Monday, June 21, 2010

Nancy Mitford: Inspirations Along the Way #2

Another of the authors whose picture I kept in front of me while I was writing was the stylish and funny Nancy Mitford. I am of the eccentric opinion that Mitford was one of the truly great writers of the 20th Century, and her deceptively slight and silly romantic comedies are in fact brilliantly and carefully crafted. Certainly they are among the easiest reads I have ever encountered, and I think that an easy read is indicative of a really great author.
I first encountered Mitford's work in the early 80s when I saw the BBC adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate. I would only have been 13 or so, but I was instantly taken with the light-hearted campery and easy glamour of it all. Naturally I was unnaturally interested in Cedric, the queer anti-hero of the piece. I sought the books out in my local library, and so began a lifelong love affair with the whole Mitford family.
While Love in Cold Climate remains Mitford's great classic (in part, I think, because of its wonderful title), I do think that The Pursuit of Love (woeful title!) is the superior book. It is also the most obviously autobiographical.
Nancy was the most self-consciously literary of the Mitford sisters. She made great efforts to educate herself, and was conscious all her life of the gaps in her education - gaps that were common to aristocratic women of her era. She was much engaged with questions of grammar and syntax, and would often correspond with Evelyn Waugh about them. She also read furiously, no just funny cult-novels like E. F. Benson's Lucia books, but more weighty stuff, like Proust (in French, what's more!).
Her books are notable for their open discussion of homosexuality, which was still unusual in the early 50s and 60s when she was writing. Her biography of Frederick the Great stands, I think, as one of the truly great queer biographies.
I can honestly say I love every single one of Nancy Mitford's books, and I admire her writing style immensely. Definitely my greatest literary heroine.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested to know that Nancy Mitford's orginal manuscript for 'The Pursuit of Love' along with many other artefacts will be on display at Heywood Hill in London for the summer.


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