Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 19-30 December 2011
First published in 1945, The Pursuit of Love takes a comic look at aristocratic life in the inter-war period. Fanny Logan tells the story of her cousins, the Radletts - in particular Linda, who is beautiful, loves animals, and expects her life to be mapped out for her. She should 'come out,' fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.
In Lauris Morgan-Griffiths' taut adaptation, read by Diana Quick, Linda's dreams were ruthlessly exposed. She inhabited a patriarchal world domnated by her uncle Matthew, who expected his offspring to respect his authority, while refusing to educate them. If they learned too much, he reasoned, they might start to question him. Linda, and her cousin Fanny (the narrator of the tale) spent most of their time learning to become 'civilized' - in other words, trying to dance, to look pretty, and to participate in the endless round of balls and other social events that comprised the aristocratic life at that time. The women did not even have the chance to go shooting; in their rigidly gendered society, this privilege was granted only to men.
Eventually Linda marries a banker and moves to London, where she learns to her cost that bourgeois life is very different from what she has previously experienced. Confined to her home as a wife and mother, while being forced to attend endless male-dominated social events, she soon becomes bored. She is too young to look after her child, and ends up by taking a lover.
Diana Quick read in languid tones, designed to illuminate Mitford's comic technique - for example, the deliberate use of superlatives to describe unimportant events ("the blow fell"), showing the emptiness of the aristocratic life; the use of multiple adjectives in a sentence (Linda's daughter is described as "fat, fair, placid, dull and backward"); or comic alliterations ("buttonhole and bore at the bar). On other occasions she introduced long pauses in the middle of a sentence ("she behaved with the utmost ... intransigence," or Linda's love affair "was ... inevitable"). Such vocal techniques emphasized the accuracy of Mitford's observations; this was a world of endless tedium (at one point she described its politics as grey, a state of affairs that persisted until "Hitler came along to brighten them up.")
In Quick's vocally colourful reading, I understood - perhaps for the first time - how accorate Mitford's social observations actually were. The producer of this Book at Bedtime was Mary Ward-Lowery.