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.
Today Moira at ClothesinBooks.com and I are posting our list of books that have made us laugh. Mine are, in no particular order:
Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. A classic. I particularly love the part where they try to open a tin of pineapple without a tin-opener, and Uncle Podger hanging a picture, and then there’s . . . but read it yourself, if you haven’t already.
The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford. I was twenty-five when I first read this, and have lost time of how many times I have read it. Romantic and touching as well as funny.
The Harpole Report, which I blogged about a couple of posts ago.
P. G. Wodehouse, Summer Lightning. Difficult to chose just one, but many years ago when I was living alone in a bedsit in Birmingham this was read by Ian Carmichael as a Book at Bedtime. Sheer bliss.
Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals. A teenage favourite that has endured.
Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through. Again, mentioned before as a favourite on the blog. I wish it was twice as long. There is another volume, but it’s not enough.
Michael Simkins, What’s My Motivation? Michael Simkins is one of those decent, jobbing actors who often plays the main character’s boss, as in he does in Foyle’s War, but he is also a wonderful comic writer, writing frankly about the up and downs (mostly downs) of the actor’s life.
Kate Dunn, Exit Through the Fireplace: The Great Days of Rep. Another theatrical offering drawing on actors’ memories of door handles jamming on flimsy sets and fluffed lines (‘It’s Marple, Miss Murder!’). I nearly fell out of bed laughing.
Sue Hepworth, But I Told You Last Year That I Love You. One of the funniest writers that I know – and a great friend, maybe because we make each other laugh.
Bill Bryson, The Thunderbolt Kid. Not only very funny, but contains some startling insights into the America of the fifties and sixties.
Another day it might be another choice, though most of these didn’t really need thinking about, they are such old favourites. I’m longing to see what Moira has chosen.
Ps. I have now, and it is fascinating. Hardly any overlap, so lots more for my reading list.