Monday, September 07, 2009

Witty & Amazing: Nancy Mitford

A friend pressed this book into my hand earlier this year: Love in a Cold Climate. She told me that she loved the way the cousins and sisters in the book really appreciated the things the others did, and told them so. In the book, this ability is called "exclaiming" and it's a mixture of noticing, appreciation and yes, in some cases, gushing. New pair of drapes? New hat? An enterprising endeavour? Do they like it? Are they proud of you? How nice to have your friend tell you so, enthusiastically. Nowadays I guess it's called "positive feedback" but I rather like the word "exclaiming". A sincere bit of exclaiming in this world of disappointments and failures is something I wish there were a lot more of in the world.

But all that aside, which is only a small part of the book, reading Love in Cold Climate was a happy experience. I was thrilled to discover a writer this entertaining. Almost a cross between P.G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen. Nancy Mitford, writing in the 1930s was funny and astute. In her life she was a privileged child, debutante, book store clerk, essayist and finally, succesful and famous writer, who spent most of her adult life in Paris. She was a good friend of Evelyn Waugh, and their letters have also been published - now on my list of things to read. (I've always been an Evelyn Waugh fan as well.)

Love in a Cold Climate and the Pursuit of Love (two short books packaged together) are very loosely inspired by her own experiences growing up-one sister of many-in an upper class family in the countryside in England. This was a time when girls still were not routinely sent to school, and mostly grew up in an atmosphere of benign neglect. Marriage was the main goal. Surprising that in 1930s England, not much had really changed since Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.

A couple of gems from the book that I didn't want to forget:

On Mirrors
We then sallied forth into the street, looking at ourselves in every shop corner that we passed. (I have often noticed that when women look at themselves in every reflection and take furtive peeps into their hand looking-glasses, it is hardly ever, as it is generally supposed, from vanity, but much more often from a feeling that all is not quite as it should be.)

On marriage prospects of Linda, main character in the Pursuit of Love
I looked about hopefully for a possible life partner, but though I honestly tried to see the best in them, nothing remotely approximating to my requirements turned up.


Rona Maynard said...

Have you read The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, by Mary S. Lovell? It's out in paperback and definitely your kind of book.

Sarah said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I will put it on my reading list immediately! I read the letters of the sisters this summer and it was completely gripping.