Book Review – The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

I recently revisited one of my favourite books: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. Set in the 1920s and 1930s in England, it’s a comic novel that follows the coming of age of the aristocratic Radlett children, particularly the romantic and flighty Linda Radlett, whose longing for love leads her away from the family home and through a series of unsuccessful marriages. The story is narrated by Linda’s cousin and best friend Fanny, for whom a connection with the world of the Radletts provides a source of drama and fascination in her otherwise conventional life.

The first chapters of the novel are partly based on the author’s own upbringing (Nancy was the eldest of the six notorious Mitford sisters), and they contain possibly the best descriptions I’ve ever read, of the kind of family nonsense that develops among groups of cousins or siblings who grow up trying to amuse each other. Fanny recounts Christmas holidays spent at Alconleigh, the Radlett family’s gloomy country estate: days full of bizarre games, the ridiculous rhymes and sayings that remain part of the family lexicon long after their origins are forgotten, and hours spent holed up in the linen cupboard together, gossiping and planning their futures.

But this is not just a story about childhood. It’s about what happens to those relationships and that family nonsense when everyone starts growing up, moving in different directions, and having families of their own. Fanny – sensible, well-educated, and now happily married – settles down in Oxford and, from there, observes the lives of her cousins unfold. Having grown up leading a life of leisure with little to occupy them except their wild imaginations, the Radletts seem capable only of chasing one ill-advised adventure after another. Towards the end of the novel, as World War II looms and husbands are sent off to help in the war effort, the girls find themselves reunited at Alconleigh. Once again, they spend their days chatting in the linen cupboard, Fanny now sewing baby clothes while Linda lies swaddled in the furs she’s salvaged from her latest romance. The nature of their friendship may have changed, but it’s a relationship that remains as vital to both of them as ever.

The novel’s sequel, Love in a Cold Climate, follows many of the same characters and is equally good. The Pursuit of Love was also recently adapted as a television show starring Lily James (of Downton Abbey fame), which I’m looking forward to watching one day. I know I’ll continue returning to Nancy Mitford’s poignant and wonderfully funny stories for years to come.

About the Author

Megan Koch

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University. She currently writes freelance exhibition, theatre, and arts reviews. Her work can be found on various platforms, including ArtsHub and Year13.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *