The Pursuit of Love is a novel by Nancy Mitford, first published in 1945. It is the first in a trilogy about an upper-class family in the period between the wars. Although a comedy, the story has tragic overtones.
The narrator is Fanny, whose mother ("The Bolter") and father have left her to be brought up by her Aunt Emily and the valetudinarian Davey, whom Emily marries early in the novel. Fanny spends much of her time at Alconleigh, home of her cousin and great friend, Linda, the main character in this book. The early chapters recount the Radlett children's bizarre upbringing, including their contrasting obsessions with hunting and preventing cruelty to animals, and the activities of their secret society, "the Hons." The Radlett daughters receive little in the way of formal education, and as Linda grows older she is increasingly consumed by her desire for romantic love and marriage. During her sister Louisa's coming out ball, Linda realizes that life at Alconleigh will never prepare her for the kind of social life that she desires.
Shortly after her coming out party, Louisa becomes engaged to John Fort William, a Scottish peer who is more than twenty years her senior. Linda remarks of Lord Fort William that "if he were one's dog, one would have him put down," but she is in fact deeply jealous of the fact that Louisa is getting married. Linda enters a period of depression, compounded by the fact that she has very little to occupy her time, and passes the day by playing solitaire. During this time she is rescued and mentored by the family's neighbor, Lord Merlin, who is a wealthy, charming aesthete with a great appreciation for social life and a large number of fashionable friends. It is through him that Linda first meets Tony Kroesig, an intelligent but dull and greedy banker, at her own coming out ball. Tony is a guest of Lord Merlin's whom Linda assumes to be one of his friends, not knowing that Tony was invited at the last minute as a "stopgap," and that as such Lord Merlin neither knows nor cares much about him. Lord Merlin leaves England shortly after the ball, and Linda is therefore unable to seek his advice during the months that follow. She and Tony fall in love, but their courtship is rocky from the start. Due to the Alconleighs' medieval standards of chaperonage, Linda and Fanny get into serious trouble after sneaking away to have luncheon with Tony and his friends in Oxford, an incident that serves as a foundation to Uncle Matthew's strong disapproval of Tony. Uncle Matthew also objects to Tony on the grounds that he is of German ancestry; this is no surprise given that Uncle Matthew's view is that all foreigners are fiends, especially Germans. When Linda and Tony become engaged, both of their families disapprove, but in the end they are married. Linda very quickly realizes that she has made a serious mistake, but she is able to keep up the pretense of having a happy marriage for several years. They have one child, Moira, to whom Linda takes an instant dislike. Linda almost dies during Moira's birth, and her doctors strongly advise her to have no more children. Moira is soon abandoned to the care of her paternal grandparents, who disapprove of Linda very strongly.
After nine years of marriage, Linda leaves Tony for Christian Talbot, an ardent Communist. Christian is kind but vague, and ultimately uninterested in individuals, preferring to focus on the plight of the workers. Linda's divorce and remarriage cause a rift between her and her parents, but their affection for her is too strong and after some months they reconcile. Linda and Christian go to France to work with Spanish refugees in Perpignan, where they meet Linda's old friend Lavender Davis, an earnest girl scout type who has become an extremely efficient public health and welfare worker. Spurred by their common interest in their cause, Lavender and Christian begin to fall in love, and Linda leaves Christian to return to England. On the way home she is waylaid, and accidentally meets Fabrice de Sauveterre, a wealthy French duke. Linda becomes his mistress and lives with him in Paris for eleven months. During this time she cultivates a great interest in clothes, which Fabrice encourages and finances, but most of her happiness is the result of the fact that she has finally found the love of her life. The couple is separated by the outbreak of World War II. During Fabrice's one visit to England during the war, Linda becomes pregnant. After her house is bombed, she returns to Alconleigh where Fanny and her children, Louisa and her children, Emily, Davey, the Bolter and her new lover Juan (whom Uncle Matthew calls "Gewan") are living for the duration. Fanny and Louisa are also expecting babies, and Fanny and Linda both give birth to their sons on May 28th. Linda dies in childbirth, and Fabrice (a member of Charles de Gaulle's resistance) is killed in the war at around the same time. Fanny and her husband adopt Linda's child and name him Fabrice.
Mitford wrote sequels to the novel, Love in a Cold Climate (1949) and Don't Tell Alfred (1960).