Saturday, 29 October 2011

Nancy Mitford "The Pursuit of Love"

So after posting about the mysteries of two apparently incompatible people managing to keep a relationship going for over 30 years (hubby and me), I've come across two references to the subject in the last week.

One in a book by a now almost-forgotten author, Charles Morgan, born in 1894, the same year as Phyllis Bentley and J.B. Priestley.  Charles Morgan was interned in Holland during World War 1 (during that war, Holland was a neutral country).  Based on his experience, Morgan wrote his most successful work, "The Fountain" which won the Hawthornden prize.  I wrote a lengthy review of this on my old blog, which is now lost, but I might be able to find the draft in Word and re-post.  This afternoon I am going to London to watch a play called "The River Line", which C Morgan adapted for the Edinburgh Festival of 1952 from his own novel of the same title, which I proudly possess in hardback. 

Another Charles Morgan book I have picked up in hardback is "Sparkenbroke" and this is my train reading of the moment. As I am only half way through this  550 page work, I cannot at the present time categorically conclude what it is actually about.  From evidence so far, I would say it is about love.

Last week I came across the following:

'Once, as they came away from a house where lived together a man and wife seemingly incongruous but deeply in love, she said: " I wonder what it is that holds them to each other," and he began to answer that the woman had been very pretty when she was young and that they had common interests.'  

The male character goes on to follow this up with quotations from Stendhal and Goethe, which would put off the average girl, though not this one.  Finally he sums it up thus: "...though love may have a thousand originating impulses, thrown out almost haphazard like a handful of seed, it doesn't take root or grow into a consuming love unless the two people have the same intuitive direction of their subconscious minds."

I think that pretty well sums up what I have found to be the answer to one of life's perplexing questions.  However, almost no-one now reads this long-forgotten work, so it is not as well known as Nancy Mitford's "The Pursuit of Love".  A book on this theme, accurately forecast in the title,  but far better-known, a success from the moment of publication, which sold 200,000 copies in its first year and has hardly been out of print since. 

Nancy Mitford's work is lightly ironical, terribly witty in an understated sort of way, and much shorter at only 205 pages in the current Penguin paperback edition.  Not surprising that it is more popular.  Chapter Seven begins with the words "What could possibly have induced Linda to marry Anthony Kroesig?  During the nine years of their life together people asked this question with irritating regularity, almost every time their names were mentioned." 

Like many an avid reader who over-identifies with characters in books, I thought, "Yes, people have said that about me!"  Further analysis, however, seemed necessary.

Only two people have intimated over the last 27 years that they did not know why I married my husband.  One of them actually said it out loud.  On the iceberg theory that for every one showing there is nine-tenths more below the water-line, I wonder if about twenty people have asked themselves this about me and hubby.  Not that great a total, after all.

Later in the book, Linda explains what went wrong with the marriage.

"The really important thing, if a marriage is to go well, without much love, is very very great niceness - gentillesse - and wonderful good manners.  I was never gentille with Tony, and often I was hardly polite to him, and very soon after our honeymoon, I became exceedingly disagreeable.  I'm ashamed now to think what I was like.... It was my fault from begnning to end."

This was food for thought.  However, the overwheming thought that went through my mind on reading this advice was, that it didn't apply to us.  When we married, there was enormous love, which lasted really for well over twenty years, much longer than the honeymoon period.  We really did love each other, as far as anyone knows what love is (to misquote the Prince of Wales).  Passion outflanked gentility, but passion leads to stormy arguments and reconciliations.  Gentility took a back seat until much more recently.

Nowadays, being calm and quiet seems to be a strategy for successfully sharing a home together.  Whether this can carry on without passion remains to be seen.  One thing is certain, "It ain't over yet!"

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