Nancy Mitford •
The Pursuit of Love •
If I could have only one book to read on a desert island, I’d grab The Pursuit of Love. Mitford’s gimlet wit and effervescent prose would brighten the most desolate of exiles.
Romance in various guises gives the plot its backbone, but the book is also an extended portrait of the Radlett clan (Mitfords thinly disguised). Blustery Uncle Matthew can barely tolerate anyone outside his immediate family, whom he trains to hide whenever a visitor approaches the door. Still, the British are preferable to other forms of humanity: “Abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends,” he booms.
The half dozen or so Radlett offspring convene in a secret society called the Hons (short for Honourables), tap out coded messages on water glasses, and stand in for the quarry when the adults ride to hounds. An aunt with the habit of discarding husbands is known as the Bolter. Twelve-year-old Jassy, asked to lend her running-away money to help an older sister elope, responds darkly, “I know men.” None of them find it remotely unusual that an entrenching tool used to clobber Germans during the Great War occupies pride of place in the household.
A character in the companion novel Love in a Cold Climate laments of her unmarried daughter, “So beautiful and no B.A. at all.” “S.A.,” corrects her sister-in-law, adding as an afterthought, “or B.O.”
I’m happy to report that all of Mitford’s novels are again in print, thanks to Vintage Books. Cause for celebration—do admit.