Desperate Reader mentioned some forthcoming reprints of Nancy Mitford titles a couple of weeks ago & I was reminded of a few Mitfords I haven’t yet read from the tbr shelves. The Blessing is the story of Grace, who marries charming Frenchman Charles-Edouard during the War, is left at home in England with their son Sigi, the Blessing of the title, while Charles is fighting, & then goes to live in his family home in France after the War. It’s very light, bright & sparkling. Lots of humour comes from the differences between the French & the English. Will Grace ever get used to Charles-Edouard visiting his two mistresses in the afternoons? Will Charles-Edouard’s friends ever understand Grace, with her unsophisticated clothes & her expectation that her husband will be faithful? When Grace walks in on Charles-Edouard & his mistress in bed in the middle of the afternoon, she takes Sigi & goes home to her father’s house in the English countryside.
Sigi soon finds that he sees much more of his parents when they’re separated than he ever did when they were together & forever sending him off to find Nanny so they could be alone. Nanny is the funniest character in the novel. A completely correct English Nanny, contemptuous of the French & all their ways, turning her nose up at the food, the nursery, the bathrooms, the standards of cleanliness, until she goes home to England where she extols everything French as just marvellous. A complete tyrant. Sigi decides to stop any chance of his parents reuniting by encouraging them to marry other people & sabotaging Charles-Edouard’s attempts to contact Grace. I found Sigi totally obnoxious, a spoilt brat with no redeeming features at all. Still, as Nanny said, is it any wonder considering how he’s been brought up? This is Nancy Mitford, so I suppose I shouldn’t get too worked up about spoilt children & flippant attitudes towards adultery. Grace is miserable without Charles-Edouard & is obviously only waiting for a word from him to throw herself back into his arms.
One of the best scenes in the book is a fancy dress party held by Albertine, one of Charles-Edouard’s mistresses. She’s trying to curry favour with Sigi as a way of getting his father to marry her. Sigi wants to go to a party, & as children don’t go to grown-up parties, Albertine decides to hold a fancy dress party where the only guests will be families who must come as famous parents & their famous children. This also has the effect of denying an invitation to childless Juliette, Charles-Edouard’s other mistress, who also wants to marry him. All of society wants to come to the party, so they set about roping in children, nephews & nieces from anywhere possible. They dress up as Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette & children; Henri II, Catherine de Medici & children, Napoleon III, Eugenie & the Prince Imperial etc depending on the number of children they have. At the party, the parents all behave as usual, ignoring their children & socialising with their friends. The children run around, eat too much & end by falling asleep where they drop. Nanny & another Nanny come along, “like two tragic mothers after some massacre of the innocents… Bearing away the little bodies, their faces glowing with a just indignation, the two English nannies vanished into the night.” The dialogue sparkles & the contrast between English innocence & French cynicism is beautifully done.
I also have Don’t Tell Alfred & the biography of Madame du Pompadour on the tbr shelves & I’ve preordered Highland Fling from Capuchin. It looks like Penguin are just about to reprint several of the novels. I haven’t read Wigs on the Green & I’m tempted. But. I plan a Book Depository order at Easter with some more preorders in it so I think I’ll wait until then. The picture shows my Mitford collection, including the Mitford sisters’ letters which was one of my best books of 2008. I just loved it, I became totally absorbed in their lives & was desolate when it finished. The book was huge but it could have been twice as long & I wouldn’t have complained.