Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Love In A Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford

Love in A Cold Climate This is a sequel to Nancy Mitford’s successful The Pursuit of Love, which I very much enjoyed as a light hearted read. Like The Pursuit of Love, it is narrated by Fanny Logan, and is about her family. However rather than being about the endearingly eccentric Radlett family, this tells the story of another cousin, Polly Hambleton, and her family. The Hambletons are every bit as upper class as the Radletts, but lack their warmth and charm. I think the novel suffers from a similar problem.

Polly Hambleton is a rich and dazzlingly beautiful heiress, and upon her return from India, where her father was Viceroy, is expected to make an excellent marriage. To her mother’s dismay she displays a total lack of interest in any of the eligible young men her mother introduces her too. She reconnects with her cousin Fanny, to whom she expresses her disinterest in love affairs, saying that she hoped on returning from India, where romances were common place, to find people living in England’s ‘cold climate’ to be less obsessed with affairs. However upon the death of her Father’s sister she announces she will marry her uncle-by-marriage, Boy Dougdale, to the horror of both her family and society.

Boy Dougdale is the main reason I found it difficult to truly enjoy this book. He has been unfaithful to his wife for years, sleeping with maids, acquaintances and, unbeknownst to Polly, was reputedly her mother’s lover for some time. But he is also called ‘the lecherous lecturer’ by the young Radletts due to his inappropriate behaviour towards girls. While they treat this in a light hearted manner, indeed nothing more specific than stroking girls’ hair is mentioned in the book, it lends the whole love affair a slightly queasy tone, especially as Polly makes it clear to Fanny that she has been in love with him ever since she was a girl. Despite all the disapproval of Dougdale’s behaviour shown in the book, at no point is it really treated as immoral behaviour. Perhaps these are modern sensibilities - after all we no longer expect girls to settle down and produce children at eighteen either, but they are sensibilities I’m glad exist.

As I’ve already said the novel is named for Polly’s description of England. However it also acts as a metaphor for the cold relationship between Polly and her mother, Dougdale and his first wife, eventually Polly and Dougdale, and many other relationships that exist in this novel. Ultimately it is hard to like Polly, and therefore to care about her. Linda Radlett’s desperate and hapless love affairs in The Pursuit of Love were convincing, and she was likable enough that it lent a pathos to their unfortunate ends. The rest of the Radlett family appear in this novel, and while they are still amusing, they aren’t enough to make it funny. Nor are they important enough to provide an emotional core to this novel; rather they bluster around the edges of the story, clashing with the staid Hambletons. As Polly has been written out of the will, a distant relative Cecil arrives to inherit. He effects a drastic change on Lady Hambleton, but he cannot do the same for the novel. He is flamboyantly homosexual, so flamboyant, and so coyly treated that it seems almost parody. As charming as he might be, he is also shallow. He might appear to be a glamorous peacock to the novel’s society, but really he is only a crow, attracted to shiny baubles.

As neatly and effectively as the story is finally wrapped up, I was left unmoved. To today’s audience the paedophilic tendencies of Dougdale are too creepy to enjoy the sensation created in the novel by his marriage to Polly. The stereotyping of homosexuality in Cecil is also a little dated. Nancy Mitford’s wry depiction of the upper class is as sharp as ever, but it doesn’t have the human appeal that In Pursuit of Love did. I’d stick to the first, and forget about the sequel.

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