Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.

Love in a Cold Climate is Nancy Mitford's sixth novel published in 1949 and it is a follow-on from The Pursuit of Love (1945) - a fact I wish I had have realised before I embarked on Love in a Cold Climate, but, nevertheless, I still enjoyed it! 

As with The Pursuit of Love and Don't Tell Alfred (1960), the final part of the trilogy, it's narrated by Fanny Wincham and set in 1930s England. Like P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books it is concerned with old money and the aristocratic, upper classes of the Home Counties, though it has less of Wodehouse's innocence, and whilst on the whole a very funny novel, it's sense of humour is dryer and harsher. 

In it, our narrator Fanny tells the story of Polly, her cousin and playmate in childhood. Polly left to live in India with her parents and they lose contact, but when Polly returns they rekindle their friendship. Polly is very cynical and cold (a comic Gwendolen Harleth if you will, but without the ruined family) and declares her complete lack of interest in the London scene: the balls, the teas, the dinners, and the men, hoping that in England society will be less interested in love affairs "in a cold climate". But then one man piques her interest, a man who really couldn't be less appropriate.

Love in Cold Climate has a great cast of characters, and whilst this novel may be comic, Nancy Mitford generally avoids outright caricatures. She was of course a society gal herself; one of the famous Mitford sisters, well used to this kind of a life. I loved Fanny for her social awkwardness, particularly in the beginning of the book. Cedric Hampton is another great character, though his homosexuality is very stereotypical, I've read he's actually based on Nancy's friends Brian Howard and Stephen Tennant. Finally, Lady Montdore, who is completely devoid of tact: it's said Lady Montdore was partly based on Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville West's once lover, on whom Sasha, the Russian princess in Virginia Woolf's Orlando is based.

And speaking of Virginia Woolf, she gets a mention in Love in a Cold Climate. Here's a quote that really highlights the eccentricity of the novel:
'Oh yes, I know what I wanted to ask you,' she said. 'Who is this Virginia Woolf you menioned to me? Merlin was talking about her too, the other day at Maggie Greville's.'
'She's a writer,' I said, 'a novelist really.'
'Yes, I see. And she's so intellectual, no doubt she writes about nothing but station-masters.'
It is a funny novel. Funny, but uncomfortably so at times (and others, merely uncomfortable). I love this idea of the pre-war "lost" England, but I think real feelings of nostalgia are invoked better by P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves than this. This was my second novel by Nancy Mitford, the first was The Blessing (1951) and I do prefer that one. It's possible I was at a disadvantage not having read The Pursuit of Love first. But I'm glad I've read it: I've been meaning to since Charlotte wrote about it (back in 2012!).

Further Reading


  1. I loved The Pursuit of Love and thought it was hilarious, especially the childhood parts. Keep meaning to read this one but haven't got to it yet.

    1. Well, I'm not put off The Pursuit of Love, I'll definitely get round to it :)

  2. I have this on my list, but will be sure to read The Pursuit of Love first.

    1. Yes, I think that's probably wise :)

  3. I read a biography of the Mitford sisters a while back and it made me very curious to read a book by Nancy Mitford. I will keep in mind that this is part of a series!

    1. Which biography did you read? Have you read their letters? I LOVED it! Absolutely fascinating. Must re-read it one of these days, I think I read them when they were published in 2007 - too much time has passed :)


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