The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, first published 1945 and 1949.
I noticed this book for the silly reason that the fictional family name is Radlett, the town where I live. And strangely enough they fictionally dwell near Shenley common, and Shenley is the name of our neighboring town. I vaguely knew that the Mitford girls were descendants of Baron Redesdale, who wrote Tales of Old Japan (1903), which I do not have, as well as The Garter Mission to Japan (1906), which I do (haven't read). And I remembered seeing the Mitford name in some stately home, probably Chatsworth. Indeed the threads linking the Mitfords to history are many, and the girls were very famous in their time. Nancy and Jessica were left-wing and wrote books, Diana was a fascist and married Sir Oswald Mosley, Deborah became duchess of Devonshire, and Unity fell in love with Hitler and later shot herself in the head.
I liked both novels. I was disappointed when the narrator mentioned P.G.Wodehouse, because it contaminated what I thought was a primary source on life in Stately Homes. Certainly the silly characters are familiar, such as mad Uncle Matthew who keeps over the chimney-piece the gore and hair-spotted entrenching tool that he had used to brain a nest of Germans during the war. And while the language is not in the Plummy empyrean, Americans might have fun guessing the correct terms in the following:
Uncle Matthew: 'I hope poor Fanny's school (the word school pronounced in tones of withering scorn) is doing her all the good you think it is. Certainly she picks up some dreadful expressions there.'
Aunt Emily, calmly, but on the defensive: 'Very likely she does. She also picks up a good deal of education.'
Uncle Matthew: 'Education! I was always led to suppose that no educated person ever spoke of notepaper, and yet I hear poor Fanny asking Sadie for notepaper. What is this education? Fanny talks about mirrors and mantelpieces, handbags and perfume, she takes sugar in her coffee, has a tassel on her umbrella, and I have no doubt that, if she is ever fortunate enough to catch a husband, she will call his father and mother Father and Mother. Will the wonderful education she is getting make up to the unhappy brute for all these endless pinpricks? Fancy hearing one's wife talk about notepaper -- the irritation!'
And very likeable is Davey Warbeck, whose hobby is his health:
'Pig's thinkers, Davey?' Uncle Matthew lifted the lid of a hot dish.
'Oh, yes please, Matthew, if you mean brains. So digestible.'
Un-Wodehousian are the affairs:
What made [ the burglary ] particularly annoying for the victims was that they had all been woken up by somebody prowling in their rooms, but had all immediately concluded that it must be Sauveterre, pursuing his well-known hobby, so that the husbands had merely turned over with a grunt, saying, 'Sorry, old chap, it's only me, I should try next door,' while the wives had lain quite still in a happy trance of desire, murmuring such words of encouragement as they knew in French. Or so, at least, they were saying about each other...
And the excellent Cedric, described as "a cissy":
There was a terrible scene on Oxford platform one day. Cedric went to the bookstall to buy Vogue, having mislaid his own copy. Uncle Matthew, who was waiting there for a train, happened to notice that the seams of his coat were piped in a contrasting shade. This was too much for his self-control. He fell upon Cedric and began to shake him like a rat; just then, very fortunately, the train came in, whereupon my uncle, who suffered terribly from train fever, dropped Cedric and rushed to catch it. 'You'd never think,' as Cedric said afterwards, 'that buying Vogue could be so dangerous. It was well worth it though, lovely Spring modes.'
I thought the end of "Pursuit" was nicely poignant. The latter novel was produced on TV, twice.
Some links: Hons & Rebels (Jessica's autobiog); Chatsworth books etc.; The memory of the Chatsworth farm shop makes me think we should stop there on the way to our vacation in Wales in a couple of weeks. I don't remember the gardens being too great though. Nancy makes some snooty comments about the sterility of blooms in Surrey, and the gracelessness of a banker's daffodils...
Wende wrote: Erich, You might also try The Blessing also by Nancy Mitford. I think it must have been one of her earlier novels as it is not quite a well written as the two you have just mentioned. It is still a good read and gives an interesting insight into life in Paris and English attitudes towards the French at that time. Particularly odd is the practice of having a young man's liver injected into one's body to make one more youthful. Persumably the young man in question died of natural or accidental causes before he had his liver minced.