Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

It was during a trip to London last February that my husband very kindly chose a copy of Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding for me from Hatchards.  There has been enough mention of that last name in our house over the past few years for him to know it was probably a safe bet.  It was tucked away on my shelves to enjoy during the next holiday season and what with decorations being pulled out and carols being played in the midst of November, I decided to get stuck in.

It turns out that Christmas Pudding really isn't all that Christmass-y and would be perfectly well-suited to read during any time of year.  The story centres around Amabelle Fortescu's short-term rental, Mulberrie Farm in the Cotswolds, and an extended group friends who drop by for one reason or another.  One couple, Sally and Walter, have recently become parents to a baby girl and in stereotypical upper-crust fashion, reserve the right to not become too attached lest it all go pear-shaped.  In contemplating the cost of engraving a sterling silver cup with the baby's name...
'I say, I do hope she lives all right, Sally.'
'So do I, you know.  After all the trouble I've had, one way and another, it would be extraordinarily souring if she didn't.  However, nanny and the charlady between them are battling for her life, as they say in the papers, like mad, so I expect she will.  The charlady knows all about it, too, she has lost six herself.'

Paul Fotheringay desperately wants to be recognized as a serious author but his latest book Crazy Caper has the masses in fits of laughter, not at all the response he was hoping for considering its tragic tone.  After some advice to try his hand at a biography he decides to research volumes of work by the Victorian poetess, Lady Maria Bobbin.  How convenient that the volumes now reside at Compton Bobbin, a country estate close to Mulberrie Farm, occupied by the formidable Lady Bobbin and her two young adult children, Roderick 'Bobby' and Philidelphia.

If you have never had any exposure to what life was like for the Mitford girls whilst growing up in their own country pile you might find the characters in this book completely mad.  But if you've read The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters there are many instances when you can easily imagine certain incidents may very well have happened....
"'...Where's Mabel, then?'
'She's just looking for still-borns in The Times,' said Christopher Robin.  'I'll fetch her - oh, here she comes through.'" 

Funny stuff indeed but I realized something part way through the book.  While I adore a farcical play or television show for the two hours it takes to feature on stage or screen I can't take it for days on end during the time it takes me to get through a book.  It's probably why I just could not get on with Benson's Mapp & Lucia either.  The baby talk in that book was simply too irksome and there was a form of secret language in Christmas Pudding that made me groan when it would pop up.  All the over the top twittering, hand-wringing and arm-flapping belied the cool or smoldering glances I have come to expect in my aristocratic reading adventures.  I wanted to smack the simpering Philadelphia for her waffling back and forth about which man to marry every other minute.  Why does a woman barely past the training bra stage have to marry anyone?! 

Christmas Pudding was Mitford's second book and written when she was only 28.  Supposedly she would laugh herself silly while writing it, masking real-life events and friends in her fictional tales.  I, on the other hand, felt like someone on the outside looking in and didn't quite feel in on the joke.  Given just the right mood combined with the time to read such a book in one or two sittings all would be fine but otherwise I'm afraid not.  But all is not lost because The Pursuit of Love written years later was definitely worth waiting for.

13 comments:

  1. So lovely to read a review when I only finished reading it this week. I felt a little similar to you with it & it reminded me of when I read Wigs on the green. Enjoyable, slightly annoying in places & not as re readable or loveable as The Pursuit of Love. I'm glad I've read it though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps my hopes were a bit too high going into it or I am just getting too old for all the silliness. I sincerely hope not though! We're on the same page about things, Joan, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

      Delete
  2. It's years since I read this but I wasn't fond of it either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes...oh well, there are plenty more books on the shelf.

      Delete
  3. I'm sad you didn't love this Darlene! I have it and was looking forward to reading it over Christmas. Oh well, it can wait then - Villette instead! (am about to finally reply to your email, sorry about that!!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christmas Pudding was just a bit too much - too much of the time. I could barely keep the characters straight either, just one silly scene after another. You will just have to read it at some point, Rachel, and let me know what you think.

      Villette - definitely! It's on my bedside table and just waiting for the go ahead...

      Delete
  4. Thank you for letting me know about this one. I saw it on your side bar and was intrigued. Especially since I just finished rereading The Pursuit of Love, one of my very favorite books! I will skip Christmas Pudding, though I love the title!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Sunday, it did sound promising. Perhaps if someone were to read Nancy's book in order the experience would be a better one but having read The Pursuit of Love and then this...well, there is no comparison.

      Delete
  5. I've come to the conclusion that Mitford wrote three supreme comic novels - Love in a Cold Climate, The Pursuit of Love and Don't Tell Alfred - and that's it! I very much enjoyed Letters Between Six Sisters. Strangely I found Diana's letters the most interesting and articulate although (obviously!) I couldn't agree with her politics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Nicola! I sometimes think I am missing something but your opinion counts for a lot. Have you read Debo's most recent writings? Granted she has maturity on her side at this point but oh, she is such a wonderful storyteller.

      Delete
  6. I just bought this and two other Capuchin Mitfords when I was in The Hague. Not only did I want them, but they were the only books in this English bookshop that are hard to find in the US.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's fantastic post. I would like to thank you for this article. I surely shall inform my friends too about this and promote your thoughts, you and your ideas. Many thanks for discussing about it.


    door hinges

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation.I’ve been reading a lot about this and I am thankful for this article. It was indeed a great help.



    panic bars

    ReplyDelete