English House-Party Fiction: Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding & Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow

Christmas Pudding and Pigeon PIe nancy mitford 511WzvBv56L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If all the Christmas cookies have disappeared and you have threatened to serve your family a stick of butter sprinkled with sugar on Christmas, I suggest you take a break with Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding or Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow.

It won’t solve your cookie problem, but it will make you laugh.

There is something very soothing about English house-party comedies.  In Mitford’s rollicking second novel, Christmas Pudding, she describes “sixteen characters in search of an author” who spend Christmas in the Cotswolds.

One of the most endearing characters, Paul Fotheringay, a recent Oxford graduate, is the author of Crazy Capers, a novel deemed hilarious by the critics.  Even the very silly young woman he is in love with, Marcella Brackett, thinks it’s funny.  Paul intended it as a tragedy.

…how could praise or promise of glittering gain compensate in any way to the unhappy Paul for the fact that his book, the child of his soul upon which he had expended over a year of labour, pouring forth into it all the bitterness of a bitter nature; describing earnestly, as he thought, and with passion, the subtle shades of a young man’s psychology, and rising to what seemed to him an almost unbearably tragic climax with the suicide pact of his hero and heroine, had been hailed with delight on every hand as the funniest, most roaringly farcical piece of work published in years.


christmad pudding nancy mitford 11992420533_c5ab262684_oOn the advice of Amabelle Foretescue, a wealthy socialite and former prostitute, Paul decides to give up fiction and write a biography.  But when Lady Bobbin, a hunting fanatic whose season has been interrupted by an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, refuses Paul access to her poet ancestress Lady Maria Bobbin’s journals, he takes a job as tutor to her son Bobby Bobbin under a false name, and reads the journals while Bobby snoozes on the couch.  In the afternoon they pretend to go horseback riding but actually play bridge at Amabelle’s rented country house.

Love conquers all–sort of. Michael Lewes, a dull diplomat, returns from Cairo to court Amabelle.   Paul falls in love with Bobby’s sister, Philadelphia.  Are any of these couples suited?  Who really loves whom?

This is frothy farce, one of those short novels you can gobble up like a cookie.

aldous huxley cromeyellowMitford’s charming  novel may have roots in Aldous Huxley’s satiric first novel, Crome Yellow.  The character Paul is very like Huxley’s Denis Stone, a naive poet who moons over Anne, a sophisticated slightly “older” woman, when he is not penning verse.

But while Mitford’s house-party novel is sheer farce, Huxley’s is a house-party novel of ideas. The house party at Crome, which satirizes the parties of Lady Ottoline Morrell, which Huxley and D. H. Lawrence attended, is made up of intellectuals, artists, spiritualists, eccentrics, and attractive women.

One of the guests, Mr. Skogan, rants about population control and test-tube babies.  The host, Henry Wimbush, has written a family history, and reads aloud a fascinating chapter about an ancestor who is a dwarf, Sir Hercules. You can imagine what happened when Sir Hercules and his little wife gave birth to a normal-sized child.

There are incongruous traits to all the characters.  The sexually active Anne turns out to be chaste, the  virginal Mary is obsessed with sex, and a modern artist disappoints them by rejecting cubism.

Paul can’t stop quoting other people’s poetry and wants to escape his education.

Oh, these rags and tags of other people’s making!  Would he ever be able to call his brain his own?  Was there, indeed, anything in it that was truly his own, or was it simply an education?

Two comedies in very different styles, both featuring confused young writers.

6 thoughts on “English House-Party Fiction: Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding & Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow

  1. Your stories remind me of a small box of Christmas cards I bought at the Kennedy Center this year. I bought them because they have an illustration by Gorey whom Jim liked so. We see a later Edwardian upper class family outdoors, in winter coats, and standing in a snow scene; the father is throwing a Christmas pudding down a hole that has broken in the ice. The boy watches. It seems the pudding was inedible after all.


  2. Lady Bobbin insists on a jolly Christmas, and very embarrassing it is for everyone. Huxley’s book isn’t actually set at Christmas, but there are stil many long,tedious hours.

    How I love Edward Gorey! His Christmas pudding is symbolic of the whole thing, isn’t it?


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