Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate is considered a companion volume to The Pursuit of Love. But it can be read as a stand-alone work. In which case, it may just take the reader a little longer to figure out who some of the characters are and what their relationship is to one another. Nancy Mitford’s novels garnered praise and some controversy for their spot-on and wickedly funny depictions of the British upper crust. In this particular work, as well as in her others, Mitford seems to comically celebrate the perils of love, producing one of the novels most famous lines: “Love indeed-whoever invented love ought to be shot.”
Love In A Cold Climate is presented through the eyes of Fanny, a familiar Mitford narrator. Fanny relays details of the life of Polly Hampton, a distant cousin in addition to being one of her closest friends since childhood. Polly is the daughter of the extremely wealthy and aristocratic, Lord and Lady Montdore. After a stint in India, where Lord Montdore served as Viceroy, the family returns to their English country estate. This gives Fanny and Polly an opportunity to rekindle their friendship. Fanny cares deeply about Polly and admires her great beauty. But Polly’s personality is lacking. She’s emotionally reserved. And she seems to take great pleasure in driving her snobbish and domineering mother absolutely crazy.
Lady Montdore is desperate for Polly to make a suitable match, and marry in accordance to her station in life. Unfortunately for her, Polly shows no outward interest in either marriage or falling in love. Lady Montdore is at her wit’s end. But no one knows that Polly has already secretly set her sights on someone. When this person’s identity is revealed, all hell breaks loose. The Montdores disown and disinherit their daughter, who subsequently makes a quick escape out of the country. Polly’s absence leaves a void which is swiftly filled by Cedric Hampton, a distant relative of mysterious origins and heir to the Montdore estate through entailment. Cedric is eccentric and flamboyant. His personality, a perfect foil to Polly’s, brings color and vivacity to this otherwise staid environment. Lord and (especially) Lady Montdore immediately fall in love with Cedric and bring him into the family fold. But there are still issues to be resolved. Will there be a mending of fences? Will there be a happy ending for all involved? Will love prevail?
Love In A Cold Climate provides a fun reading experience. It’s like binge watching an old-school soap opera. The twists and turns. The weddings. The funerals. The conflicts that sometimes turn physical. The illicit romances. But what makes this novel interesting is that Mitford manages to dress up the drama in layers of comedy. So that you find yourself laughing at things you probably shouldn’t be laughing at. If you haven’t read this novel before, I would advise to keep some things in mind. Mitford was a woman of her time, so this novel does include the use of certain racial epithets that made me wince. An experience not unheard of when reading classic literature, unfortunately. Also the depiction of an aristocratic leisure class can be off-putting. The multitude of privilege on display in this novel may not suit the taste of contemporary audiences. But readers may find pleasure in the fact that Mitford does make them suffer for a bit.
Have any of you read this book or other Mitford works? What’s your take? Lemme know.