Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 30, 2020

Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford

This was an enjoyable romp with which to end my reading year.  1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die compares Nancy Mitford to Jane Austen.

Well, I don’t know about that.  I’m not sure that the novel would bear re-reading as Austen’s novels do, but FWIW this is what 1001 Books has to say:

Mitford’s novels, like those of Jane Austen, focus on the small social manoeuvrings of an exclusive family and their “set”; like Austen, she uses fond but mocking satire to gently send up the family, even while encouraging the reader to care about its fortunes. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, ABC Books 2006, p.450)

The blurb encapsulates the slight plot:

Love in a Cold Climate is a wickedly funny satire, brilliantly lampooning upper-class society. When Polly, a beautiful aristocrat, declares her love for her married, lecherous uncle – who also happens to be her mother’s former lover – she sparks off a scandal that has both disastrous and delicious consequences. Love in a Cold Climate is an unforgettable tale of the absurdities and obsessions of the elite.

There really isn’t much more to it than that.  What makes it enjoyable is the narrator privately lampooning the situation.  According to 1001 Books, this ‘sensible narrator’ Fanny who observes the goings-on, features in many of Mitford’s novels: she is both ‘in’ and ‘of’ this society but as one of the genteel poor (like the heroines of Austen novels) she is ‘not quite’ one of them because her expectations have to be lower in a status-layered society.  While others in the novel have no compunction about sharing their opinions, Fanny keeps her thoughts to herself.  She never confronts anybody even when the behaviour is outrageous.  This might be because she is discreet, or it might be that her place among them is contingent on fitting in.  Mitford only hints at this by showing how Polly is ostracised for breaking the rules of the marriage market.

And while marriage of the suitable kind is the bedrock of all gossip, Fanny’s marriage, to an impecunious Oxford don who mostly ignores her except when lecturing her about her fondness for gossip, is an afterthought.

What IMO precludes Mitford’s novel from a place on the shelf beside Austen is that the characterisation is over the top. 1001 Books puts it well:

Mitford’s characters often verge on the bizarre; “uncle Matthew”, modelled on Mitford’s father, typifies the eccentric aristocrat, while the insufferable Lady Montdore, who undergoes a hilariously drawn affair with a Canadian nephew and arch-aesthete Cedric, remains a cutting portrait of the domineering but gullible matriarch. (ibid, p.450)

These characters wear a bit thin as the novel goes on.

Still, it was fun to read.

(One left to finish before 2021, and that’s non-fiction).

Author: Nancy Mitford
Title: Love in a Cold Climate
Publisher: Popular Penguins, Penguin Random House, 2008, first published 1949
ISBN: 9780141037448, pbk., 249 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentligh $12.99

Available from Fishpond: Love in a Cold Climate

 


Responses

  1. I love reading Mitford, but only for entertainment, she’s not even in the same room as Austen when it comes to writing ability or character development.

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    • Yes, I do get the feeling sometimes that the editors of my 2006 edition of 1001 Books were unprepared for the storm of criticism about its limitations, one of which is that they seem to have included women as an afterthought, and many of the ones included are not really representative of women’s writing at its best. There’s also far too many US and UK authors along with multiples of some of those, and hardly any from the rest of the anglosphere, much less The Rest of The World or books in translation.
      But having said that, the book, used selectively, has introduced me to some fine writers that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.

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  2. I also recently re-read this one. I think the most impressive element is the character (and voice) of the narrator. Once the reader has accepted this, the exaggerations of the rest of the novel have a perspective. I agree that this is far from the skill-wonder-power-reach of Jane Austen.

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    • Yes, that’s what carries the book.
      I do like character-driven novels:)

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  3. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

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  4. In the UK, is there any difference between upper class and the aristocracy? The Mitford were the latter.

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    • The aristocracy are the highest class, with hereditary titles and offices.

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      • Yes, but you can be upper class without having a title.

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        • Yes, but you can’t be an aristocrat if you don’t.

          Liked by 1 person

          • What about Mr Darcy?

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            • Not an aristocrat.
              Just very (obscenely) wealthy.

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  5. I really ought to read this. I have many British friends who love Mitford but have never tried her despite owning many of the books (sadly all locked up in London and therefore inaccessible to me right now).

