The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945)

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The Pursuit of Love (1945) was British author Nancy Mitford’s fifth novel, and her first breakout success. The first of what was to become a trilogy, it was followed by Love in a Cold Climate (1949; arguably the best known of her many works) and Don’t Tell Alfred (1960).

The Pursuit of Love sold two hundred thousand copies within the first year, making Nancy Mitford financially independent for the first time in her life.

Adapted as a television miniseries in 2021, The Pursuit of Love marked the directorial debut of Emily Mortimer (who also had the role of Fanny’s mother, “the Bolter”). This well-received three-part series revitalized interest in Mitford’s work, much as earlier adaptations of Love in a Cold Climate had done.

The 2010 Alfred A. Knopf edition of The Pursuit of Love summed it up as follows:

“ … A classic comedy about growing up and falling in love among the privileged and eccentric. 

Mitford modeled her characters on her own famously unconventional family. We are introduced to the Radletts through the eyes of their cousin Fanny, who stays with them at Alconleigh, their Gloucestershire estate. 

Uncle Matthew is the blustering patriarch, known to hunt his children when foxes are scarce; Aunt Sadie is the vague but doting mother; and the seven Radlett children, despite the delights of their unusual childhood, are recklessly eager to grow up.

The first of three novels featuring these characters, The Pursuit of Love follows the travails of Linda, the most beautiful and wayward Radlett daughter, who falls first for a stuffy Tory politician, then an ardent Communist, and finally a French duke named Fabrice.”

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Nancy Mitford, British novelist and journalist

Learn more about Nancy Mitford
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A 1946 review of The Pursuit of Love

From the original review in The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) by Elizabeth Norrie, April 20, 1946:

The Radlett women and their kin pursued love with as wholehearted abandon as ever a bloodhound tracked down his quarry. It was not always what they wanted when they got it, but this did not dishearten them. Philosophically, they paused for a second wind and then started off on the trail once more.

There was Fanny’s mother known as the “Bolter” because of her frequent excursions into and out of marriage and the other thing; there was Fanny herself, teller of the tale, for whom one venture was enough, because it was the right one.

There was Emily, the Bolter’s sister, who found what wanted in Davey, the hypochondriac; there was Louisa, who was inclined to suspect that she had been short-changed but who did nothing about it except bring children into the world; and there was Linda.

Fanny makes clear that this is really Linda’s tale with the rest of the family thrown in for background. Linda’s heart was so tender that she wept over the death of Fanny’s smelly pet mouse. 

It was Linda also who carried her love of animals over into marriage and shocked her conventional German-English in-laws by producing a dormouse from her pocket whenever conversation became boring. Of course, this first marriage didn’t last long. which undoubtedly saved the in-laws from dying of apoplexy or shock.

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Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford

See also: Don’t Tell Alfred
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The next venture, however, had its problems. As the successor to Tony, the solid citizen, Linda chose Christian, the Communist, who expected her to be able to do housework.

“How dreadful it is, cooking, I mean,” says Linda to Fanny. She continues: 

“That oven—Christian puts things in and says, “Now you take it out in about half an hour.” I don’t dare him how terrified I am, and at the end of half an hour I summon up all my courage and open the oven and there is that awful hot blast hitting one in the face … 

“Oh dear, and I wish you could have seen the Hoover running away with me, it suddenly took the bit between its teeth and made for the lift shaft. How I shrieked—Christian only just rescued me in time. 

I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting, no comparison, and yet after hunting, we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened …”

And so Christian faded out of the picture, giving the entrance cue to Fabrice. With Fabrice, Linda embarked on a series of highly improbable adventures.

When the call came for the sweet-tempered, gentle Linda herself to make an exit, she left in such a state of happiness that Fanny was prompted to say to the Bolter: “I think she would have been happy with Fabrice. He was the great love of her life, you know.”

But the Bolter. from the depth of her experience said sadly, “Oh, dulling, one always thinks that. Every, every time”

The Pursuit of Love is built upon tragedy, but Nancy Mitford has chosen to paint the canvas with the glowing colors of comedy. The result is irresistibly charming.

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Love in a Cold Climate

See also: Love in a Cold Climate
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Quotes from The Pursuit of Love

“The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life’s essential unfairness.”

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“I have often noticed that when women look at themselves in every reflection, and take furtive peeps into their looking-glasses, it is hardly ever, as is generally supposed, from vanity, but much more often from a feeling that all is not quite as it should be.”

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“Even if I take him out for three hours every day, and go and chat to him for another hour, that leaves twenty hours for him all alone with nothing to do. Oh, why can’t dogs read?”

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“… Always either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair they loved or they loathed, they lived in a world of superlatives.”

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“Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.”

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“One’s emotions are intensified in Paris—one can be more happy and also more unhappy here than in any other place. But it is always a positive source of joy to live here, and there is nobody so miserable as a Parisian in exile from his town.”

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“The really important thing, if a marriage is to go well, without much love, is very very great niceness—gentillesse—and very good manners.”

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The Pursuit of Love 2021 miniseries

The Pursuit of Love (2021 miniseries)
official trailer

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