What do Agatha Christie & Nancy Mitford have in common?

I’ve had two scrumptious reads in the last few days, so I thought I’d pop over for a bit of a write-up fresh from the oven, as it were. (That does make me wish I could be eating some lovely fresh buns just now!)

First off, The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. I am so loving Miss Marple and somehow luxuriated in this one even more than Murder at the Vicarage, although both are delightful. Christie based Miss Marple on her grandmother and on other older women like her, as Miss Marple says at one point, she’s a Victorian and she can imagine the worst of everyone. She also mentions in Vicarage how she’s a student of human nature, and I was very much reminded of Elizabeth from Pride & Prejudice and could see how she could become like Miss Marple (who is also possibly like Jane Austen herself), a contented and never bored single woman, with observations of her neighbours to amuse her.

Also, this bit from Miss Marple may have tipped my Anglophilia past the point of no return:

Miss Marple turned on him. She spoke with animation, “The sensible thing to do would be to change into trousers and a pullover, or into tweeds. That, of course–I don’t want to be snobbish, but I’m afraid it’s unavoidable–that’s what a girl of–of our class would do.

“A well-bred girl,” continued Miss Marple, warming to her subject, “is always very particular to wear the right clothes for the right occasion. I mean, however hot the day was, a well-bred girl would never turn up at a point-to-point in a silk flowered frock.”

Somehow it made me think of the Mitfords and beautiful movies like Gosford Park and now I just want to read more lovely British books.

So I began making up a little stack next to my bed and putting more holds at the library and the first one I picked up was Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, I’d been wanting to read it since I enjoyed The Pursuit of Love two years ago, but found it a bit harder to get into. Perhaps understanding the time and place a bit more since all of my very British 1930s reading lately (both The Body in the Library and Love in a Cold Climate were published in the 1940s, but neither mention WW2 at all, in fact, Mitford’s book is clearly set in the early ’30s and I suspect Christie’s is as well) and also reading Hons & Rebels, a memoir of the Mitford childhood by Nancy’s sister Jessica, helped.

Now I am not going to write a proper review because I’m becoming a lazy blogger lately, but it’s lovely and amusing and I will definitely be reading more of Nancy Mitford. Here’s some quotes from one of the younger characters (I bet anything based on Jessica Mitford herself):

‘It is unfair–I suppose Fanny’s going to tell Polly now. Well, back to the medical dictionary and the Bible. I only wish these things didn’t look quite so sordid in cold print. What we need is some clean-minded married woman, to explain, but where are we to find her?’

‘Don’t tease, Fan, I intend to be a novelist (child novelist astounds the critics) and I’m studying human nature like mad.’

‘You are so lucky to have new friends, it is unfair, we never do, really you know, we are the Lady of Shalott with our pathetic lives we lead.’

I also managed to get a few more old Virago Press books during some more secondhand book shopping, Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (I saw the recent movie of it with Romola Garai, which is admittedly odd, because you expect a story of a writer to be all ra-ra creativity, but instead it’s a satire of someone who constantly lives in a sentimental fantasy, writes books that are inaccurate, doesn’t read, becomes quite popular… it seems a bit more true to life than we’d sometimes like to admit.) and The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann (again because of a movie: The Heart of Me was based on it and I remember really liking that. Has Helena Bonham etc and Paul Bettany, about two sisters involved with the same man). Also picked up Elizabeth Bowen’s first novel The Hotel and The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. Hoorah lesser known early 20th century Brits! (Perfect blend of good writing and relaxation.)

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6 thoughts on “What do Agatha Christie & Nancy Mitford have in common?

  1. Study Window says:

    You remind me that it is a very long time since I actually read any Agatha Christie. We have so many excellent television adaptations available in the UK that I rarely pick up the books. This is very remiss of me and I must do something about it immediately.

    • Carolyn says:

      Yes, I hadn’t read any Agatha Christie for years either, since I was 18! It was all the Classics Circuit reviews of the golden age of crime books that reminded me to try them again and they’re so wonderful, she’s my favourite mystery writer again.

  2. bookssnob says:

    I can’t help thinking these books set up us Brits for a fall. I mean, how can our just as boring as everyone else’s lives live up to these romantic standards?!

    You will love Rosamund Lehmann – The Echoing Grove is a masterpiece – even better than the film, which was very good. Though why they changed the title, I do not know. Also read The Ballad and the Source – sensational stuff!

    • Carolyn says:

      What are you talking about?? 😉 I’ve been to England twice and loved it, but I do see what you mean. Although I still think as far as culture and history and museums and great books goes, you’ve got the better deal.

      I’m reading Dusty Answer by Rosamund Lehmann right now and enjoying it and had a peak at The Go-Between too and it looks good as well.

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