Christmas Pudding – Nancy Mitford

It is a rather fortuitous coincidence that my 500th review on Savidge Reads should be a Nancy Mitford, it seems somehow wholly appropriate that it should be the case. I can’t quite believe it is 500 reviews on here to be honest, especially as that means I must have read more since the blog started as not every book I read ends up here. It feels like a nice milestone for me regardless and one that is all the more delightful when sharing with you some festive Mitford joy which is just what ‘Christmas Pudding’ was, I don’t normally like Christmas Pudding (I would rather just have a bowl of brandy butter by itself thank you) yet I happily devoured this during Christmas Day.

Capuchin Classics, paperback, 1932, fiction, 207 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It’s very difficult to try and surmise the comedy of errors of the Bright Young Things of the 1920’s and 30’s that is Nancy Mitford’s ‘Christmas Pudding’ because it as so many different strands to it, but here goes. Paul Fotheringay has written a novel which has not been received by reviewers as he would like, people love it, yet they think it is a highly melodramatic but accomplished farce. In fact it was meant to be a heartbreaking hit based on the bitterness of life and genius that the author believes he has. He has decided that his next work will be a biography of the Victorian poet Lady Maria Bobbins, yet after this is denied he goes undercover thanks to his friend Amabelle’s connections with Bobby Bobbins, Maria’s grandson and here meets her granddaughter Philadelphia and of course becomes smitten. Amabelle herself has decided to move to the Cotswolds for Christmas, becoming a neighbour of the Bobbins grand house, for a bit of novelty (though she initially finds Mulberrie Farm more novelty than nightmare) and so soon they all become embroiled especially after the arrival of Lord Lewes who was in head over heels in love with Amabelle before soon becoming a suitor for Philadelphia too… only a much more likely candidate in the eyes of society and Lady Bobbins herself.

If it sounds like I have given too much away I honestly haven’t because throughout all this there are several other strands, characters and twists to will keep the reader entertained throughout. In fact my one criticism, should I be being rather more lit-crit like, would be that occasionally there are rather too many characters and Bright Young Things (which Mitford seems to give a knowing wink to with names like Bunch, Squibby and Biggy) going on all at once which occasionally takes away from the main events. Stuff being lit-crit like though as like I mentioned this book is designed to be fun and entertaining and indeed it is in abundance.

Nancy Mitford is a genius for writing the caricature and ‘Christmas Pudding’, like all her later works (I haven’t read her debut novel ‘Highland Fling’ this novels predecessor), has these falling out of every page. It is when she takes a stab at the circles and people that she knows that she is at her most frightfully funny, and indeed her sisters said whilst writing this she was often laughing. Whilst I didn’t laugh out loud I was smiling as I read every page as each one contains at least one sentence, saying or small happening which will induce the corners of your mouth to twitch.

“Mother, of course, takes a lot of exercise, walks and so on. And every morning she puts on a pair of black silk drawers and a sweater and makes indelicate gestures on the lawn. That’s called Building the Body Beautiful. She’s mad about it.”

Yet it seems that Nancy also knows that in moments of humour you can get away with some of the most honest observations or thoughts of all and I felt, though some may disagree, that really this novel looks at love be it true or forced because of money. True love it seems was something Nancy was certainly looking for and yet was something which she didn’t believe happened very often. There is only one couple, Sally and Walter, who seems to be a match made from true love and yet they never seem quite truly happy, just happier than most. It’s an interesting insight into the minds of ‘society’ at the time and behind the jokes and farce is certainly something more just cloaked in a certain amount of comedy.

“When I was a girl,” said Sally, “and before I met Walter, you know, I fixed a definite price at which I was willing to overlook boringness. As far as I can remember, it was twenty-five thousand pounds a year. However, nothing more than twelve seemed to offer, so I married Walter instead.”

I really enjoyed ‘Christmas Pudding’ (which could be read at any time of the year as apart from a few festive parties it isn’t quite as Christmassy as you would think from the title) and whilst it isn’t the best of Nancy’s work it’s ‘jolly good’ and in the busyness and mayhem of these caricature creatures there shows the signs of all that is yet to come. I also really admired, and was rather pleasantly surprised by, the fact that Nancy didn’t give us the ending we thought we might be getting, very good. I would heartily recommend more people read this lesser known Nancy novel if you need a lift of spirits and want to get lost in the world of those Bright Young Things.

Which Christmas themed books have you read over the festive period? Have you read any of Nancy’s other lesser known novels? What books set in the 20’s and 30’s have you read and found to be ‘jolly good’? I definitely want to read more from, or set, in that period so would love your recommendations, and you could win something special as part of my 500th review celebrations, though I am almost give-awayed out, ha.

