I picked up Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford for $10 as part of the Penguin classics range, knowing little about it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how funny this book was. Really funny. This biting look at English upper-class society reminded me of Jane Austen’s clever observations of people in books like Pride and Prejudice.
The story is told from the point-of-view of Fanny, a young woman born into privilege but who is an observer of those around her rather than a key player. Although she goes from a green girl with a keen eye for the silliness of upper-class society to a wife and mother during the course of the book, her story barely causes a wrinkle in the story’s fabric. This is very much the story of Lady Montdore and her beautiful daughter, Polly.
Lady Montdore is a larger-than-life character who dominates every scene she is in. She despairs about her daughter Polly (Leopoldina), a beautiful young woman who should be “destined for an exceptional marriage” given her beauty and breeding but who seems to have no interest in any man her mother puts in front of her.
Our narrator Fanny has an eccentric upper-class family full of neurotic aunts and uncles. Her mother is known as “the bolter” for running from numerous love affairs and has left Fanny to grow up between her aunts and uncles. Her Uncle Matthew calls people he dislikes “sewers” and has a superstition that if he writes the name of somebody he dislikes on pieces of paper and puts it in a drawer that the person will die in a year. The drawers in his house are overflowing with bits of paper.
The reader is introduced to different players in the story and then the great big scandal involving Polly drops into the middle of it all. Not a whole lot of action happens in this book. It is very much an enjoyable character-based romp through the grand halls of the English aristocracy in the time between the two world wars. It was definitely worth the read.