In preparation for reading The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London, I did a little research:
But why do the knives have to come out when it comes to the subject of maternity? Nancy’s “Waspishness” is attributed to her thwarting – she suffered miscarriages and a fertility-ending operation in her late thirties, at which time she divorced, moved to Paris, and became a fabulous success as a writer, fashionista and socialite. Debo dismisses this: “She didn’t have a real husband and children, just the writing, an empty sort of reward.”
Likewise, the married and childless-by-choice Woman, (Pam), took in two of Diana’s sons when their mother was in the lock-up. What thanks does she get? Honks attributes a completely unrelated perceived insensitivity (Pam “had no idea how ghastly prison really was, the lav, etc.”) to her lack of children. Diana sued Her Majesty’s Government for lack of heat, and with proceeds bought a mink coat to wear in jail.
Nancy comes in for the worst scalding. While I noted the novelist’s enthusiastic interest in her sisters’ offspring — full of praise, never jealous, sad or lamenting her own fate – the mothers cannot refrain from attributing her character flaws to barrenness. If she was difficult, my guess it was not due to Terminal Childlessness, but Oldest Girl Syndrome.
In the last batch of letters, Debo and Honks buck each other up, saying that they have their children, grandchildren and “greats” as comforts in old age. No doubt these offspring meant a great deal to the sisters at the end of their lives — they don’t get much mention earlier.
But Nancy left behind something to benefit the rest of the world — satire that transcends poisonous politics and laughs at her own snobbishness. Something, I’d venture, that continues to comfort quite a few other people in their old age. ~~~
‘If one can’t be happy one must be amused don’t you agree? ‘ Nancy wrote to a friend. It could stand as the motto for her life. She hid her deepest feelings behind a sparkling flow of jokes and witty turns of phrase, and was the star of any gathering.
Childless and unfulfilled in love she may have been, but Nancy found huge success as a writer. Her fifth novel, The Pursuit of Love (1945), was a phenomenal best seller and made her financially independent for the first time.