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Here’s why we’re obsessed with new BBC drama The Pursuit of Love – and the woman who wrote it

Spoiler alert – the scandalous Mitford sisters actually came from Northumberland

Written by Sophie Swift
Published 19.05.2021

Does Sunday night television need another period drama about posh English people who live in a mansion in the countryside? We think so!

The BBC’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love recently hit our screens and we are loving it! If you’re enjoying the show as much as we are, you may understand our new-found fascination with the genius behind the story – and the controversial characters of her sisters.

 

 

Famously noted by The Times journalist Ben Macintyre as ‘Diana the Fascist; Jessica the Communist; Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess; and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur’, the Mitford sisters have interested the public for generations. But what is it about this female family that has piqued our curiosity so much?

 

 

The Mitfords

The Mitford Family were members of the English aristocracy and held seats at Mitford in Northumberland, with several heads of their family serving as High Sheriff of Northumberland at various points in history.

The Mitfords became more prominent during the 1930s, as the six Mitford sisters began to make their mark on the world of British aristocracy. The eldest of the six girls, ‘Nancy the novelist’, grew up in Oxfordshire with her family and kept boredom at bay by creating secret societies with her sisters – who often clustered (as they do in the TV adaptation of The Pursuit of Love) in the linen cupboard to discuss sex, relationships and navigating life as women.

Today, the siblings continue to hold a real sense of allure for the British public. Perhaps this is because all six ended up pursuing incredibly different paths: Diana married Oswald Mosley and was briefly sent to prison for her fascist beliefs; Jessica eloped to Spain with her cousin and also became an author; Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire; Unity shot herself upon hearing Britain would be going to war with Germany (she supported Hitler); and Pamela reared poultry.

Nancy the novelist

As far as Nancy is concerned, much of her work is partly autobiographical. She wrote The Pursuit of Love in three months and looked to her family background for inspiration. Nancy is, of course, the witty heroine Linda, with the Mitford family being fictionally portrayed as the Radletts. It was the novel that brought about her fame and could have led to her decision to write more about her family (under the disguise of ‘fiction’ in Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred

The Pursuit of Love

The recent BBC adaptation, directed by Emily Mortimer, sheds a light on Nancy’s own opinions on her novel. Mortimer commented that The Pursuit of Love ‘deals with things like a mother rejecting her baby. Shellshock from the war. Physical abuse in families. Xenophobia… All of these things, but in a way that is so funny and, I don’t know, more effective somehow.’

On rereading the novel, Mortimer said: ‘I was just so struck by how wickedly funny, completely allergic to earnestness, how radical it still feels about women. It just felt like a breath of air, you just felt forgiven reading it.’

 

It has also been commented on recently that if The Pursuit of Love is well received, there could be further adaptions of Mitford’s work. When discussing Love in a Cold Climate, executive producer Charles Collier said: ‘That’s next, if audiences take this [The Pursuit of Love] to their hearts we’d love to come back. Fingers crossed.’

We know we want to see (and read) more from this witty, ingenious and charismatically English author! 

 

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