Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 192 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"I discovered Nancy Mitford as a teenager and haven’t looked back since. She even supplanted Evelyn Waugh in my affections—which, considering Brideshead and the glorious inanities of Decline and Fall, took some doing. When I was writing The Ashford Affair, I used Nancy Mitford’s works as an idiomatic style guide; if someone in The Pursuit of Love said it, there were good odds my aristocratic characters might as well. 

Of course, all this Mitford immersion did have some unintended side effects. I spent several months running around referring to everything as “too too utterly!” or “too too shame-making!” (Note: it does wear off after a few weeks or with serious application of Elizabeth Peters novels.)" - Lauren Willig

Noel Foster has come into some money. So, he decides to get his money to work for him. He will set himself up as a rich bachelor in order to entice an heiress his way. Therefore, the money just needs to hold out until his hoped for nuptials. Unfortunately, he has asked for the help of his friend Jasper Aspect, who is quite good at parting Noel from his money and making it disappear at a prodigious rate. So they remove themselves from London to Chalford, where the heiress Eugenia Malmain lives. Of course, she's a bit odd... in that she is a fanatic fascist and will convert anyone to the cause. Noel and Jasper quickly sign up in the hopes that it will bring them closer to the goal of Noel marrying Eugenia, his targeted heiress. Though soon the town has a rather wealthy lady on the run from her wedding day along with her best friend Poppy, who rather thinks Jasper is nicer then her own husband, as well as a few Private Eyes. If only Noel could fall for Eugenia and tie everything up, but sadly, he falls for the local beauty who is under the mistaken assumption that Noel is deposed royalty. In true British fashion, everything goes haywire and then ends with a fete. Yet, what are the fates of those involved?

When perusing Lauren Willig's list of books that inspired The Ashford Affair, I saw this little, long out of print book by Nancy Mitford among the other tomes. I turned around and looked at the little volume sitting on my shelf and it spoke to me. In fact, all the Nancy Mitford books got so chatty that I ended up doing my long thought of "Mitford March" because of their insistence. Also, as Lauren and Nancy have said, if I hadn't I would have probably been "too too shame-making" and my Mitford books would have run away. Oddly enough the book that inspired this idea ended up being the last read on my Mitford binge. Wigs on the Green is an interesting book, not just for the humor and the sly pokes at Nancy's family, but because of the controversy surrounding it. Because it deals with Fascism (in a humorous way) and pokes fun not only at Nancy's sister Unity, but also her sister Diana, and Diana's husband to be, Walter Mosley, the three darlings of Hitler. The book understandably infuriated quite a few members of her family and resulted in some long and awkward silences. Therefore, when her publisher requested the rights to reprint, Nancy denied them. Whether this was for her families sensibilities and a desire to restore the calm, or whether it was because she truly believed that Hitler's atrocities were so serious and horrid, that it was no longer a laughing matter, we will not know.

Thankfully when Nancy's back catalog was being re-released, Wigs on the Green was among those selected. I personally believe that it must have been family pressure that resulted in this books long absence, because I don't think that her excuse of not laughing at Hitler is valid. Yes, he was pure evil, yes, it wasn't a laughing matter... but the way to take away someone's power is to laugh at them, and Nancy loved to tease and everything was a laughing matter to her. Look to Harry Potter, and yes, it's an odd digression I admit. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin has the students face a boggart, which is a shape-shifter that takes the form of your worst nightmare. The spell that destroys the boggart, Riddikulus, forces the nightmare to take on a humorous form and is then destroyed by laughter. Proving, in the most simplest of terms, that by laughing at something or someone, you take away their power. This book should have been widely distributed to soldiers everywhere, so, her publisher was right on that count. Everyone needs a laugh, and a laugh at the enemies expense is all the better.

As for the laughing. This book was seriously funny, especially if you know a little British history. The send up of the Blackshirts with the Union Jackshirts with their absurd outfits and laughable fervor. I think that Eugenia is probably the only earnest believer in Fascism, while all the rest are just joining the bandwagon, and the fact that Eugenia has been so sheltered, her fervent belief is to be laughed at like that one friend you had in high school who spent all their time lecturing you on why Pepsi was evil because of various civil rights infringements that they could never explain properly to you, but insisted you join their boycott. And that is where the humor really lies, in the personality types Nancy is teasing. We have all known the oddly fervent and political, likewise, the ones who pretend to be to get in with them, those who would do anything for money, even marrying odd heiresses, those who revel in making merry hell for their friends, those who get the wrong end of the stick, and those who are totally potty... though perhaps not to the extent of living up a tree... Sure she was making fun of her family, but it wasn't just them, it's the personality they typified. We are all amusing, Nancy just had a way of making it apparent.


I've found so many books I love through Lauren's recommendations (The Far Pavilions, Vienna Waltz, and Zemindar, to name a few) but I haven't tried any Mitfords yet. That might have to be next on my list!

Oh yes Ashley! You must try the Mitfords, they are totally classics, all of them.

Like Ashley, I haven't read any Mitford book yet.
Her books are now on my wishlist. Great review! Thank you for posting! :D

Yeah for Mitford love!

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