The Pursuit Of Love is one of those books which can be reread again and again but never loses the charm and wit that draws readers to it in the first place. This quality is mostly due to the bubbly, eccentric and loveable Linda Radlett, the protagonist of the novel (though not its narrator).
Linda is by no means a weak character. She is headstrong, impulsive and always self-willed, but a question I have often asked myself is whether her defiant decisions stem from true desire or simply the wish to aggravate her rather splenetic father. Her rash choices emphasise her naivety, a trait which is both amusing and irritating; it is obvious from the very start that her marriages to first an avaricious Tory MP and then a two-dimensional communist are destined for disaster.
Mitford’s dinner-party tale style of narration, as though Linda’s difficult and tragic life is all some amusing anecdote, helps to emphasise the fact that Linda often doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situations she so unwittingly manages to get herself into. And yet her shockingly hyperbolic comments (such as the memorable quote about cooking: “I summon up all my courage and open the oven, and there is that awful hot blast hitting one in the face. I don’t wonder people sometimes put their heads in and leave them in out of sheer misery.”) are what define her as the amusingly blasé character she is.
The ease with which she seems to glide from situation to sticky situation is inspiring if a little implausible. As a product of a decidedly eccentric and semi-aristocratic family, one should really expect little else. Her hopelessly romantic notions are finally fulfilled in war-torn Paris, where she happens upon charismatic Frenchman Fabrice and embarks upon a passionate love affair with him. The “wild, strange, unfamiliar happiness” she finally obtains is often described as hollow; indeed, Linda has only a few years of the true contentment she had searched for until tragedy strikes yet again. The reader is only too aware that her simplistic notions of true love hold little place in the harshness of the real world but we cannot help admire her for clinging to the small satisfactions she has gained.
Perhaps what makes Linda Radlett so appealing to a modern audience is her triumph to defy the feminine gender-stereotype of the interwar period, when conventions were blurring but a sturdy code of conduct for an upper-class young lady still remained rigidly in place. Her determination to defy the constraints of a settled, married woman is a quality we both admire and chide her for. Ultimately, The Pursuit Of Love asks the question of if Linda’s live-fast-die-young attitude (a regrettably accurate phrase) and is worth the eventual and inevitable consequences. The theme is actually quite common in popular literature: heroines similar to Linda, though none can compete with her charmingly unpretentious wit, often pursue risky courses either to discover their heart’s desire or to end up empty-handed. Linda manages to achieve both of these things both intentionally and by accident, and has subsequently been remembered as one of the most whimsical and captivating heroines in mid-twentieth century literature.
Words by Annabelle Fuller