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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mooching with Mitford

I have been reading Love in a Cold Climate in rather warm circumstances. Firstly, in unseasonably steamy St. Petersburg and secondly, in an only slightly cooler London, where I now sit and reflect on what is basically a fun read.

Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate is the follow on from her classic In Pursuit of Love and is narrated by the familiar Fanny Logan – a thinly fictionalised version of Mitford herself. Fanny is an unmistakably upper class girl, but her status as the abandoned child of the bolter - a notorious society floozy allows her to stand both at the heart of and also slightly outside the society which she describes.

This time, Fanny’s tale is that of Lord and Lady Montdore and their adored daughter and prize possession Polly. Lord and Lady Montdore are immensely wealthy and an oddly matched pair. He is a grand patrician gentleman and ex Viceroy of India and she is a grasping, vain, self regarding social climber who carries a bit too much weight. Their daughter Polly, born in the twilight of her mother’s child bearing years is an acknowledged astounding beauty but a bit of a wet fish socially, which, with a mother like that, is hardly surprising. The matching of Polly to a man of suitable wealth, status and standing is her mother’s life work, tacitly supported by her father. However, the machinations of human nature, the downright contrariness of the younger generation and the urge to rebel will all unite to give the Montdore’s something that they are not expecting.

I should probably be straight and say that I do not think that Nancy Mitford is really a great writer. I think that her dialogue is fun and characterful but her prose does not match it, and underneath her satire of the upper classes is a rich vain of showing off that she was one of them. The customary groan having been got out of the way however, there are two, really super things about Nancy Mitford’s novels and Love in a Cold Climate is no exception.

Firstly, they are side-splitting, floor-rolling, handbag-dropping funny. I even laughed on the tube, and that is not something that one sees often. For me, the most comic character is the mouth frothing Uncle Matthew who only comes into Love in a Cold Climate a few times, but always to great effect. Mitford had a great talent for laughing at those she knew and making them look ridiculous. Uncle Matthew is a pastiche of her father, Lord Reedsdale, who was, by all accounts (although, admittedly, hers is the main one...) every inch as potty as his literary incarnation.

Secondly, they are fascinating period pieces, which open a window on a world long lost and strangely contorted by the events of the 1940s. The Montdores and their crew represent a form of old world splendour which even at the time Nancy Mitford put pen to paper, was ebbing away. She was not a writer who tried to write about things she did not know about – this world of country house weekends and bridge parties and debutante balls was her world and it really shows in the way that she wrote.

Other opinions that I have enjoyed can be found at Bianca’s Book Blog, Life in a Pink Fibro and Vulpes Libris. The pictures are my own, rather battered copy of the novel, a lovely shot of the lady herself and a picture of Nancy Mitford and her famous sisters.


  1. You're right this is such a fun novel. And it's fun to put it into context of Nancy Mitford's life - I recommend the quite popular biography The Mitford Girls, and also Jessica Mitford's autobiography Hons and Rebels is just great!

  2. I love your battered copy - wish mine looked like that! Great review. You're right, it's all about the fun and the laughs, and that feeling that you're getting insight into Mitsford-ville. Thanks for the link and for sharing your thoughts on my blog - is very nice to 'meet' you.

  3. I loved this and her other novels when I was a teenager and do remember how funny they were. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Reading your review clarified why I like reading book blogs. Either to be introduced to new books or else reminders of books read and feelings I had when reading them. I like Nancy Mitford and yet also agree with your comment about her 'rich vain of showing off that she was one of them.'

  5. I love the photo of Nancy and her sisters. It seems like such an interesting time to be a young woman.

  6. I have never read anything by Mitford, but the way you describe her writing is tempting to me. I like the fact that she writes about being in the upper crust, but doesn't consider herself one of them. I think that in itself would make for a very interesting viewpoint in her books. Thanks for the great review, Hannah. I will be looking for these books!

  7. Loved this post, especially since I'm in a Mitford frame of mind. You're spot on, her prose wasn't perfect but her wit was flawless. I can't wait to read this!

  8. I have read just one Mitford and found it slow going! I will try again with this one (once I find it).

  9. Really enjoyed your review! Love In A Cold Climate is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years. I'll be on a substantial plane journey in a few weeks time, so will be sure to add this to my reading, thanks!

  10. I much preferred The Pursuit of Love to Love in a Cold Climate...I missed Uncle Matthew and the rest of the family and thought it fell a bit flat compared to its predecessor.

    I quite agree that Nancy is no stylist, and she was a terrible snob. However, she's so hilarious I can't help but love her novels anyway!

  11. Morning all and thank you for visiting and commenting

    Verity - thanks for the recommendations... I have read the collective biography of them - I did not think that it was a brilliant biography BUT it is such a fab story that I happily and quickly read to the end anyway. Hons and Rebels is also fab - I really enjoyed that one. I would so like to get hold of the big book of letters between the sisters.

    Life in a pink fibro - you are welcome and it is great to meet you and your blog too.

    Harriet - you are most welcome. They are laugh out loud!

    Joan - thanks you so much for your comment - yes - I can't quite get away from that characteristic in her work.

    Brenna - it was certainly interesting for them. If you are interested there are umpteen books about them but I would recommend Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford, In Pursuit of love by Nancy Mitford and a collective biography by Mary S Lovell - all good.

    You are welcome Zibilee - I hope that you read and enjoy some Nancy Mitford one of these days.

    Daniel-Halifax - yes she was jolly funny - i am guessing that she was pretty good company.

    Mystica - oh dear - oh well - you can't enjoy all books. I have heard good things about Highland Fling which has just been reissued by Capuchin.

    Laura - oh yes, plane journeys are usually all about reading for me. I hope that you enjoy yours.

    Rachel - I am glad that I am not the only person who loves Uncle Matthew - he is a scream.

    OK - Bon weekend to all of you


  12. I haven't heard of this author or this book. Sounds very interesting, though. I love all things historical. I'll have to give her a look-see. Thanks for stopping by! (queen bee)

  13. Enjoyed your review! The Pursuit of Love is my absolute favourite, but I'm very fond of Love in a Cold Climate, too.

  14. Another lovely post! Love in a cold climate is on my TBR list...will have to bump it up!