Tome Raider: Love in a Cold Climate

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Nancy Mitford’s 1949 novel “Love in a Cold Climate” spins a witty and scathingly accurate account of pre-World War II British aristocracy.

One of the six beautiful Mitford sisters whose scandalous lives dominated British tabloids for decades, the author writes with an insider’s knowledge of society gossip.

“Love in a Cold Climate” mainly takes place at Hampton, the lavish country estate of the formidable Lady Montdore. Vicious, egotistical, and above all, vastly wealthy, Lady Montdore possesses all the attributes of an excellent society hostess.

Besides entertaining monarchs, Lady Montdore’s greatest focus in life is orchestrating an excellent marriage for her daughter Polly. But in this pursuit, Lady Montdore’s social maneuvering begins to fail her.

All the young men agree that Polly is the most beautiful girl of the season, but none of them seem at all interested in proposing to her. They take one look and then go off with “some chinless little creature from Cadogan Square,” Lady Montdore laments. Polly is inexplicably cold and aloof amidst her swirl of coming-out parties.

Then Polly’s sickly aunt dies of liver failure. Within days of the funeral, Polly announces her engagement to her newly widowed uncle, Boy Dougdale. The family is horror-stricken; Lady Montdore vows to cut Polly off without a cent. The repulsive Boy Dougdale—nicknamed the Lecherous Lecturer on account of the “things he does to little girls”—seems slightly shocked as well. Polly, though, is floating on a cloud of bliss.

The marriage takes place, much to everyone’s dismay, and Polly and Boy head abroad to live in poverty and social exile. Lady Montdore is left embittered and bored.

Then Cedric Hampton comes to visit. A distant relation of Lord Montdore, Cedric has lived abroad his entire life and English society awaits his arrival with intense curiosity and vague superiority. When Cedric does arrive, he manages to charm everyone. No one seems to mind that he is flamboyantly homosexual, least of all Lady Montdore.

Under Cedric’s devoted guidance, Lady Montdore finds a new meaning in life—the pursuit of her own beauty. She spends hours each day in steam baths and facial masks, and for the first time, she is happy. By the time Polly returns to England, unhappy in her marriage with the perpetually unfaithful Boy, Lady Montdore has forgotten all former unpleasantness. She has a comically indifferent reconciliation with her only daughter and the novel closes with a most unorthodox arrangement of lovers.

Mitford’s writing provides a lighthearted and thoroughly enjoyable read.

The novel also enjoys a fascinating historical context. “Love in a Cold Climate,” along with Mitford’s other semi-autobiographical novels, began the onslaught of Mitford memoirs, autobiographies, documentaries, and television dramatizations that the London Evening Standard termed “The Mitford Industry.”

The six Mitford sisters captivated the British public during the 1930s and 1940s with their wild exploits.

Jessica was a Communist who married Winston Churchill’s nephew, Unity was one of Hitler’s most devoted admirers, Deborah was a duchess, Pamela married a world-renowned physicist, and Diana was a fascist who was imprisoned by the British during the war.

The Mitford sisters live on as larger-than-life icons of the inbred British aristocracy, as the obsession with the siblings still continues today.

Fashion designer Lewis Albert Remele ’06, who showed his fall 2006 line at this year’s Fashion Week in New York City, cited the Mitford girls as the inspiration for his collection.

“They were frivolous and fun-loving and had these crazy lives, but at the same time they were very pragmatic,” he said in an interview with The Crimson, adding that his designs synthesize this contradiction by pairing luxurious jewel-toned silks with heavy English suiting.

And Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate” is the perfect way to begin a Mitford addiction.

Love in a Cold Climate
By Nancy Mitford
Penguin
Out Now