Fanny was an only child, but she spent a great deal of her early years at Alconleigh, the estate of her raucous and numerous Radlett cousins. Fanny was being brought up by her single Aunt Emily, since her own mother had abandoned her to live what the cousins considered a thrillingly scandalous life. They were so jealous, since their parents were stuffy and strict. Aunt Sadie dithered through life, surrounded by tumbling, energetic children, while Uncle Matthew spent most of his time hunting and shooting. Matthew scorned Emily’s attention to Fanny’s academic pursuits, as he was completely opposed to education for “females” and was proud that his daughters were ignorant and decorative. Fanny and Linda were the same age, and they could not wait to grow up and fall in love, with Linda pining for the Prince of Wales. They were the children of The Great War, and no one ever thought there would be another such terrible conflict, but as adolescence gave way to weddings and babies in the late 1930s, rumblings of war began again, and all their wealth and sparkling parties could not keep them safe.
The Pursuit of Love is an autobiographical novel by Nancy Mitford, the oldest of the real-life Mitford sisters, who were rather like more mannered Kardashians of their day: beautiful, famous, and always scandalous. It is told in the third person from Fanny’s point of view, but she is not actually the author’s true identity. That falls to her Radlett cousin, Linda, who led a much wilder life than Fanny.
Mitford’s style can only be called charming. Her writing is so light and amusing that it reminds one of Jane Austen; however, Miss Austen would blush at Linda’s tempestuous existence. After an indulgent childhood, Linda gravitates toward people on the outer fringes of society, and even when she tries to make good choices, they turn sour before her very eyes. Mitford takes on the serious issues of her day, including the failing aristocracy, misogyny and women’s education, communism, class distinctions, and war’s far-reaching power. Perhaps the most shocking element of the story is Linda’s complete disregard for her daughter, whom she finds repugnant from the moment of birth. Still, the heaviness of these issues does not weigh down the fascination of the plot and the humor carrying the reader through the pages.
Nancy Mitford also wrote a sequel to this novel, Love in a Cold Climate, as well as several well-received biographies.
Amazon Prime has recently adapted The Pursuit of Love into a 3-episode miniseries, starring Lily James as Linda and Emily Beecham as Fanny. While the book would probably be rated PG-13, the miniseries brings it up to an R rating, and some of the sensationalist elements that were hinted at in the book were splashed out on the screen. Others were made up from whole cloth. There is one improbable scene that looks as if it were borrowed from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The miniseries does manage to hold on to the humor, though, and even seems campy at times. The introduction of new characters and places reminds one of Love & Friendship, the Kate Beckinsale adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Everything freezes, and the name of the person or place is scrawled across the screen in antique script.
The film follows the plotline of the book very well— aside from its startling first scene— and images of English estates and Parisian streets are always fun. The period costumes are fabulous, and Lily James is lovely, as usual. It’s a great popcorn experience, but this is one time that I would say to please, please read the book first. Nancy Mitford doesn’t deserve the judgment that I, for one, would heap on her if I had only seen the miniseries.
Rating: The book is better, probably 4 ½ stars. The miniseries is 3 ½ stars.
*Miniseries photo from The Hollywood Reporter.
Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.