I finally got around to reading the third of the loose series about Fanny Wincham from Nancy Mitford, Don't Tell Alfred (the two previous stories are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate). I consider The Pursuit of Love to be the strongest of the three, but that doesn't make this book a bad read. What is so funny about this book is that it really strikes home the thought of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
Published in 1960, Fanny is dealing with sons that are dropping out of school, leaving their planned careers to be Zen masters, or become a conmanl in order travel the globe. Oh, and one of her boys is a Teddy, which was just a hoot to read about. Characters are constantly sighing over the way teenagers are acting and how the world is crumbling around them. Does this sound familiar at all?
...we remember the old world as it had been for a thousand years, so beautiful and diverse, and which, in only thirty years, has crumbled away. When we were young every country still had its own architecture and customs and food. ...Now, the dreariness! The suburbs of every town uniform all over the world, while perhaps in the very centre a few old monuments sadly survive as though in a glass case. (pg. 164)
My favorite bit from this conversation is this:
...our children never saw that world so they cannot share our sadness. One more of the many things that divide us. There is an immense gap between us and them, caused by unshared experience. Never in history have the past and the present been so different; never have the generation been divided as they are now. (pg. 165)
Wow, that can be applied to every generation after 1960, ad nauseam. (And before 1960 too, if we want to get real.) But don't think that this book is serious in that manner, for this is a Mitford book. It is clever, funny, sarcastic, and just a good read. The push and pull between the generations is mediated by Fanny and her relatives understanding that some choices are phases and others just need to be played out in full by their children. Push them sometimes, but allow them to make their mistakes in other times, all to humorous effect in this fictional world.
Marie-Blanche de Polignac, by Cecil Beaton, British Vogue (May 1936)
Read more about de Polignac on The Aesthetes Lament
And let me talk a little about this world: the story is mainly set in Paris in the British Embassy. The scenery Mitford creates is perfectly described so you can just imagine her characters romping along the corridors. I've always loved how she can create snapshot scenes without being overly descriptive or wordy. She gives her characters room to breathe and fill the page with their absurdities.
So, if you haven't read this series following the life of Fanny yet, I would highly recommend it. I will also warn you that I am on a bit of a Mitford kick right now, so you will be seeing a few more reviews of her books here before the end of the year.