Christmas Reads: ‘Christmas Pudding’ by Nancy Mitford

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Speedily written against the backdrop of financial difficulty and romantic confusion, Nancy Mitford’s second novel Christmas Pudding perfectly captures the upper echelons of 1930s’ London society. The plot follows a Christmas house party assembled by a formidable matriarch, Lady Bobbin. Guests include Lady Bobbins’ convention-defying daughter, her obnoxious suitor, an aspirant writer who has been crushed by reviews of his first novel, as well as glamorous Amabelle Fortescue and her cohort, who is staying nearby in a cottage. As the plot unravels, humorous chaos ensues following a series of misunderstandings, tumultuous relationships and subterfuge.

Mitford compensates for the plot’s simplicity with her unrivalled and highly provocative wit, cutting through the superficiality of the upper-classes. This said, to dismiss Christmas Pudding as a novel deprived of moral seriousness would be to disregard its melancholic undertones. At the time of writing, Mitford’s fiancé had ended their engagement and her cynicism with regards to human relationships is, undoubtedly, one of the novel’s overriding themes. One particularly striking epithet is Mitford’s bitter take on love, evidenced in Amabelle’s exclamation that ‘the mere fact of being in love with somebody is a very good reason for not marrying them, in my opinion’. Equally poignant is Mitford’s focus on the clash between the ‘Bright Young People’ and the older generation, signalling the beginning of the demise of traditional London society.

Ultimately, however, Christmas Pudding offers escapism to a lost world of English upper-class elegance. Whilst a plot centred on the love lives of the elite can alienate readers, the endearing eccentricity with which Mitford has presented her characters set against the backdrop of the festive celebrations make Christmas Pudding a must read this holiday.

Photograph (edited to add text): Malmaison Hotels via Flickr

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