Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

It’s all about Nancy and her pursuit of love and romance (pub.1945). She is openly disguised as Linda one of the sisters that the narrator her cousin is reared alongside while her mother known as the Bolter gads about on her own amatory adventures. Uncle Matthew is a choleric eccentric who having read one book White Fang and being well pleased with it has decided to leave literature to one side. Why push one’s luck sort of thing.

Over the chimney-piece plainly visible in the photograph hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans, one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination for us children.

The rest of you will only use the word luncheon in that conjunctive vileness known as luncheon-meat but be aware that u and non-u usage applies generally in this novel and is associated with Mitford whether facetiously or not is hard to discover. A nice little marketing device in any case for the English upper class restricted code. So it’s pudding, writing paper and is it lavatory, let me check.

The device of having an external narrator allows the author to describe what is clearly a version of her own family that probably gave some offense. For instance the Radlett family of Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie are described as uneducated except for a smattering of French from a governess and the highly
prized good seat in the saddle when hunting about which Linda is passionate. In season a pair of children are given a head start and hunted by their father, a somewhat literal version of hare and hounds. The Radletts being children of a Lord are Hons. So is Fanny the narrator whose father is also ennobled but a bounder and who remains in the Bermudas with an old Countess of some foreign sort to avoid being cut as Ford explained to Hemingway once.

The other eccentric is the man who marries the aunt who first had charge of Fanny, Captain Davey who is of course also an Hon. The novel pullulates with them. His oddness is dietary theory. Early morning tea replaces the evaporation of the night which is true. Actually he may be proleptic rather than truly eccentric. His time at Matthew’s house is fraught by the nursery comfort cuisine that obtains at Alconleigh. However as the Irish saying has it ‘one earwig recognizes another’ and they get on well.

Linda’s misadventure’s in love provides the core of the story and I’m demmed if I’m going to tell you it. It moves along effortlessly the fictional correlate of a lemon meringue pie, the tartness perfectly balanced by the fluffy lightness and the base crunchiness of narrative density. It ought to have that at least as there seems to be many parallels with Nancy Mitford’s own life. How to make the truth seem true requires wit and that deftness that is her forte. Excellent.


elisa freschi said...

A question slightly off the track: I would be interested in reading a post by you dealing methodologically with your way of reading novels as if they were philosophical works (i.e.: taking them seriously) and philosophical works as if they were novels (i.e.: taking into account their narrative structure), but without ending up in Derrida's decostructionism.

ombhurbhuva said...

One of the ways that Philosophy is like Literature is by the presence of the unreliable narrator. A story is told from a certain point of view which is not only not panoptic but positively distorted and the teller is not aware of it. Sometimes it happens that none of the readers are even aware of it until a master ‘critic’ points it out. Wittgenstein is that special sort of a critic whose skill has been developed by native genius and wise ignorance.

An interesting project. As it happens I recently read Arthur C. Danto’s paper on Philosophy as/and Literature. It’s available on for those without jstor access. In the last couple of pages there are some interesting observations on reading yourself into the text. All very non-structuralist.