Saturday, November 29, 2014

THE BLESSING by Nancy Mitford (fic)

Nancy Mitford, the eldest of the famous Mitford sisters, is known for her brilliant books of social satire.  Her most famous being "Pursuit of Love," and "Love in a Cold Climate."  These books and characters are thinly veiled accounts of growing up in her eccentric and unique English family.  In her writing, Mitford carries on the long and penetrating British tradition of poking fun at social mores, perfected by Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, P.G. Wodehouse, et al.

While "The Blessing" is not as widely read as her other books, it has all the flavor of the best of them.  I wonder if this book could be written today in our age of political correctness and woman's lib.   Rather than seeing it as the social satire it is, Mitford might be lambasted for presenting old-fashioned ideas of woman and national traits.  Instead, we are more tuned to expecting similar observations on t.v. from Saturday Night Live and numerous sit-coms.

"The Blessing" was written in the mid 20th century and presents a hilarious picture of the foibles of Americans, English and French socialites and want-to-be's."  Grace Allingham, an upper class English rose meets an aristocratic French soldier during World War II.  They fall in love, marry, produce a child, the blessing of the title, and are separated by the war for seven years.  When they finally reunite, Charles-Edouard de Valhubert spirits Grace, son Sigi, and domineering Nanny off to the French countryside and then to Paris.  The plot of the book is moved along by Sigi who has turned into a monstrous child unable to be reigned in by Nanny, a complaining old biddy who is frozen in her Englishness.  There are all kinds of odd English, French and American characters floating in and out of the lives of the Valhuberts.

It turns out that Charles-Edouard has a weakness for pretty women, Grace is jealous, Nanny is trying to control the household and Parisian high-society is full of gossips and dinner parties. Sigi has perfected the art of causing just enough trouble to keep him spoiled and in turn doted upon by both parents and those who are trying to impress his parents.  Through his meddling, Sigi eventually causes his parents to separate by playing one off the other.  Never fear, he does get his comeuppance.

This is not a book to be taken seriously, but as an enjoyable satire, full of typical British humor where pretentiousness is revealed as buffoonery, and all's well that ends well.  I laughed my way through it and not for a minute found it dated.  Penguin vintage books reissued it in 2011.

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