Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Highland Fling

Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford
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bookshelves: historical-fiction, humor, romance
Recommended for: Anglophiles

Highland Fling
By Nancy Mitford

Best-known for her comic novels Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, set in the upper-crust of England in the 1940s, Nancy Mitford also wrote six other novels, less commonly available, that have now been re-issued by Vintage Books. Highland Fling is her first novel, written when she was just in her twenties. I was thrilled to see it appear in the New Books section of the local library.

Mitford was herself a part of the upper-crust about which she writes so witheringly and so entertainingly, and she moved in exalted literary circles as well as exalted social circles. Based on an unrequited love in Scotland of Mitford’s own, Highland Fling introduces us to the young couple Walter and Sally Monteath, whose lack of money seems no impediment to their lifestyle:
. . . Walter seemed to have a talent for making money disappear. Whenever he was on the point of committing an extravagance of any kind he would excuse himself by explaining: ‘Well, you see, darling, it’s so much cheaper in the end.’ It was his slogan. Sally soon learnt, to her surprise and dismay, that ‘it’s cheaper in the end’ to go to the most expensive tailor, travel first class, stay at the best hotels, and to take taxis everywhere. When asked why it was cheaper, Walter would say airily: ‘Oh, good for our credit, you know!’ of ‘So much better for one’s clothes,’ or, sulkily: ‘Well, it is, that’s all, everybody knows it is.’
Having as a result spent double their income in one year, Walter and Sally are obliged, in order to save money, to accept a relative’s request to host the summer house party for two months at the ancestral manor Dalloch Castle in Scotland while the relatives are posted to Rhodesia. The Monteaths’ friends Jane and Albert (a painter, and the only character with any sort of job) come to keep them company and fall in love despite the other guests, such as Lady Brenda. . .
Jane thought that she had never seen anyone look so much like an overbred horse. She even ate like one, appearing to sniff every mouthful cautiously before she allowed herself to nibble at it, as though she might at any moment shy away from the cable. Her husband behaved to her just like a groom with a nervous mare. Jane felt that he must have had difficulty in accustoming her to being handled.
. . . General Murgatroyd, who nourishes a hatred for all things not English, and expounds relentlessly on the virtues of “Blockade”; Admiral Wenscelaus, who is quite deaf and has a glass eye; and Lady Prague, who advises Albert on his painting: “’There are too many oil paintings in the world already. Watercolors take up much less room. Don’t you agree?” And others!

As I reread the novel for funny passages that I might quote here, I found so many that it was difficult to choose. Choosing nearly at random, here Mitford describes the hunt as Jane experiences it:
In the hall scenes of horrible confusion were going forward; a perfect regiment of men tramped to and fro carrying things and bumping into each other. They all seemed furiously angry. Above the din could be heard the general’s voice:

‘What the - do you think you’re doing? Get out of that! Come here, blast you!’

The moor was about five miles away, and during the whole drive nobody spoke a word except General Murgatroyd, who continually admonished his dog, a broken-looking retriever of the name of Mons.

‘Lie down, will you? No, get off that coat!’ (Kick, kick, kick; howl, howl, howl.) ‘Stop that noise, blast you!’ (Kick, howl.)
And later, in the butt (hunting hut) with the General:
She began to suffer acutely from cold and cramp, and was filled with impotent rage. Eons of time passed over her. She pulled a stone out of the wall and scratched her name on another stone, then Albert’s name, then a heart with an arrow through it (but she soon rubbed that off again). She knew the shape of the general’s plus-fours and the pattern of his stockings by heart, and could have drawn an accurate picture of the inside of the butt blindfold, when suddenly there was an explosion in her ears so tremendous that for an instant she thought she must have been killed.
And so it goes on. When you need a read to help you recover from the latest gloomy headlines, pick up this novel and be restored by laughter.

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Reading Progress

October 23, 2013 – Started Reading
October 24, 2013 – Finished Reading
October 27, 2013 – Shelved
October 27, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
October 27, 2013 – Shelved as: humor
October 27, 2013 – Shelved as: romance

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