It is the 1930s and eighteen year old Fanny has been invited to a daunting house-party at Hampton Park. Her terrifying hostess Lady Montdore and the fashionable Mrs Chaddesley Corbett call her over and ask her, ‘Are you in love?’
‘I felt myself becoming scarlet in the face. How could they have guessed my secret? ….
“There you are, Sonia,” said Mrs Chaddesley Corbett triumphantly, tapping a cigarette with nervous violence against her jewelled case and lighting it with a gold lighter, her pale blue eyes never meanwhile leaving my face . . . “We’re not going to worm. What we really want to know, to settle a bet, is this, have you always fancied someone ever since you can remember? Answer truthfully, please.”
I was obliged to admit that this was the case. From a tiny child . . . some delicious image had been enshrined in my heart, last thought at night, first thing in the morning [There follows a long list, including Byron, Rudolf Valentino, blissful Mrs Ashton at school, the guard on the 4.45, Napoleon, and a pompous young man in the Foreign Office].
“There you are you see,” Mrs Chaddesley Corbett turned triumphantly to Lady Montdore. ‘From kiddie-car to hearse, darling, I couldn’t know it better. After all, what else would there be to think about when one’s alone, otherwise?”‘
This is from Love in a Cold Climate, which I am currently reading, having just read The Pursuit of Love, both by Nancy Mitford. I always read them together and I have lost count of how often I have read them. I bought them nearly forty years ago after The Pursuit of Love was mentioned by Mrs Fowle, my wonderful English teacher, and have loved them ever since. They are far from being straightforward romantic novels or even romantic comedy. There are dark accents and some penetrating insights into the pitfalls of love and marriage. And what a marvellous writer Nancy Mitford was: her ear for dialogue is perfect, and there is never a word out of place. The narratives flow so easily that one doesn’t notice how cleverly they are constructed.
She has not been well served by the covers of recent editions of her books (often sadly the case) so I show here the cover to the first edition of The Pursuit of Love.