Author: Nancy Mitford, 1945.
Genre: Comedy-Drama. Satire. Modern Classic.
Other Details: Penguin Omnibus Edition, 2000. 151 pages
"There was much worse drama when Linda, aged twelve, told the daughters of neighbours, who had come to tea, what are supposed to be the facts of life. Linda's presentation of the "facts" had been so gruesome that the children left Alconleigh howling dismally, their nerves permanently impaired, their future chances of a sane and happy sex life much reduced."
These two semi-autobiographical novels are narrated by The Hon. Frances (Fanny) Logan, whose mother known infamously as 'The Bolter' due to her tendency to bolt from one affair to another, has left Fanny to be raised by relations. She spends much of her time at Alconleigh with her cousin and best friend Linda Radlett, also the daughter of a Lord. The first novel is Linda's story and its early chapters focus on the eccentric upbringing of the Radlett children and their various obsessions. It later moves to Linda and Fanny 'coming out' during the London Season and Linda's rather unhappy pursuit of love. While it is very much a comedy of manners, focusing on the aristocratic Radlett family and there circle. there are also some tragic overtones.
Author: Nancy Mitford, 1949.
Genre: Comedy-Drama. Modern Classic. Satire. GLBT themes.
Other Details: Penguin Omnibus Edition, 2000. 166 pages.
Here Fanny relates the story of Lady Polly Hampton, daughter of the Earl of Montdore. Polly is stunningly beautiful and has been groomed by her snobbish mother, Lady Montdore, for a society marriage. Yet Polly appears uninterested in the London Season and the entire process of making a good match. A cool and reserved young woman, she scandalises society and alienates her family by eloping with an older man whose identity I will not reveal so as not to spoil it for those that may wish to read the book. While Polly's father had intended to leave all his money to Polly before this estrangement, his title and ancestral home had been entailed to a distant Canadian relation, Cedric Hampton. In light of Polly's disgrace Cedric now becomes the sole heir and the Montdores decide he must visit. When the flamboyant Cedric arrives he becomes a good friend to Fanny and sets in motion many changes.
As narrator Fanny is quite broad-minded wanting the people she loves to find love in their own way, even if it is clear that the society in which they move is much more conservative. This was also true in real life as when these novels were first published Mitford was vilified for their 'immorality' and 'decadence' due to her depiction of casual adultery, women's sexuality and the sexual orientation of some characters. Mitford is very down-to-earth on sexual matters which was bound to be controversial at the time of original publication though has meant the novels have aged well seeming quite modern in their sensibilities with Cold Climate especially notable for its rare positive portrayal of homosexuality in mainstream fiction of the period.
Both novels drew on Nancy Mitford's experiences within the highly privileged world of the English upper-class and her own eccentric family. I found both novels quite delightful, full of wicked wit, sparking prose and memorable characters. The satirical aspects are subtle but no less pointed for that. Her depiction of Linda's association with a group of earnest communists in Pursuit was hilarious and well-observed.
The omnibus edition I read from also contained 'The Blessing' but I chose to read only her two most famous novels. It also used an incredibly tiny font which made it quite hard to read even with my glasses. If I'd known in advance I would have opted for the two-novel omnibus, illustrated above, which works out at 464-480 vision-friendly pages depending on edition.