“Life is sometimes sad and often dull, but there are currants in the cake, and here is one of them.”
Well, I have stormed my way through The Pursuit of Love in order to return it to the library in time – someone has reserved it, the cheek!
I really enjoyed this book, it’s witty, funny, touching and engaging. Though written in the 20th century, it has all the ingredients to be the perfect Victorian gothic novel: young unwanted narrator abandoned by her parents; brought up largely by a spinster aunt; intermittently forced to spend time at the country estate of her bad-tempered Uncle and timid (other) aunt. Then her guardian, Aunt Emily, marries an unknown army Captain. Things could have been rather grim for our heroine…she could have become the next Fanny Price or Cinderella forced to live as a servant amongst her own family, she could have been subjected to the vicious temper of an angry Uncle and the ravagings of an unwilling stepfather, but no, the Fanny of Mitford’s story does not have to undergo the trials of the typical abandoned child-heroine. Oh no, when she is deserted by her parents the rest of her family – in particular, her aunt Emily and cousin Linda – wrap themselves around her and endeavour to give her, if not a typical childhood, certainly a loving and fun-filled one. As for her ‘stepfather’ he turns out, rather happily, to be an intelligent, humourous, kind man…even if he is an insatiable hypochondriac.
This is a story about growing up, childhood friendships, childish love and becoming an adult. Although Fanny acts as our narrator and we see the world largely from her perspective, The Pursuit of Love tells the story of her cousin, Linda, and her search for love and happiness. It’s an endearing tale about love and families, the Radlett family in particular, and the lives of the Radlett children and their cousin Fanny. Its characters are not the black and white, good and bad, characters of gothic novels but loveable, laughable real people with idiosyncracies, faults and charm.
Uncle Matthew, especially, never failed to make me laugh. At the start of the story – when Fanny is just a young girl – he is presented of something of an angry, gruff father figure, but even then his outbursts are easily dampened by the persuasions of his wife and the punishments (or should that be threats) he doles out to his children are never fully realised. He’s a kitten in tiger’s clothing. He is the archetypal English gentleman living on inherited wealth at his country estate, intent on keeping the world at bay – although, he is a generous landlord and gives lots of his time to the community around Alconleigh.
He’s a real character. He shouts, he rails, he refuses to dine anywhere but his own home, loves to profess an ardent hatred of foreigners (despite letting them into his house and his family time and time again) and has some highly amusing old-fashioned ideas…I loved him. Take this quotation, for example, upon the expectation of an imminent German invasion Uncle Matthew gathers his family together and doles out their roles should invasion occur…here are his plans for the family’s larder (stocked diligently by the Spanish chef he’d previously tried to eject from his home, but allowed to stay on account of his being fed up of the endless sausage meat the cook produced in war-time England):
“Make them [the invading Germans] bring in the food and muck up their
transport, that’s what we want, to be a perfect nuisance so the store
cupboard will have to go, and Davey must blow it up.”
The unhappy Davey inherits this task as Uncle Matthew will, naturally, by this time have died killing as many invading forces as possible with the ammunition he, as head of the Home Guard, has been stock piling for months. Mitford is an artful writer, portraying the comic nuances of her characters well and succeeding in injecting humour even at the very saddest parts of her story.
The Pursuit of Love really is a perfect title for Mitford’s novel; throughout the narrative we see each of the characters going out into the world (some having to search farther and longer than others) and seeking real love. I’ll not spoil the story by telling you if they find it, but suffice to say that where Linda (the character whose love life we follow most closely) is concerned she seems to have more success at hunting foxes than lovers.
I would wholeheartedly recommend The Pursuit of Love. It really is the 20th century equivalent of Mansfield Park crossed with Wuthering Heights crossed with Little Women…all that, and a little humour thrown in for good measure, what more could you ask? My edition informs me that I should now read Nancy Mitford’s next book Love in a Cold Climate as it is a companion novel for The Pursuit of Love and has the same narrator. So expect to see it cropping up soon.
For the time being I move away from Mitford and on to When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman – having seen some positive reviews on other blogs, I thought I’d give it a go.