Originally published in 1945, The Pursuit of Love is a tale of domesticity. This novel follows the protagonist’s quest for a husband and, preferably, love. Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love offers a light-hearted romance with under-pinning tragic elements, as the characters navigate their complex social obligations. The heroine of the novel (Linda Radlett) is an outspoken and strong-willed character, who is simultaneously endearing and exasperating to each reader. However, fundamentally the novel is saturated with the contemporary female fixation with marriage, money and men.
The novel begins by following the childhood of Linda, her siblings and her cousin Fanny, who was abandoned by both her father and her mother, “The Bolter”. The children, who are charmingly close, entitle themselves “The Hons” as they experience the exhausting roller-coaster of growing up side-by-side. The family exist in the quaint setting of Alconleigh, that appears to the reader as the stereotypical wealthy country-house. The recollection of the children’s lives are supposedly reflective of Mitford’s own childhood, as she was raised with her five sisters and brother. As Linda grows older she becomes increasingly enthralled by the concept of marriage, and awaits with eagerness her “coming-out”. During this period of her life, Linda forms a friendship with a wealthy neighbour, Lord Merlin, who throws her her own coming-out party. At this long awaited event, Linda meets Tony, whom she falls in love with. The pair marry despite the ardent disapproval from both the families, as well as from the reader themselves, who can sense the monotony of his character. The couple soon have a child (Moira) towards whom Linda displays no sign of maternal affection. The marriage seems to gradually collapse, and Linda eventually leaves both Tony and Moira. This event seems to be a catalyst in Linda’s life as she henceforth must independently seek happiness amidst societal disapproval. In a moment of despair, Linda eventually believes she has found the love of her life with a French Duke. However, the outbreak of the Second World War triggers the downfall of Linda’s desperate hope for the future.
Throughout the entire novel I was captivated by Mitford’s unique tone. In each acute moment of the novel, Mitford deals with the underpinning tragedy with a veil of light-heartedness and jollity. This is typically portrayed through the character of Linda who seems relatively unphased by both the birth and later abandonment of her own child. Hence another aspect that I found intriguing in this novel was Linda’s complete lack of maternal sentiment. The first section of the novel describes Linda’s and her cousin’s complete fixation with all things men, sex and babies, so Linda’s complete disregard for her first child is shocking to the reader, and somewhat reminiscent of the previous description of Fanny’s mother, “The Bolter”. This interesting characterisation seemed significant as I read the novel, and it is possible to deduce that Mitford was seeking to “debunk” the myth that all women are ultimately fulfilled by a husband and a child.
The Pursuit of Love can technically be described as a “coming of age” novel, as it follows the experience of one young woman as she seeks happiness and fulfilment. However, I think this categorisation of this book leads to an underestimation of it’s true brilliance and nuance. Mitford perfectly captures the imagination, excitement and fear of young girls as they imagine their maturation and their future that revolves around marriage and procreation. However, she seems to subtly oppose this contemporary mindset through the determined character of Linda who learns through experience to challenge the conventional.
~ Hattie Hansford