Magazine article The Spectator

Chagrin D'amour

Magazine article The Spectator

Chagrin D'amour

Article excerpt

The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London

by Lisa Hilton

Orion, £20, pp. 263,

ISBN 9780297859604

The horror of love: Nancy Mitford's first fiance was gay; her husband, Peter Rodd, was feckless, spendthrift and unsympathetic, and her great amour, Gaston Palewski, was endlessly unfaithful. She met him during the war in London and was in love with him for the rest of her life.

Palewski was Charles de Gaulle's righthand man. He organised the French Resistance in London and commanded the Free French forces in East Africa. After the war, he was appointed De Gaulle's chief of staff and he became known as the sinister eminence grise behind De Gaulle's presidency.

He and Nancy shared a love of France, beauty and jokes. He was never faithful to her, but Lisa Hilton stands up for Nancy against those who have called her pathetic and deluded in her affair with Gaston. Nancy was never under any illusions, and she refused to make monogamy a prerequisite for the relationship:

Gaston had made her no promises, told her no lies, he had simply complacently expected that she would absorb the cruel blows with the dignity and reticence of a Princesse de Cleves. And Nancy did, and there was still love between them, proud, bruised, but enduring.

Even when Gaston married someone else, Nancy put a good face on it. As her sister Deborah wrote to another sister, Pamela:

One simply does not know how much she minds as she is a very private person and so desperately reserved one perhaps never will know.

Hilton defends Nancy from two other charges: callousness and hypocrisy. She was staying with friends when she heard that her brother had been killed. She came down to dinner that evening immaculately dressed and never mentioned Tom's death.

Stories like this have led some, unfairly, to accuse Nancy of being cold-hearted. …

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