The Blessing, by Nancy_Mitford, Penguin 2010(1951), 245pp.
Nancy Mitford's Radlett family novels are fantastic. Friends and newspaper articles also recommend The Blessing, so I just read that, too. Upper class Englishwoman Grace marries upper class Frenchman Charles-Edouard, and many opportunities for witty comment on English, French and American society (of the time) ensue.
The Frenchman ran downstairs and out of the house, and she saw him from the window running towards St James's Park. Then she went up to her room, pulled a lot of clothes from various drawers and cupboards, laid them on her bed, and hovered about wondering what on earth she should wear. Nothing seemed somehow quite suitable.
Nanny came in. 'Good gracious! The room looks like a jumble sale.'
'Run me a bath, darling. I'm going out to dinner with that Frenchman.'
'Are you, dear? And what's his name?'
'Bother. I never asked him.'
'Oh well,' said Nanny, 'one French name is very much like another, I dare say.'
Of course, the problem with Charles-Edouard is his affinity for women:
'This bedroom,' the guide continued, 'has an erotic ceiling, a thing rare in France though not uncommon in Italy, by Le Moine; a Régence bed of wonderful quality, and boiseries by Robert de Cotte. When I tell you that all this is quite unrestored, you will easily realize that what you are about to see is unique, of its sort, in Paris.'
They went upstairs into the reception rooms of the first floor which Grace knew so well, gold and white, blue and white, gold and blue with painted ceilings. The lecturer went at length into the history of every detail; they were nearly an hour examining these three rooms, and Grace began to feel tired. At last, in the Salon de Jupiter, where the Fertés usually sat after dinner, the lecturer went to a little door in the wall, which Grace had never noticed there. Taking a large key from his pocket he unlocked this door, saying, 'And now for the famous bedroom of Madame de Hauteserre.'
Grace happened to be standing beside him, and together they looked in. It was a tiny room decorated with a gold and white trellis; an alcove contained a bed, and on the bed, in a considerable state of disarray, were Juliette and Charles-Edouard.
The guide quickly slammed and relocked the door. He turned to the crowd, saying, 'Excuse me, I had quite forgotten, but of course the boiseries and the ceiling have gone to the Beaux Arts for repair.' Nobody but Grace and the guide had seen into the room.
The "Blessing" is their son Sigismond, who appears first as a Wodehousian hero:
'Hullo, Hughie,' said the burglar.
'Oh! Hullo, Ozzie. It's you, is it?'
'That your nipper?'
'No. I wish he were.'
'Wouldn't mind having him for a partner. The child's an expert.'
'I was your partner till you sausaged me,' Sigi said furiously.
My only trouble is that I found Grace's situation painful, Sigi a monster, and Charles-Edouard a parasite. I know it's a satire, but it depressed me, despite all the stylistic compensations.