As I begin studying again I’m having to snatch the opportunities to read as and when I can – so I’m surprised I got through this so quickly. I hadn’t heard of Nancy Mitford before (which I feel a bit bad about now) but this title stood out to me on the bookshelf – reminiscent a bit, I suppose, of Love in the time of Cholera – which I’ve wanted to read for years based primarily on it having a good title (although I have a feeling it’ll be quite dry and all those excited expectations will come to nothing). Again, I have to betray how shallow I am when it comes to reading by saying that my first impression of the novel was one of dismay, when I opened my copy (happily, Love in a Cold Climate only occupied some 170 pages in the ‘Love in a Cold Climate and Other Stories’ volume I picked up – and lucky that Love in a Cold Climate was the one referenced in the title as there aren’t any other Nancy Mitford novels on my list so I would have skimmed over it otherwise) to find a much smaller than expected print size.
In the first couple of pages, our narrator (Fanny) introduces the Hamptons, an aristocratic English family with a celebrated lineage, whose youngest member Polly (christened Leopoldina) is Fanny’s friend. The only offspring of aging parents, Polly is described as a great beauty but quite flat – Fanny says of her that her looks make you want to “gaze and gaze”, but at balls and society events prospective suitors quickly flee to less stunning but more animated young women. This is problematic for Polly’s eccentric and self satisfying mother, who wishes above all for Polly to marry (to the point of tediousness) and is preoccupied with her observation that her daughter doesn’t show signs of being in love – nor ever has.
I normally try not to describe one author by comparing them to others because I don’t want to do them a disservice – but because I hadn’t heard of Mitford before and because I want to try and convey the strength and wit of her writing I would have to say she reminded me of a cross between Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh (and reading the introduction once I’d finished the novel I found out she was a friend and contemporary of the latter). I’ll admit that the first few pages didn’t exactly inspire me with hope for the rest of it – and this could be in part due to the uninspiring nature of Polly who dominates the beginning of the novel (and who, even when she does finally cause some scandal, did not really live up to my expectations); but the rest of the characters are really well written and amusing – with peculiarities and eccentricities that really are akin to Austin or Waugh (my favourite is Fanny’s bad tempered Uncle Matthew, who believes that by writing his enemies names on bits of paper and putting them in draws he will bring about their deaths, leading to all the draws in their house being full of scraps of paper and him feeling a few days of triumphant guilt in the rare instance that any of his named victims do drop dead). The introduction to the collection cites Mitford’s novels as the type that you’d take on holiday and enjoy – but wouldn’t abandon in the hotel or on the plane, rather that you’d take back home and keep; by this I take it to mean that they are witty and accessible, but stay with you (literally and figuratively), which I think is true.