x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and the colonel

Lisa Hilton's well-crafted story explores the British novelist Nancy Mitford's relationship with Colonel Gaston Palewski.

The Horror of Love
Lisa Hilton
W&N
Dh74
The Horror of Love Lisa Hilton W&N Dh74

Do admit, Mitford fans that you know very little about Nancy’s longtime flame “the Col” (Colonel Gaston Palewski), beyond, perhaps, that he was Charles DeGaulle’s sidekick, the inspiration for Fabrice in The Pursuit of Love and a lifelong womaniser who told Nancy he couldn’t marry a divorced Protestant, but married one anyway.

This well-crafted book will fix that. The Horror of Love presumes that you know both Nancy’s novels and something about her whole improbable, much-chronicled family, and adds an account of Palewski’s life and career, plus a sympathetic defence of Nancy’s commitment to this self-obsessed philanderer.

Nancy used the title phrase in a letter to her sister Diana after stumbling upon a romantic tryst between Palewski and a friend of hers. Still, Hilton argues, the decades Nancy devoted to the Colonel were mainly happy ones despite his serial infidelity. Like Diana, Unity, and Jessica, her love was partly political (she shared Gaston’s anti-communism stance). This was the life she chose. And so on.

Unconvincing, finally, but the book is a valuable addition to any Mitford shelf.