The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London
As for a lot of people, the name ‘Mitford’ acts upon me like a magic charm – evoking visions of glamorous debutantes, mouldering country mansions, eccentric childhoods and brittle laughter floating above the clink of champagne glasses. It makes me think of beauty, talent and also tragedy.
Lisa Hilton’s book is yet another attempt to explore the fascinating enigma that was Nancy Mitford, but this time taking the more unusual route of closely examining her romance with Gaston Palewski, who was to serve as the model for her devastatingly charming French aristocrat, Fabrice de Sauveterre. The real Gaston, it turns out, was a rather unattractive man with lecherous tendencies and terrible halitosis so the real mystery here is what Nancy saw in him – and it is this that forms the basis of Hilton’s book as she takes a look at not just the well-documented and often discussed life of Nancy Mitford but also that of Gaston, who has previously relegated to the unenviable position of ‘faithless lover’.
While I loved reading about Nancy Mitford and found Gaston to be more interesting than I had supposed, I felt discomforted by the focus on their relationship, which clearly brought the former a great deal of pain, however little she may have ultimately insisted upon regretting it.
However, Nancy clearly believed that Gaston, however unsatisfactory he may have proved himself to be, was the love of her life. This, I think, is the point of The Horror of Love and ultimately it makes for a poignant and often enchanting read about two people drawn together by their love of beauty.
All in all, The Horror of Love is an excellent, albeit not definitive, addition to any Mitford fan’s book collection.