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    • It must be driving you crazy to have all those books so far away…

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  6. I read this many years ago and know I enjoyed it but now can’t remember it at all!!!! It would be interesting to read it again to see how I find it now – but my “to read” list is growing so long I doubt I will manage. Wasn’t this made into a TV series?

    This suddenly has made me think of Cold Comfort Farm which I read a few years ago and absolutely loved. Now that book I do remember well, have you read it Lisa?

    Can I take the opportunity to wish you & everyone here all the best for the New Year as here in NSW we teeter on the brink of another outbreak/lock down…Lets hope for better things to come in 2021, but who knows. I’m sure I almost have PTSD from watching the bushfires on the television for so long earlier this year. What a year 2020 has been!

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    • I *loved* Cold Comfort Farm! (See https://anzlitlovers.com/2015/01/23/cold-comfort-farm-by-stella-gibbons/ but it really doesn’t convey how funny it is).

      The situation is NSW is very worrying: I think Victoria will secede if somebody brings it back down here again…we are just not in the mood for another lockdown and won’t be at all pleased if it occurs because of lack of good governance in NSW.

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      • A couple of cases in Victoria I hear Lisa.. I dread another lock down here, all my social happenings would stop yet again and I don’t know how businesses here would cope any longer. Trouble is we have so many visitors here from other areas with Christmas/New Year/holidays, I can’t see how we will not have it reappear.

        I must look up your Cold Comfort Farm review, thank you for the link!

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        • I can’t tell you how my heart sank when I heard the news…
          I dropped everything and started reading a new book, to take my mind off it.

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          • It’s all very depressing – we are hoping to have a little escape to Thredbo while my brother is here, as we always do in early January. So far that is a long way from all the outbreaks, but you never know.

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            • We have cancelled almost everything, living in self-imposed semi- lockdown, because there are so many exposure sites around us. I guess it’s the time of the year for being out and about, but it feels as if the only safe place is home. We will know soon if they have controlled it, but after what we’ve already been through we are not taking any risks until they’ve suppressed it.

              Liked by 1 person

              • So far we have nine in Canberra but I can’t help thinking it’s only time.

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                • That’s a lot for a small population…

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                • Oops, I meant NONE! That was typing in my phone and not checking!

                  Liked by 1 person

  7. CCFarm is a far more satisfying novel. I checked my posts on the two Mitfords I’ve read – Don’t Tell Alfred and The Pursuit of Love – and called them frothy and insubstantial. Quite funny in parts, but also some obnoxious traits in some characters (like the boorish Uncle Matthew). I prefer Ivy Compton-Burnett for upper-class comedy: she’s a far better writer. (IMHO).

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    • Compton-Burnett doesn’t get a mention in 1001 Books. What would you recommend? (Not that I’m planning to binge on satires of the British upper-class British…)

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  8. I’ve read The Pursuit of Love in 2020 and it comes before Love in Cold Climate. I’ll probably read it this year.

    And yes, it’s fun to read when you’re in the mood for British aristocracy eccentricities and don’t let yourself think they wouldn’t have so much time to gossip if they had a full time job.

    And no, she doesn’t compare to Jane Austen. Austen’s characters have a universal core that Mitford’s don’t. That’s why we read and re-read Austen and read Mitford for entertainment.

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    • Well said, Emma.
      Although she was one of them, I don’t think Mitford had much time for them either and that’s why she went to live in France after the war.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You got more out of this than I did. I was expecting a lot more wit having seen that comparison to Austen. But apart from a few funny scenes, I was left underwhelmed generally.

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    • *chuckle* it probably reads differently in the UK where you still have an aristocracy! (Even if they do have to sell the family silver to pay the death duties).

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      • I’m not going to go all teary eyed that they’ll be down to their third best dinner service..

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        • No, nor me.
          You know, when The Spouse and I were on one of our UK trips, we visited A Stately House and we could not believe the way people were fawning over it and getting so excited about the roll call of Famous Dead Aristocrats Who Had Slept in That Bed. If His Lordship had deigned to hobnob with The Lower Orders, I swear they would have doffed their caps and tugged their forelocks.
          It made me think that there was something to be said for the Russian Revolution after all.
          I loved Penelope Keith in To the Manor Born…

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  10. This book had me screaming with laughter! I love Uncle Matthew writing the names on scraps of paper to put in drawers. Hysterical.

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