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26 Comments

Filed under Capuchin Classics, Nancy Mitford, Review

26 responses to “Christmas Pudding – Nancy Mitford

  1. Pingback: To Celebrate 500 Reviews, A Mitford Give Away… | Savidge Reads

  2. Sarah Littlefear

    Have you ever read any of the Daisy Dalrymple murder mystery series by Carola Dunn? Just got into them this year, but I am addicted! They really evoke the period of the 1920s, with interesting references to women’s changing role in society after the First World War, but without being too heavy. There is also a lovely little romance running through the stories, as well as delightful notes on fashion, and the language is spot-on. I am only onto the fourth book, but I would love to read them all in one sitting, they are so addictive. They have been an interesting period addition to my search for crime fiction and mystery stories in 2011.

  3. adele geras

    I am a big fan of Nancy and her sisters…and have on my shelves a lovely book of the correspondence between all six of them. One of these days I will read it but meanwhile, I just look at it and admire the photos. I will get to it…this year! One of my 2012 resolutions. Have I done enough to be in the draw for this giveaway? Hope so!

  4. Melissa Nowinski

    I’ve never read Nancy Mitford’s novels, but you have completely sold me. My favorite reads set during the 20s are the P.G. Wodehouse stories. I keep a Wodehouse collected works in my car, just in case I find the sudden need to be cheered up (I only read when parked!). Dorothy Sayers’ novels are also lovely. I love The Readers Podcast. Good work!

  5. I love Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, set in London in the 30s. Goofy and fluffy, but fun.

  6. Susan in TX

    I didn’t do a lot of themed reading over the holidays – I waited too late to order one from BookDep, and I’m still waiting for it. I did read Phillip Gulley’s Christmas in Harmony (very cliche) and Richard Peck’s A Season of Gifts which I plucked from my dd’s shelf. It was good entertainment for a cold, rainy evening. I haven’t read any Mitford yet, but I have The Pursuit of Love on the tbr shelf waiting for me. Not sure what I can recommend from the 20’s/30’s, but will think on it.

  7. It’s not English but I love F.Scott Fitzgerald’s work from the ’20s – The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby. TGG is my all-time favourite book – an ageless brilliant novel.

  8. Stella Gibbons and the Cold Comfort Farm books were very good.

  9. I didn’t read any Christmas-themed books this year, although I certainly looked. The only one that peaked my interest was A Christmas Carol but I’ve been saving that until I read more of his work (you’re not the only one with the habit of ‘saving’ books!). I haven’t read any of Nancy Mitford’s work (so I would love to win a copy) but if you’re looking for ‘jolly good’ stories from the 20s and 30s, I think I would have to suggest PG Wodehouse. His humour isn’t quite my style but his books definitely make you smile, if not laugh.

    Happy New Year!

    Katie

  10. michelle

    I would also suggest PG Wodehouse, if you have yet to give him a try. Am just starting to enjoy his books which I have been “saving up” for a while. And I’m glad to say that I do find them ‘jolly good’. 🙂
    Another one with the 20’s & 30’s setting which you might want to check out would be the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.
    I have yet to read any Nancy Mitford but have been meaning to for a long time. I have a couple of Deborah Devonshire’s memoirs and the Mitford sisters’ letters on my shelves which I am much looking forward to dipping into, come 2012.

  11. Emma

    I always try and read A Christmas Carol and Letters from Father Christmas before Christmas, both lovely for different reasons.
    I would say Stella Gibbons and PG Wodehouse are fairly safe bets for a jolly good read.
    Please count me in for the draw-I haven’t read any of Nancy Mitford’s lesser known novels and would love to try them.

  12. Sue

    Dorothy L Sayers every time for me I read and re-read all of them (with the exception of Five Red Herrings which annoys me). Gaudy Night is my favourite book of all time which also shows what life was like in a women’s college – but I think that is because I love the way DLS unravells Harriet Vane’s feelings for Peter Wimsey. I would recommend you start with The Nine Tailors or Death at the Bellona Club.

    Other than a Christmas Carol which is a family favourite in all its forms (including the Muppet version which is surprisingly accurate in its basic dialogue and plot) I can’t think of any other Christmas books.

  13. gaskella

    Don’t enter me for the giveaway – I have been too lucky already with your others, however I would heartily recommend Miss Pettigrew lives for a day – a lovely 1930s Cinderella story. I watched the film yesterday and cried with happiness at the end!

  14. My ‘Christmassy’ reading has been a) The Book of Dead Days a children’s fantasy thriller by Marcus Sedgwick set between Christmas and New Year and b) Hercule Poirot’s Christmas -which speaks for itself. The latter probably falling into the ‘jolly good books from 20s/30s’ category too.
    As we approach Spring, I’ll get out my favourite 20s/30s novel – Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. I discovered it through the film and it’s a wonderful dreamy, drowsy, looking forward to summer heat, book.

