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The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford (2011)

por Nancy Mitford

Otros autores: India Knight (Introducción)

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792268,100 (4.08)7
Provides a glimpse of the bright young things of the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties in the city and in the shires.

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Once upon a time, I had an idea to focus my reading on British women writers of the first half of the twentieth century – I even wrote a blog post about it, here. I was already a fan of the novels of Olivia Manning and Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress), so it wasn’t much of a stretch. In the event, I only read a dozen or so qualifying novels, but it did introduce me to writers whose oeuvres I wanted to further explore – such as Pamela Frankau, Storm Jameson and Susan Ertz. I later read novels by Hilda Vaughn and Rosamund Lehmann. Nancy Mitford, however, was not on my list, possibly because she was best-known for her 1930s novels, which was a little earlier than I was interested in. But then I started reading Evelyn Waugh, and Mitford’s novels are often compared to his, and – which is probably the most important factor – The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford on Kindle was on offer for £2.99 (that’s eight novels, btw). Comparisons with Waugh are inevitable – both wrote satirically about “Bright Young Things” during the inter-war years. Waugh’s prose is sharper, but his satire is meaner; Mitford plainly doesn’t hold her subjects in contempt, and her set-pieces are slightly more absurd than Waugh’s. In this, her first novel, her characters are put in charge of Highland castle for a shoot, despite being complete upper class twits. And destitute. Because, like Waugh, Mitford is keen to stress how poor most of the upper classes are. It doesn’t wash. Poor working class person asks bank for loan, bank says fuck off. Poor upper class person asks for bank loan, bank throws bundles of cash at them. The upper classes have always been the UK’s worst enemy, and that’s as true now as it was in the 1930s. Or even the 1130s. Highland Fling is mildly amusing – not as cutting as Waugh, but not as racist either – but, you know, if everyone wiped out the entire English upper classes I would not shed a single tear. I might fucking celebrate, though.

The second of The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford, and it’s more of the same as the first. But much funnier. Some of the characters featured in Highland Fling (like Waugh, Mitford seems to have a stable of characters for her books), but this time they’re spending Christmas in the country. Amabelle Fortescue, rich widow and ex-sex worker, has hired a cottage in Gloucestershire. She invites the Monteaths to join her. Meanwhile, novelist Paul Fotheringay, a friend of Amabelle’s, whose tragic debut novel has been hailed as a comic masterpiece, deeply hurting him, has decided a biography of his favourite Victorian poet is what is needed to convince people of his serious literary nature. So he wangles a post, under a false name, as tutor to the poet’s descendant, a teenage baronet, whose home is near the country cottage rented by Amabelle. Some of the poet’s verse is reproduced, and it’s brilliant – “Think only, love, upon our wedding day / The lilies and the sunshine and the bells / Of how, the service o’er, we drove away / To our blest honeymoon at Tunbridge Wells.” The cast are grotesques, even when presented as relatively normal for the milieu, and it’s Mitford has a sharp tongue when poking fun at them and their world. But this is no social commentary – nor was Waugh’s, to be fair – and if Mitford’s humour is at the expense of her characters, it’s at least it’s not Waugh’s contemptuous cynicism. They’re well put-together these novels. Recommended. ( )
  iansales | Apr 15, 2021 |
Highland Fling 3.5 stars

All might have been well except for his incurable extravagance. In many ways they were extremely economical. Unlike the type of young married couple who think it essential to have a house in the vicinity of Belgrave Square and a footman, they preferred to live in a tiny flat with no servants except an old woman and a boy, both of whom came in daily. Sally did most of the cooking and all the marketing herself and rather enjoyed it.
On the other hand, Walter seemed to have a talent for making money disappear. Whenever he was on the point of committing an extravagance of any kind he would excuse himself by explaining: ‘Well, you see, darling, it’s so much cheaper in the end.’ It was his slogan. Sally soon learnt, to her surprise and dismay, that ‘it’s cheaper in the end’ to go to the most expensive tailor, travel first class, stay at the best hotels, and to take taxis everywhere. When asked why it was cheaper, Walter would say airily: ‘Oh, good for our credit, you know!’ or ‘So much better for one’s clothes,’ or, sulkily: ‘Well, it is, that’s all, everybody knows it is.’

Impecunious couple Sally and Walter get a lucky break when Sally’s aunt and uncle ask them to host a hunting party at their Scottish estate. Light, frothy and enjoyable.

Christmas Pudding 4 stars

Christmas Day itself was organized by Lady Bobbin with the thoroughness and attention to detail of a general leading his army into battle. Not one moment of its enjoyment was left to chance or to the ingenuity of her guests; these received on Christmas Eve their marching orders, orders which must be obeyed to the letter on pain of death. Even Lady Bobbin, however, superwoman though she might be, could not prevent the day from being marked by a good deal of crossness, much over-eating, and a series of startling incidents.

I can see that Nancy Mitford is a bit of a cynic about true love and ’happy ever afters’. Very amusing.

Wigs on the Green 3 stars

This state of affairs was rightly laid at Noel’s door. As well as providing a complete distraction from the ordinary routine of her life he had shaken Mrs Lace in the belief that her friends were geniuses. He assured her that in London they were perfectly unknown, and his attitude towards their work, too, was distressing. For instance, after glancing at Mr Forderen’s series of photographs entitled ‘Anne-Marie in some of her exquisite moods’ which, when they were first taken a year before had caused the greatest enthusiasm in Rackenbridge, he had remarked quite carelessly that she ought to have her photograph taken by some proper photographer.
‘Don’t you see,’ Anne-Marie had said, ‘that these pictures represent, not me but my moods, this one, for instance, “pensive by firelight”, don’t you think it rather striking?’
‘No I don’t,’ said Noel, whose own mood that day was not of the sunniest. ‘It is nothing but an amateurish snapshot of you looking affected. Frankly, I see no merit in any of them whatever, and as I said before, all those young aesthetes at Rackenbridge strike me as being fearfully 1923, and bogus at that.’

This is a satire of village life, and the fascist beliefs of two of the author’s sisters, and was out of print for a long time as Nancy Mitford refused to give permission for it to be reprinted. It’s amusing but also left me with an uneasy feeling, so I am only going to give it 3 stars.

Pigeon Pie 4.5 stars

Sophia poured out tea, and asked after his Lesbian irises. ‘They were not what they seemed,’ he said, ‘wretched things. I brought the roots all the way from Lesbos, as you know, and when they came up, what were they? Mere pansies. Too mortifying. And now I’m the air-raid warden for Kew Gardens, in a tin hat – and it will be years before I visit Greece again. It may be for years, and it may-hay be for ever.

This is a satirical spy story set 1939 during the Phoney War. I found it very funny and really enjoyed it. I would say that it’s my favourite of Nancy Mitford’s first four novels.

The Pursuit of Love

Love in a Cold Climate

The Blessing

Don’t Tell Alfred ( )
  isabelx | Apr 5, 2020 |
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Provides a glimpse of the bright young things of the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties in the city and in the shires.

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