I was in Hodges Figgis last Friday afternoon, buying a birthday present for a friend of mine who happens to have the same birthday as me (in case you’re interested I got him this), when I saw a newly published Nancy Mitford novel I haven’t yet read. The novel is called Wigs On The Green and it has been out of print for almost seventy five years. Mitford is one of my favourite authors – I love her hilarious tales of the English aristocracy – and I have read everything of hers I could get my hands on, my favourite being The Pursuit of Love.
Wigs On The Green tells the story of a disparate collection of people gathered in a small English village called Chalford. Eugenia Malmains is one of the richest girls in England and an ardent supporter of Captain Jack and the Union Jackshirts; newly minted Noel and sponging Jasper are both in search of an heiress; Poppy and Marjorie are nursing lovelorn hearts; and the beautiful Mrs Lace is looking for someone to relieve the boredom of her life. They all congregate near Eugenia’s enormous country pile at Chalford and farce ensues.
I almost finished the book yesterday (I was nursing a mammoth hangover and so had a very horizontal day) and although I’m enjoying it, it doesn’t have the maturity of Mitford’s later novels. It is funny but it lacks the biting wit of her other work and the characters aren’t quite as sympathetic.
Nancy came from a family of minor aristocracy and her early life with her six siblings and eccentric father and mother provided much of the inspiration for her later works. The family gained an element of notoriety due to the exploits of two of Nancy’s sisters, Unity and Diana. Unity moved to Germany and became an ardent supporter of Hitler, going as far as to attempt suicide when war broke out. Diana left her first husband to marry Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascists. I have read The Mitford Girls which is a thoroughly absorbing biography of the family, and The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters, which is excellently edited by Charlotte Mosley and is a comprehensive record of the sisters’ bond.
For Nancy novices I would recommend this brilliant collection of three of her novels and the above mentioned Mitford Girls. Enjoy!