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Nancy Mitford (1904-1973) was born in London, the eldest child of the second Baron Redesdale. Her childhood in a large remote country house with her five sisters and one brother is recounted in the early chapters of The Pursuit of Love (1945), which according to the author, is largely autobiographical. Apart from being taught to ride and speak French, Nancy Mitford always claimed she never received a proper education. She started writing before her marriage in 1932 in order 'to relieve the boredom of the intervals between the recreations established by the social conventions of her world' and had written four novels, including Wigs on the Green (1935), before the success of The Pursuit of Love in 1945. After the war she moved to Paris where she lived for the rest of her life. She followed The Pursuit of Love with Love in a Cold Climate (1949), The Blessing (1951) and Don't Tell Alfred (1960). She also wrote four works of biography: Madame de Pompadour, first published to great acclaim in 1954, Voltaire in Love, The Sun King and Frederick the Great. As well as being a novelist and a biographer she also translated Madame de Lafayette's classic novel, La Princesse de Cleves, into English, and edited Noblesse Oblige, a collection of essays concerned with the behaviour of the English aristocracy and the idea of 'U' and 'non-U'. Nancy Mitford was awarded the CBE in 1972. Alan Cumming is an actor, director, producer, and writer. He has adapted several plays for The Royal National Theatre and starred as the Pope in his own adaptation of Jean Genet's Elle in New York. With Jennifer Jason Leigh he wrote and directed the film The Anniversary Party, which premiered at Cannes and won a National Board of Review award and two Independent Spirit nominations. He has written introductions and contributions for books on a range of subjects including Andy Warhol, nude photography and the AIDS crisis, and for publications such as Newsweek, BlackBook, Interview, Marie Claire, Contents, OUT Traveler, the Independent and House and Garden. His novel Tommy's Tale was published by Penguin in 2003.
Entirely original, inimitable and irresistible -- Philip Hensher * Spectator *