I’m not sure when I first discovered The Mitfords; I have a feeling it could have been 5/6 years ago when I was still at university but who knows for sure. I can remember coming across a copy of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love in a London bookstore and wanting to buy it purely because the main character is called Linda, but I really don’t know when I actually first started reading books about them and by them. I have read several books about this extraordinary family of six sisters and have been fascinated by their glamorous and complicated lifestyles set against the backdrop of some of the twentieth century’s most memorable events since my first reading.
Having read The Pursuit of Love a couple of years ago I have had Love in a Cold Climate on my shelf for a while now. In fact I have read the book that follows this – Don’t Tell Alfred so I’m not sure why I missed this one out. Love in a Cold Climate is told from the perspective of Fanny and is seen as the follow-up to The Pursuit of Love, with the attention moving away from Linda and instead to Polly, another young girl from an aristocratic family who have just returned from India. Polly’s mother, Lady Montdore is desperate for her daughter to make a successful marriage and having thrown a ball for Polly to come out in society she is keen for any hint of love on the horizon. Unfortunately for Lady M, Polly falls desperately in love with her uncle (no blood relation), the Lecherous Lecturer and as soon as she can she elopes to the Continent with him.
I love Nancy Mitford. Her humour is so dry and it comes across in her writing. There are so many examples of hilarious and awkward situations and just subtle – or not so subtle – underhand comments masked as flattery.
‘People used to gaze before my beard grew, like mad, even in Nova Scotia. You are so fortunate not to be a beauty, Fanny, you’ll never know the agony of losing your looks. ‘
How do you go back to enjoy your afternoon tea after a comment like that?
As I was reading this novel I also noticed the lack of sentimentality some of the characters had for vervain situations, especially as far as death is concerned; I almost wonder if that is quite a British trait as my sister readily admitted last night that she feels more sympathy when animals are hurt or die and much more anger when they are abused that she does for people sometimes. I promise you she isn’t heartless and certainly doesn’t go around kicking small children, but I see that attitude in Mitford’s writing and especially in the real life depictions of their family life.
Love in a Cold Climate is a fantastic read full of dry humour and such bizarre social situations. It is set in a world that seems so far from the modern day, despite it being less than 100 years ago. It is a world of debutante balls, marrying for status and where the male relative rules the roost, leaving poor women with only marriage as an aspiration. Having read about The Mitford sisters it is clear that Nancy Mitford’s novels are inspired by her own life and those around her, especially her own parents who are depicted in the form of Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. Their eccentricities are hilarious; I love that Uncle Matthew writes down the name of anyone he hates and puts it away in a drawer convinced that said person will die within the year and although this death rarely happens he is always slightly guilty if anyone in a drawer actually dies. Sometimes I think a world without technology and the hustle and bustle of modern life would be quite fun, especially as you would have to be imaginative and make up these little quirks. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that I enjoyed this book and I almost feel as though I need a reread of some of my other Mitford books.