1

Our family’s favorite novel and film, The Pursuit of Love is coffee-through-the-nose funny (Uncle Matthew’s method of dealing with his enemies), truly tragic (these were real people!) endlessly quotable (“chubb fuddling” is a real thing!) and  a fast, satisfying read that will, I promise, leave you blissfully satisfied.

The book is often paired with Love in a Cold Climate in the same volume, and Nancy Mitford also wrote the unyieldingly snobbish Noblesse Oblige, the ideas in which are always in play throughout her fiction.  Nancy’s sister Jessica, a Communist and a civil rights activist in the U.S., wrote The American Way of Death in 1963, which, in turn, partly inspired Tony Richardson’s film The Loved One.  The definitive biography, The Mitfords, is fascinating and thorough, documenting the wildly varying fates of the sisters who became, variously, a Nazi, a Socialist, married into the Winston Churchill family and so much more.  One of today’s compelling personalities, Daphne Guinness, the heiress featured in a recent New Yorker profile ( Sept. 26, 2011)  and with a fashion show at New York’s FIT, is the granddaughter of Diana Mitford, the unrepentant Fascist who married at Goebbels’ home.  Once you get hooked on reading about the Mitfords, there’s an endless wealth of fiction and nonfiction, letters, TV shows and films, by them and about them, including P.G. Wodehouse’s Laughing Gas.

On today’s best-seller list, try Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland, about cross-species friendship and love. In a direct, clear style which anticipates and answers all questions, this unexpectedly moving book also features beautiful photographic portraits of animals friends. For all ages, and especially good for sharing and reading with family.


LA Moll is a local book passionista. All books reviewed can be purchased at Larchmont Village’s Chevalier’s Books .  You may order a copy of any of the books mentioned above by emailing Chevaliers, and pick them up at the store.  Shop LOCAL.

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