The Mitford mansion – You and Not You

Have you ever read the 1940s classic The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, or the sequel Love in a Cold Climate? The books are largely autobiographical so fans of the book may be interested in seeing the house where Nancy and her sisters lived in their childhood.

Mitford mansion

This is Batsford House in the Cotswolds, near Moreton-on-Marsh. I visited in May 2007 but didn’t go inside the house – I’m not much of a fan of stately homes and I’m not even sure it was open to the public. The reason to go is to ramble through the wonderful Batsford Arboretum, 50 acres of garden and woodland. The gardens, although very English are also quite influenced by China and Japan. I recall Japanese maples among the ornamental trees and the statues include a giant Buddha and a Chinese lion.

Buddha.JPG

Lion.JPG

Nancy Mitford was born in 1904 the eldest of six sisters. It’s a famous family – Nancy and Jessica became novelists, Deborah became Duchess of Devonshire, Nancy was a socialist, Jessica a communist, while Unity and Diana were close to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The sisters have been immortalised in song and a stage musical and Nancy Mitford’s books, which are largely autobiographical, were serialised for television. Diana Mitford’s son is Max Moseley, the former president of Formula One racing who won a £60,000 settlement from News of the World for breach of privacy after the newspaper ran a story about a sex orgy he took part in. (I reported on the court case for The Guardian).

Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, based on Nancy Mitford’s childhood between the wars, are a delightful portrait of a particular social milieu at a particular point in history. It is a world of country estates and servants and ponies, yet it is not one of opulence – the family had to practise strict economies and they moved several times to smaller homes. Most memorable are the eccentricities, such as the family nicknames and the invented language that the sisters spoke to one another.

In Nancy Mitford’s childhood, it was made quite clear to her that the world was divided into two classes of people: You and Not You. You could tell them apart by the way they spoke. People like You would never use such vulgar terms as “perfume”, “note paper”, “mantelpiece” or “mirror”, the proper terms of course being “scent”, “writing paper”, “chimney piece” and “looking glass”.

By the time Nancy Mitford’s books were published in the late 1940s, this world was disappearing. The Second World War bankrupted much of Britain’s aristocracy, colonies were gaining independence and the old social order was in upheaval. In 1958, less than a decade after the publication of Love in a Cold Climate, the debutantes were presented at court for the last time.

Being a ‘deb’ was of course an important hallmark of being You rather than Not You. Every year girls like Nancy would dress in their finery – all cocktail dresses and pearls – and file into Buckingham Palace to curtsey to the king or queen. As well as the presentation at court, the debs took part in an entire “season” with a whirlwind of cocktail parties, dinners and dances in London. I saw an exhibition on the Last Debutantes at Kensington Palace in May 2009, at a magazine industry party in Kensington Gardens shortly before I left London. (It was also a chance to gawk inside Kensington Palace, where the late Princess Diana lived after her separation from Charles).

If you want to catch up on your reading, I will earn a small referral if you buy from these Amazon links.

Related posts: Horse riding in the Cotswolds
Photo Friday: Unexpected Cotswolds
Quintessentially England: Black-faced sheep and bluebell woods in the Cotswolds

This is day 18 of NaBloPoMo. I am blogging every day in November.

Previous NaBloPoMo posts:
November 1 | David Austin roses at Carriageworks, Sydney
November 2 | Books in Krakow, Poland
November 3 | Rhyolite, a ghost town in Nevada
November 4 | City by the bay: Best of San Francisco
November 5 | Silhouettes and shadows in the morning sun
November 6 | Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at Belvoir
November 7 | Thai cookery class at the Spirit House
November 8 | Guest post: Hitting the language barrier in Sweden
November 9 | Learning Lightroom
November 10 | Playing with Polaroids in Poladroid
November 11 | Post not complete
November 12 | ‘Salt’ photo exhibition and a trip to Badwater
November 13 | Canberra by train with twins
November 14 | China Date Ranch in Death Valley
November 15 | A photo walk through Golden Canyon in Death Valley
November 16 | Botanic Gardens from a pram
November 17 | Avocado dip from Bill’s Everyday Asian

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