Thursday, November 6, 2014

In Which I Mingle with the British Upper Classes

I read, one right after the other, three books that featured the ways and fashions and eccentricities of the British upper class. All three I bought at the recent Summer Used Book Sale at Locust Grove. 

First up was Snobs by Julian Fellowes that I wrote about here. I found it to be a witty and gossipy look at a fictional aristocratic family and an outsider's attempts to fit in.

Then came my first brush with Nancy Mitford in her comic novel Love in a Cold Climate. This one I almost bailed on as at first I couldn't keep the characters straight. They all had titles and names and nicknames and nicknames of nicknames. Very confusing but I persevered and I am glad I did. The story, which centers around Polly Montdore and her strange choice in a marriage partner, really took off for me with the appearance later in the book of the heir-apparent to the Montdore fortune, Cedric. By now, Polly has been disinherited by her very, very wealthy father. Cedric flies and flits across the pages. He is quite flamboyant. He loves beautiful things, has great taste, and is quite the flatterer.  A great character.

The final book was A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. I know it was written to satirize the British "landed gentry and mercantile class" of the 1930s but I saw it as of novel of grief. 

Tony Last grieves for the days when there was money enough to care for the beloved country manor house that he inherited - along with its exorbitant death taxes. His wife, Brenda, grieves for the gay life she feels she is missing in London and takes up with an unsuitable and boring fellow named John Beaver. John Beaver grieves because he hasn't the money to allow him entry to the upper class society that he craves. No one really likes him and he is only useful to his moneyed acquaintances as a last minute guest to make an even number at a luncheon or dinner table.

When a family tragedy breaks the hearts of both Tony and Brenda, he takes off on an ill-fated exploration trip to South America. Things don't turn out too well for Brenda either, as John drops her when he realizes she isn't going to get much of Tony's money. 

This book has a very odd ending which I won't give away. Suffice it to say, there is more grief before the final page.

Now I will leave the British upper classes to their own devices and deceits.  Next up, the memoir of Australian-born writer John Baxter and his globetrotting travels in search of books. It's titled A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict and is already promising to be great fun. 

What are you planning on reading this weekend?

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