Pairing: young socialite and
Tory MP communist French duke
First Sentence: There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh.
Climax: After dinner, however, Linda was restored to happiness. Being made love to by Fabrice was an intoxication, quite different from anything she had hitherto experienced.
('I was forced to the conclusion,' she said, when telling me about this time, 'that neither Tony nor Christian had an inkling of what we used to call the facts of life. But I suppose all Englishmen are hopeless as lovers.'
'Not all,' I said, 'the trouble with most of them is that their minds are not on it, and it happens to require a very great deal of application. Alfred,' I told her, 'is wonderful.'
'Oh, good,' she said, but she sounded unconvinced I thought.)
I have to admit that The Pursuit of Love is just barely a romance novel and more of a satire or farce, but I'll be treating it as a romnov for the purposes of this review. That is to say, there will be spoilers ahead. If you'd rather not read any, then oops because I put some at the beginning of this post. If you'd rather than read any more, then just know that I enjoyed this book a lot and I certainly recommend it.
Now let's get on with it.
We're introduced to Linda Radlett when she's a child, by her cousin Fanny, who is the first person narrator of the novel. Linda's the second oldest child of the Radlett family. Fanny is an only child to a mother nicknamed "The Bolter" for her propensity to pick up and drop new husbands and lovers. The two girls come of age during the interwar period in England.
In the first quarter of the novel, we get some background details on the Radletts, which help to establish the English upper class they're a member of as a bunch of eccentrics with too much money. Aunt Emily, who has taken over the role of Fanny's guardian, marries a certain Davey Warbeck, who will be a steady male hand in the family but is just as eccentric in his own way.
Linda and Fanny have a "coming-out" ball at Alconleigh, the Radlett family's home, where Linda meets Anthony Kroesig, Oxford student, handsome, son of the Governor of the Bank of England, and future Tory MP. The two of them marry not too long after, against the wishes of pretty much everyone in each of their families. Linda is not the kind of politician's wife that her in-laws want her to be, and relations between her and Tony quickly become quite chilly. Not before she gives birth to their lone daughter, Moira, who Linda can't stand. After Moira's birth, she's told that another pregnancy could kill her. Linda begins to spend most of her time "chatting" with the fashionable social set in London.
Fanny, meanwhile, would like to have us believe that she lives happily ever after with her own young Oxford don, Alfred Wincham.
After about nine years of marriage to Tony, Linda meets Christian Talbot, a communist, during a lunch at her in-laws' home. This is about all she needs to leave Tony at last. (He's been having an affair for several years anyway.) Linda embraces her new man's politics and replaces London society chatting with dour communist party meetings. In early 1939 Christian goes to France to assist with relief efforts for the man thousands of refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and war becomes one of the characters in the novel. Linda follows Christian shortly after, but not shortly enough to prevent him from beginning an affair with a more enthusiastic comrade than Linda.
Leaving Christian, Linda finds herself in Paris without enough money to go anywhere, and is in tears at the train station when a round little man named Fabrice invites her to lunch. It's late May 1939. Linda finds herself extremely drawn to Fabric, and through various tiny charms on his part, he rapidly turns her into his mistress. For the first time in her life, Linda is really in love. Davey and another friend of the Radlett family attempt to fetch her back from France, but Linda remains a kept woman until Fabrice decides that the war has come too close and sends her back to London. (It's at the meeting with Davey that Linda discovers her lover Duke Fabrice Sauveterre is a notorious playboy throughout Europe, though she does manage to come to grips with this.)
Fanny and Linda finally reunite and discover they're both pregnant and due to have babies in the spring. Linda sees her daughter Moira just before Tony and his parents send the girl to America for safekeeping, which the Radletts all feel is a shocking instance of letting down the side.
Fabrice makes it to London, in the employ of Charles de Gaulle, long enough to tell Linda that he loves her. After the Blitz destroys her London home, she ends up back at Alconleigh, with the remaining Radletts and Fanny. Also back thanks to the war? Fanny's mother, The Bolter.
So we're back in a semi-pastoral setting for the last quarter of the novel, with similar delights as the first part. In the end, Fanny and Linda have their babies. The second baby kills Linda, as her doctors predicted, but she dies happy thanks to having felt her great love with Fabrice. He also dies in the war, having been shot by the Gestapo. Fanny adopts Linda's baby.
This novel is written by Nancy Mitford, one of the famous Mitford Sisters who I'd never heard of prior to picking it up, but now want to learn way more about. It's semi-autobiographical, which is a relief after the last semi-autobiographical book I read. The Pursuit of Love is fun and lighthearted.
Mitford is making fun of everyone in this novel, and I've left out some of the best of them in my summary. She can turn a hell of a phrase. She's also structured the book so well by choosing Fanny as her narrator. If you pay close attention to her asides, it's obvious that her efforts to be dutiful and smart and proper to distinguish herself from The Bolter haven't made her entirely happy. Whereas Linda, with her frivolity and impulsiveness, has found happiness at the end of her life. That is, if you don't consider her many years of marital strife, uncertain position in Fabrice's heart, early death, and finally the spectre of The Bolter, who admits that growing old as a woman of leisure (of sorts) is rather challenging. There's lots to ponder about what's going on under the surface of this novel.
As I alluded to at the beginning, this book is only tangentially a romance because it spends too much time being funny to be really romantic. Nevertheless, it is largely about love. Being a spinster myself, I can't help noticing Aunt Emily in the background of all this, who, at forty, marries Davey with whom she is apparently happy throughout the twenty or so years during which the novel takes place.
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