Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Nancy Mitford: Luncheon with Monty


Well I had my luncheon with Monty. He is terribly like my Dad -- watch in hand when I arrived (the first, luckily) only drinks water, has to have the 9 o'clock news & be in bed by 10, washes his own shirts, rice pudding his favourite food. All my books by his bed & when he gets to a daring passage he washes it down with Deuteronomy. But Oh the glamour!

Nancy Mitford, on having lunch with Field Marshal Montgomery: from The Letters of Nancy Mitford, ed. Charlotte Mosely, 1993

La Toilette: Francois Boucher, 1742 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)
Nancy Mitford: Mogens Tvede, c. 1948 (National Portrait Gallery, London/The Nancy Mitford Archive)


Curtis Roberts said...

I revisited this on my way out of the room. It's uplifting on a number of levels -- the Boucher and the Tvede paintings (now I know who Mogens Tvede is) -- and the "different" look at Monty. Prior to this, apart from the history I remember and the many blurry movie references, I always think of the funny Churchill quotes, which appear in several variations, but always including something like "magnificent in defeat, insufferable in victory". I'm also a "watch in hand" person when waiting for others to arrive, I'm afraid. By the way, is the seated lady in the Boucher "standing in" for Monty?

The cat is terrific. It's so amazing. They're still the same.

TC said...


The figure in the Boucher painting is actually Jeanne Buseau, the painter's wife.

No, I didn't intend her to be a stand-in for Monty (!).

Nancy Mitford was a Francophile by attachment. During the War she fell in love with Gaston Palewski, an aide to De Gaulle in the French Resistance. Her largely one-way amour is celebrated (after a fashion) in her novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.

She took up residence in France after the War, first in Paris, then in Versailles. Where she stayed for the rest of her life.

Her Francophilia is notable. She wrote highly readable and well-researched biographies of Louis XIV, Voltaire and Madame de Pompadour.

She lived in her mind in the world of Boucher, which is why I selected that painting.

See also: Boucher: Madame de Pompadour (1750).

Yes, the little cat...

Nancy's writing has many great moments by the way. She was a fine essayist and a marvelous letter writer; her letters to Evelyn Waugh are classic stuff. The two novels I have named are well worth the finding. They were amalgamated into a great BBC production in the 90s. Alan Bates stole the show, playing Uncle Matthew (a portrait based on Nancy's father).

This bit is edited to feature the Spanish actor Javier Alcina, but will give some sense of the whole.

The entire amazing legend of the Mitford girls, of course, is worth a movie of its own. I once met the "political" sister, Jessica, who was a hero of mine during my days as a journalist. She was very sharp and very funny.

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you for all of this, which I've enjoyed. I've always meant to learn more about the Mitfords; they cross in and out of all sorts of other subjects I'm interested in and stories I know. I've ordered the volume of letters from which you selected your extract. I'm also very grateful and interested to know about Boucher's wife. My probably idiotic and impertinent question regarding Montgomery as possible stand-in arose from some quick, very incomplete, research I did during this fevered week, and the impression I gleaned from the Mitford letter of Monty being fussy. (Not the rice pudding part; I love rice pudding.) Please excuse the mistake, but mentally engaging the poet's ekphrastic pursuits involves, perforce, interpretation and interpretation is often incorrect.

TC said...

Curtis, No, I loved that interpretation.

Malgré Nancy's inclinations, personally I would far prefer luncheon with Jeanne Buseau to luncheon with Monty.

Perhaps it's just the cat...