After the gruesome serial killings of The Jackal Man & The Last Sherlock Holmes Story that I reviewed on Saturday, I needed to read something light & fluffy. Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling was just what I was looking for. In an interview in the 1960s, Nancy Mitford said that she “wrote a book because she wanted to earn a hundred pounds.” Highland Fling is that book, her first novel, written as a bit of fun, to make some money & maybe to score some points off the people & institutions that annoyed her.
The novel is about the clash of a quartet of Bright Young Things of the 20s & 30s with the Establishment figures of Lords, Ladies & Generals. Walter & Sally Monteath are newly married, very much in love but living way beyond their means. When Sally’s Aunt & Uncle, the Craigdallochs are suddenly called away to Rhodesia, Aunt Madge invites Sally & Walter to go to Dalloch Castle in the Highlands to host a shooting party that’s been arranged. Sally sees this as the answer to their prayers while Walter thinks it would be cheaper to go on holiday to the Lido. As Walter’s extravagance is the main reason for their poverty, Sally cajoles him into her way of thinking. The Monteaths meet the Craigdallochs at the House of Lords to go over the fine details &, after listening to Lord Craigdalloch make an interminable speech to a few sleepy peers & attendants, they discuss the details of the shooting party. The authentic Mitford voice is obvious here,
‘How wonderful you are looking, Sally. Where did you get so wonderfully sunburnt?’
‘At Elizabeth Arden’s, Aunt Madge.’
Lady Craigdalloch inwardly supposed that this must be one of Walter’s Bright Young but Undesirable friends that she was always hearing so much about from Sally’s mother. The creature probably had a villa in the South of France – so much the better, those sort of people are not wanted in England, where they merely annoy their elders and breed Socialism.
The Monteaths invite Albert Gates, a Surrealist painter & Jane Dacre, Sally’s best friend to accompany them. The shooting party in Scotland is a real delight. The young people, lying in bed until lunchtime & avoiding the great outdoors at all costs, come up against the older generation. General Murgatroyd is an early version of Uncle Matthew in Love in a Cold Climate. Devoted to hunting, shooting & fishing, he can think of nothing better than a day out on the moors,
‘Why, my dear young lady, by the time you’ve been out with the guns, or flogging the river all day, you’ll be too tired to do anything except perhaps to have a set or two of lawn tennis. After dinner we can always listen to Craig’s wireless. I’ve just asked the chauffeur to fix it up.
Lord & Lady Prague are also part of the County set. He is stone deaf & she talks very loudly & confidently about any subject under discussion. Admiral Wenceslaus is obsessed with the subject of the naval blockade of Germany during WWI & brings every conversation around to the topic. Captain & Lady Brenda Chadlington are said to be immensely charming but the Monteaths & their friends can’t see it. Mr Buggins is a gentle soul, boringly knowledgeable about the legends & poetry of Scotland. Albert is a lover of Victoriana & he’s thrilled to discover rooms full of Victorian pictures & bric a brac in the attics so he spends most of his time photographing them for a monograph, Recent Finds at Dalloch Castle.
Albert & Jane fall in love &, after many misunderstandings, become engaged. The young people are taken out shooting & experience every horror from boredom to hunger & freezing cold while their elders take it all in their stride. A visit to the local Highland Games leads to the incident of the disappearing picnic basket & there’s the ghost that haunts Dalloch Castle & Lady Prague in particular. Highland Fling is a frothy romp, interesting mostly for the biting wit & satire that was evident in this early novel by one of the wittiest writers of the 20th century.