Until a few years ago I had not read any fictional novels by Nancy Mitford. I happened to read a review of one of her novels in a magazine and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. I absolutely loved the book and started reading her other novels, none of which disappointed. If you haven’t read any fictional novels by Nancy Mitford, I highly recommend delving into one. Her novels are very witty and very smartly written.
1. Highland Fling
Nancy Mitford was born in 1904 in London and in 1931, when she was still in her 20s, Highland Fling was published. Being a woman in my 20s, I find it very impressive that she wrote a novel when she was such a young age. It is equally impressive how well she wrote Highland Fling. It is a little less sophisticated than her other novels, but she deftly comments on generational gaps. The story takes place during a shooting party at an old Scottish castle where the “Bright Young Things” and the “Dull Old Things” are thrown together for the long vacation. As you can imagine, there is tension between the generations, which is relieved by the practical jokes that Dizzy Walter and Sally Monteath of the “Bright Young Things” play on the older lords and ladies. Amidst the practical jokes and generational tension, there are also love interests and comments on war and politics. Possibly because of my age, this is one of the fictional novels by Nancy Mitford that I am really drawn to.
2. Christmas Pudding
Christmas Pudding is one of the most recent novels by Mitford that I have read, and it is probably my favorite. It has intrigue, love, practical jokes, and witty commentary on society. Paul Fortheringay is the hero of the story. He is an up and coming novelist who wants to write a biography about the deceased Lady Maria Bobbin, but he has been denied access to her diaries by the current matriarch of the Bobbin family. To gain access, he seeks the help of the Bobbin teen, Bobby, who brings him into the house as his holiday tutor. Once there, Paul has to engage in all of the Bobbin holiday activities to pull off his disguise. What ensues during his stay provides for a very entertaining novel!
3. Wigs on the Green
One of her most controversial novels, Wigs on the Green, caused so much hurt in Nancy Mitford’s family and touched so many political cords that it was out of print for many years. Mitford based the novel on her sisters, Unity and Diana, who had fascist political leanings in the early 1930s. In the novel Eugenia Malmain is a very wealthy woman who is a follower and supporter of the Union Jackshirts. Her wealth makes her desirable to Noel Foster and Jasper Aspect, both of whom want to marry for money. There are several other disparate characters, including Lady Marjorie who left a duke at the altar, and Poppy who wants to divorce her husband. Eventually, all of these characters come together at a costume pageant, which results in various hijinks. Despite the controversy the novel created in Nancy Mitford’s family, the novel is enjoyable to read. It is witty while also providing insight into the politics in England during the 1930s.
4. Pigeon Pie
Pigeon Pie was written in 1940, and as such is set during World War II. Mitford uses the novel as a vehicle to mock the English ideas of a stiff upper lip and “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Her main character is Lady Sophia Garfield, who is married to a man with communist sentiments. Sophia doesn’t follow her husband’s politics and remarks, “The communists torture you to death if you're not a worker, and the Nazis torture you to death if you are not German.” Obviously, Mitford had strong feelings about the war. However, despite the serious content, Mitford finds a way to keep her characteristic joking charm. She even has Sophia uncover and outwit German spies at a first aid volunteer post!
5. The Pursuit of Love
By far her most famous novel, The Pursuit of Love was the first novel by Nancy Mitford that I read. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read all of her other novels! The Pursuit of Love is narrated by Fanny and centers on Fanny’s cousin Linda Radlett. In the novel, Fanny, Linda, and Linda’s sisters are all looking for “Mr. Right.” Linda’s love interests are the heart of the story, and are, for the most part, unsuccessful. She is married first to a Tory and then to a communist before she finds true love with a French duke. Essentially, The Pursuit of Love is a coming of age comedy that Mitford loosely based upon her own family. This time, however, the novel did not cause any family tension, and it was such a success that Mitford was able to become financially independent.
6. Love in a Cold Climate
Written in 1949, Love in a Cold Climate brings back Fanny as a narrator. This time, she tells the story of her cousin Polly Hampton, who is young and beautiful and in the perfect position for a good marriage. Yet, Polly manages to scandalize and horrify her family by eloping with her uncle! Briefly, Polly is disowned, but she is welcomed back into the family when she finally leaves her husband. Love in a Cold Climate is probably the least jovial of Mitford’s novels, but I must admit I still enjoyed reading it very much. A little scandal can sometimes be fun to read!
7. The Blessing
I read The Blessing a few years ago, and I still remember how much I enjoyed reading it. In the novel, Grace and her son, Sigi, join Grace’s husband Charles-Edouard in Paris at the end of WWII. Once there, Grace finds herself out of her league amongst the fashionable Parisian women. Slowly, she starts to find her way, but she also discovers that Charles-Edouard is less than faithful! When the two separate, Sigi has a wonderful time using his parent’s separation to get what he wants. He is a cute little devil, and he provides much of the comedy in the novel. Clearly, Sigi is the blessing the title refers to.
8. Don’t Tell Alfred
Do you remember Fanny from The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate? She makes a return in Don’t Tell Alfred, narrating her own story. Alfred is Fanny’s husband who has been appointed as the English Ambassador in France, which naturally results in Fanny and Alfred moving to Paris. Fanny has to find her way among the snobby ladies in France while managing the day to day life of the embassy, her four freethinking sons, and her secretary, who is more interested in French society than her job. When difficult or dramatic things occur in the daily embassy life, everyone says, “Don’t tell Alfred!” Next to Christmas Pudding, Don’t Tell Alfred is my favorite Mitford novel.
Nancy Mitford was an extremely talented writer. Her novels are both smart and witty, which makes them extremely enjoyable to read. I hope you have found at least one that interests you, because Mitford really is one of my favorite authors. Which of Nancy Mitford’s novels do you think you will read?