Lisa Hilton's The Horror of Love
Lisa Hilton’s The Horror of Love is an eloquent and carefully researched book that documents the fascinating lives and love affair of English novelist Nancy Mitford (The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate) and French politician Gaston Palewski. Spanning, as it does, the early decades of the 20th Century and the volatile era of post-war politics, Hilton’s book will appeal to biography junkies and history buffs alike.
The author begins by giving us a comprehensive background of the two lovers. Mitford was from an upper-class family that frequently clashed when it came to British politics. Along with Evelyn Waugh, she was a prominent figure of the Bright Young Things scene. Palewski, not blessed with such affluent or patrician connections, was still able to climb the social ladder and play an influential role in the World War II thanks to his driven personality. He was also a calculating man and a serial womaniser. When the two first met, their romance was filled with love letters and rendezvous in Paris. Due to Palewski’s changing political role, his relationship with Mitford changed too, becoming long-distance and complex.
And then there was the matter of Palewski’s other women.
Supplied with such full, detailed biographies of the two lovers’ lives and aided by carefully chosen extracts from letters and snatches of conversations, the reader can understand the dynamics of their complicated love affair; moreover the bibliography is impressive. But one question that keeps recurring throughout the book. Why did Mitford – a strong female character known for her sharp wit and intelligence – stand for all this? Was it a despairing acceptance of Palewski’s ways, or was it the pragmatic rationale that love affairs don’t necessarily result in marriage or have happy endings? This is the crux of the book, but Hilton presents the story objectively enough to allow readers to reach their own conclusions about the relationship. This light-handed approach is indeed a breath of fresh air. A superb read.
Lisa Hilton, The Horror of Love, Weidenfield & Nicolson, £20.00, ISBN: 978 0 297 85960 4