While Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love takes place across many years and seasons, this short novel encapsulates the essence of summer for many readers. Linda Radlett, the novel’s passionate protagonist, seems to live in a perpetual summer of romance and opportunity. She begins by falling in love with Tony Kroesig, a banker’s son, who she then leaves for his polar opposite, a communist named Christian Talbot. Both these men leave her unfulfilled, however, as they are unable to give her the all-encompassing personal love which she most desires out of life. She is finally successful in her “pursuit of love” in her affair with a French aristocrat named Fabrice de Sauveterre, whom she spends a year with in Paris. Their time together exudes the joy and liveliness of summer, with the hope of the renewed promise that summer brings. However, the couple is threatened by a ‘winter of discontent’ in the form of war, and the separation that this entails for the two lovers.
Much of the earlier part of the novel takes place in the English countryside, which evokes the beauty of the natural environment and sense of adventure that fills Linda’s life wherever she travels. Alconleigh, the Radlett family house, seems like a paradise of undamaged nature when compared to the sterility of the Kroesigs’ country home in Surrey. The urban environment of London, despite being described positively in parts of the novel, is most closely associated with Christian’s communist activity, and therefore also ends up stifling Linda’s romantic views of life. Linda’s father Matthew is terrified that his country refuge will be invaded by the Germans, and expects all his family to fight to the death to defend it and the ideals of English aristocracy it represents. Linda, perhaps in a less conscious way, also fights to protect her own ideals of romantic love, which are threatened by her two husbands, who try to make her conform to their own ideas of marriage and womanhood. Like summer, Linda is vulnerable to the winds of change, and yet her essence remains unchanged until the end of the novel.
The novel is narrated by Linda’s cousin, the much more practical Fanny, who survives Linda at the end of the novel. She can be seen as an emblem of English female modernity, who looks back nostalgically on the romantic golden era represented by Linda. Fanny describes her time spent at Alconleigh as part of a dream, where the normal rules of English society did not apply. Lord Merlin, the Radletts’ eccentric neighbour, seems to emphasise the sense of imagination and the possibility to do anything which marks Linda’s life. Merlin seems desperate to protect Linda from her own mistakes, perhaps seeing her as one of the last remnants of English aristocratic romanticism. He disapproves of both of her marriages, seeing them both as ‘bores’ who will dull Linda’s personality with their worldly, rather than romantic, concerns.
Though Linda seems eternally young and powerful to Fanny, Mitford demonstrates how her sense of self is threatened by her love interests, much as the English aristocracy was under threat from an increasingly modern world in the years leading up to the Second World War. Linda refuses to follow rules up until her death, which occurs because of her decision to break the rules again for love – to have the child of the man she truly loves, despite the risk pregnancy posed to her health. However, Fanny suggests that Linda knew she would live ‘forever’, which she does seem to do, in the romanticised memories of her family and wider society. Her death is described as a light going out for her family, and yet it protects her from having to enter “winter”, or the decline of the English upper classes and their way of life. Like Linda, The Pursuit of Love is an idealised representation of a golden past, perfect for the summer.