Michaeline: The Pursuit of Love (Book Review)

Narcissus in love with his own reflection

Maybe the true tragedy is that in our lovers, we look for the reflection of ourselves. Linda’s lovers didn’t really see her; and she didn’t really see her lovers for what they were. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I just finished Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel, The Pursuit of Love. Mitford writes in that light, British upper-class, devil-may-care manner that I adore in P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy Sayers, and her words don’t disappoint. It’s not the kind of novel you can think about too deeply, though, or everything will turn sour and sordid.

The Pursuit of Love sounds like a romance, and it is involved with romantic love. The heroine, Linda, follows her passions to catch a wealthy banker, then an idealistic Communist – neither of whom can give her the kind of fantasy love she desires. Her third love is a guy she meets at a train station, who whisks her off into a fantasy of clothes and the Paris of 1939. She spends eleven fantastic months with him before he sends her off to safety (?) in London . . . and then she gets bombed out and goes home, only to die in childbirth. But she did spend eleven months of pure, unalloyed happiness, and challenges her cousin (the narrator) to feel unhappy for her.

Are those spoilers? I don’t think so. One reads the Mitford book for the clear stream of words that lead you from one plot point to the next, with hardly a brush with the murky bottom. I’d have to copy and paste the entire book here in order to “spoil” it.

But murky bottoms it does have. The narrator barely mentions her own happy, even-keeled marriage to an academic – she seems to think it isn’t worth a story, and maybe it’s true. In romance, we like happy endings, but how many romances have you read that start and continue from a happy beginning?

Politics play an important part in the story, but more as a lever, rather than the warp and woof of the story. The second lover is a Communist, and as a result, Linda follows him to the camps of refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War. Linda is useless, with no Spanish and very bad French, but she gives according to her ability, and receives according to her basic human needs, as a good Communist should. But her lover spends far more time with a different English girl who is far more useful in camp; this catapults Linda into Paris, and her third major romance. The tangled politics of the era are just plot tools to this story – which is not a bad thing. There’s nothing worse than being bludgeoned about How the World Should Be in a story.

How should the world be, according to The Pursuit of Love? The characters seem to be at their most content when they are in their childhood home, holed up in the attic and talking with each other. Adulthood scattered them to the winds in search of families of their own making; the oddity is that World War Two brought them back together, escaping German bombs by fleeing to the countryside – generally, the Woman’s Journey doesn’t follow Campbell’s Hero Journey where the Hero gets to come home and have a happy ending. Here, though, it does – although I’m not quite sure if the ending is happy. Perhaps it was the happiest of options available to poor Linda.

For romance writers, I recommend The Pursuit of Love for its smooth prose and humorous lightness. It’s also a good primer in what not to write for a romantic hero. It’s a book about women who empowered themselves, followed their dreams, and lived and died as a result of their own choices. It’s a good choice for a wintry afternoon.

5 thoughts on “Michaeline: The Pursuit of Love (Book Review)

  1. I know this book really well, Michaeline. Many years ago I worked for a summer as an au pair in France, and the only English language book I took with me was a duo of The Pursuit of Love and the more famous Love In a Cold Climate. Apart from Nancy Mitford’s lovely prose, what I find fascinating is that the books are so autobiographical. She made only the most token attempt to fictionalize her family, and goodness, what a family! You really couldn’t make them up. The books are a must for any lover of English period drama – an insider’s view into the aristocracy at its most fabulously eccentric and a perfect snapshot of an era.

    PS Three degrees of separation – Nancy Mitford’s youngest sister Deborah married the Duke of Devonshire and became chatelaine of Chatsworth (Pemberley!) in Derbyshire, near where I grew up. I never met her but both my parents did. She died last year, aged 94.

    • What a coincidence! Well, I enjoyed the book a lot, and will be hinting to family and friends that Love in a Cold Climate would make a great Christmas present. I’m reading a biography about the Mitford sisters called “The Six” right now. Their choices are sometimes so . . . extreme, and i don’t know if any biographer is going to get down to the real truth why they acted the way they did. Absolutely fascinating, though, especially in our current climate of insecurity, to speculate about their reasons.

      (-: I’d seen that Deborah had become the chatelaine of Chatsworth, and thought of you!

      I can’t even remember the dozen or so books I took for my year abroad in Japan, but I do remember my host father had a great little library of English literature — that’s where I discovered P.G. Wodehouse, and I’ve been forever grateful.

      One more tangential thing: the Brits have a long history of spectacular sisters, don’t they? It seems to me that I remember other famous sisters (usually in pairs) who took society by storm. In the US, the mythos that comes to my mind is the Kennedy family. I’m sure there are other sets of siblings that also changed the course of the nation . . . I’m just not coming up with any right now.

      Anyway, Michille with her new Antigone showed me the power of the father-son relationship for driving a story; sibling rivalry is also a powerful and ancient motivator. (-: I just have to figure out how to harness it for my story.

  2. You’ve talked me into it. I love Wodehouse and H.H. Munro and my local library has a book with both Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate in the stacks. I’ve placed a request and will plan to read it over the Christmas break.

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: More Gifts for Writers – Eight Ladies Writing

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