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!"

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Booker Prize Won by Julian Barnes

Here's an example of breakfast-time conversation in Bookblog's house:

"The Booker prizewinner this year is Julian Barnes."

"Who's Julian Barnes?"

"I'll never forget Julian Barnes.  He came to give a talk in our local library, in 1985.  Our elder daughter was just about a month old.  I went to the talk, sat down in the front row, and immediately fell asleep.  I went up to him afterwards and apologised.  'It's not you - I've just had a baby.'

Complete silence and lack of response.

This dialogue unfortunately revived many bad memories for me.  Instead of thinking about the (then young and handsome) author, whose early semi-autobiographical novel "Metro-land" had charmed and beguiled me with its recognizable picture of my teenage years, and congratulating him on his hard-won success, (at the fourth attempt), I thought about the early days of motherhood.

The apparently complete lack of any understanding of maternal exhaustion and sleep deprivation.  Insisting on going out on New Year's Eve, taking a two-week old baby to friend's house, so that instead of going to bed at 8.00pm, I had to stay up until the small hours.  Moving out of the marital bedroom until the babe started sleeping through the night, on the grounds that "My needs are more important than yours.  I have to go to work - you don't".  Never once making me a cup of tea during a night feed, unlike the famed "other husbands" in the neighbourhood.

I am sure that his side of the story would be different.  However, there is no doubt that the birth of this first child stuck daggers in the sides of both of us, and the relationship was never the same afterwards. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Mitford Girls

Today I visited Chatsworth House.  Of course, the house tour ends with the shop.  I bought some biscuits for my next-door neighbour, and, naturally,  a book. I bought a new paperback copy of "The Pursuit of Love" by Nancy Mitford.

It is hardly credible that Nancy, who was born in  1904 and died in 1973, the year I was twenty, still has a sibling surviving.  This is Debo, otherwise known as Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. She is 91, and lives somewhere nearby on the Chatsworth estate, since her husband's death in  2004.

Debo is largely credited with the enormous success of the Chatsworth brand, and with saving the house and estate from the tax-man.  It has been turned over to a Trust to keep it safe in perpetuity and the present Duke and Duchess (Debo's son and his wife) pay rent to live there, so the notices are careful to inform us.

Debo has written several books, some of which were on offer in the bookshop.  I sneaked a quick glance, and was impressed by her lively style, and sharp wit.  However, sticking to the classics, I bought Nancy's book, not her first, but the first to gain widespread acclaim.  It was published in 1945, a different era. 

What we love about the Mitfords is their eccentricity, and their effortless class.  I explained to my elder daughter, that a Dowager Duchess was the "Maggie Smith character in Downton Abbey".  This was immediately understood.

I also told her that she would love to read anything about or by the Mitford girls, on the basis that she enjoys Downton Abbey, and found my last-year's Christmas present, a book on etiquette, "hilarious".  I am half-way through the second-youngest sister's memoir "Hons and Rebels", and debated whether to buy my daughter a new copy for Christmas, or lend her my second-hand hardback edition picked up in a charity shop for £5.00.

This sister, Jessica, known to the family as "Decca" was as eccentric as the rest, and an equally good writer.  Her sardonic, tongue-in-cheek comments on her family and early life are laugh-out-loud funny.  You do have to have an appreciation of  the family as a whole to understand the truly shocking behaviour which saw her run away to Spain with her cousin, Esmond Romilly (a nephew of Winston Churchill, although some gossips said he was the illegitimate son) in the 1930's. 

The pre-war life of hunting, shooting and fishing, house-parties, home education for girls, news stories about napkin rings, is the background against which this honourable deb rebelled.  You have to love it.

I started my new book whilst sitting in the restaurant with my husband eating lunch at Chatsworth. I know it's rude to read at the table, but somehow, the whole Mitford family's grand reputation for eccentricity, rudeness, but overall charm, seemed to prevail, and hubby didn't mind a bit! 

Monday, 3 October 2011

A Very Dry Season

Have hardly posted anything since the early summer.  Not surprising, perhaps, in view of the fact that I have been on holiday five times.  Whilst I have read books on holiday, I haven't had time to review them, archive them, and place them in a context.  Too busy clearing the decks at work before holiday, catching up with work after holiday, and doing all the pre- and post-holiday cleaning, fridge-management, washing and ironing.

I went to:

Somerset in April, joined for part of the time by husband and elder daughter
Lake District in June, with husband and both daughters
Canada in July, with work colleagues for a conference and then a short holiday
Norfolk in August, together with a  book-loving friend (she brought her Kindle).
Italy in September, with husband.  This was an exhausting holiday. Husband doesn't read books.  Clearly some of the others in the group (it was an accompanied tour group of 40) found it somewhat odd and thought we were mismatched.  However, many of them were on their second marriage, and I was proud to point out that we have been together over 33 years.  Sometimes things are not as they seem.  There is some very deep bond between us that nothing so far has been able to break.  And there have been some epic moments in this relationship.  As there are in all relationships.

The dry season continues.  It hasn't rained here for weeks.  I haven't written a proper blog-post for months.  This week the weather is due to change. I will start to write again. It would be fruitful to write a history of our relationship. However, a list of books I have read on holidays is more relevant to this blog.