For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 11, The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
The English country gentry are a delight as entertainment, as testified by the millions who enjoy the upstairs/downstairs antics at Downton Abbey. Long before the fictional Crawleys were a Masterpiece hit, their heir-to-the-estate problems were embodied by the real-life Mitfords. These six sisters made the bickerings of Ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil look like holding hands and singing Kumbaya. The Mitford girls were Nancy (a novelist); Jessica (a communist): Debo (a duchess); Diana (a fascist); Pamela (a chicken breeder); and Unity (who befriended Hitler and then shot herself the day England declared war on Germany). There was one Mitford son, Thomas. Like many other promising young heirs of his generation, Tom was killed in the Second World War.
Nancy, the oldest, used her family’s eccentricities and charms as fodder for her stories. Her most well-known creation are Lord & Lady Radlett and their wild and crazy family. Despite their differing beliefs, the Mitford sisters had a few things in common–loyalty to England, irrational affection for dogs, and an idealized view of love–and the made-up Radlett girls reflected those feelings. These two short novels are often published together because both detail the primary pursuit of the Radlett daughters—to meet a suitable man and bind with him into a bearable marriage. This was, at that time, no less of a challenge than it is in 2015. The two heroines, Linda Radlett and her cousin Polly Hampton, may be beautiful and privileged, but they are no less dreamy-eyed, terrified, and unlucky about love as their more modern counterparts.
Why is The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate a good read for women? First, Nancy Mitford was a brilliant comic writer. The stories poke affectionate fun at the affectations of lords and ladies, but it’s also honest in admiring certain elements of their world. When war comes, each person on the estate is expected to do their bit to save England. When rationing comes, they endure together. When scandal comes—and oh boy, does it—they hold up their heads because, after all, they are the Crawleys. I mean, the Mitfords. I mean, the Radletts. Whatever the name, they are a family and, with Nancy Mitford’s witty and clever pen, the girls’ pursuit of suitable husbands are heartfelt. Who, after all—titled or untitled—does not want to be happy in love?