  15. Ann P

    I have to admit that my Christmas treat was re-reading a couple of books I’ve loved since I was young. Jo of the Chalet School has a lovely description of a family Christmas in Innsbruck and End of Term by Antonia Forest ends with a nativity play. I could count the Chalet School book as one from the 1920s too but I also enjoyed Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple – a wonderful picture of the lot of women in those days.

  16. Femke

    I did not do any Christmas-themed reads, but I do love reading books that are set in winter or a cold climate during this time of year. I have yet to read Nancy Mitford’s novels, but she is on my to-be-read list. I can recommend ‘Cold comfort farm’ and ‘Miss Pettigrew lives for a day’, both are jolly good reads!

  17. Bet

    This year for my Christmas novel I read Linda Gillard’s House of Silence. Last year it was A Proper Family Christmas by Jane Gordon-Cumming. I am more inclined to read Christmas poetry than Christmas novels. I haven’t read any of Nancy Mitford’s lesser known novels so I would LOVE to win these! I read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate every year.

  18. Lindsey

    I’ve read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate (bound together in a beautiful edition), but none of the lesser known novels. But since reading Letters Between Six Sisters in 2010, I’ve been collecting lots of Mitford-related books. I hugely recommend their collected letters — it’s probably one of my favorite books of the last few years.

    I own Capuchin Classics’ edition of Highland Fling but I haven’t read it yet. Such a pretty book though and would love the rest. Also have NYT Classics’ edition of Jessica’s Hons and Rebels which I really need to get around to…

  19. Wow, another giveaway? I was going to get Christmassy with a re-read of Little Women but then discovered that I don’t actually own a copy. Straight on the wishlist! I haven’t read any of Nancy Mitford’s lesser-known novels but I am currently reading a collection of her letters: The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street. It’s pretty good.

    “Jolly good” books set in the 1920s and 30s? Well, like everyone else I recommend the Jeeves books. They are fantastically funny. And Evelyn Waugh, too.

  20. Alli Dhoble

    Well I can’t leave Gatsby unmentioned…early 1920’s and just wonderful, although the one thing I don’t like about it is that it’s notoriety has overshadowed Fitzgerald’s other great works!!

    Next on my TBR book shelf is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (set in the 1920’s, I believe!)

    RECENT BOOK THAT YOU SHOULD READ!: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I stayed away from this book during the “hype” and finally got it a few months ago from the library. Set in the late 1930’s NYC, and truly a beautiful piece of writing.

    I think it’s about time that I win a MITFORD GIVEAWAY!!! 😉 DON’TCHA THINK?

    Take care, Simon! I’m crossing my fingers 🙂

    – Alli (luckymuffins@gmail.com)

  21. dominic

    ” I fixed a definite price at which I was willing to overlook boringness. As far as I can remember, it was twenty-five thousand pounds a year. However, nothing more than twelve seemed to offer, so I married Walter instead.”

    those 3 sentences are like a mitford litmus test, love them & you’re sold.
    hate? & nothing she ever writes will appeal.

    a handful of dust by evelyn waugh is Spooky dark genius,
    nancy without the silliness
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Handful_of_Dust
    (sample line, brenda to john who she’s shtupping on the side
    ‘all my friends find you an awful bore,
    the sooner you realise that the much easier it will be for us all’
    or words to that effect).

    & of course the mapp & lucia novels by ef benson are ESSENTIAL

    good Marning.

  22. Janet D

    I read The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse this year. I love Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas at this time of year.
    I also tried to read Christmas in Stalingrad by Antony Beevor but gave up as too serious for this season.

  23. thehungryreader

    Here goes the answers: I have read only one Christmas book over the festive period, which I do every year and that is, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Unfortunately, I have never read any Nancy Mitford novels, though I would love to. I would highly recommend Rules of Civility by Amor Towles which has stayed on in my memory and also Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald which is set in the ’20’s.

    Here is my email address: vivek.tejuja@gmail.com

    Thank you for hosting this wonderful contest.

  24. The Mitford books I’ve read are Pursuit of Love and Hons and Rebels. One Nancy and one Jessica, right? I’ve started A Christmas Carol at Christmas time twice but never get beyond the ghost of Christmas present before the holiday is over and I lose interest. I do recommend Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory as a sentimental favorite.

    Congrats on 500 posts but the way.

  25. I’m not really a fan of Christmas, so tend to stay away from the Christmas themed books. I haven’t read any Mitford yet, but I adore Evelyn Waugh for 1930s themed books – witty and clever.

  26. well done on 500 reviews simon I hope to hit 250 early next year ,all the best stu

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