Monday, April 19, 2010

Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green

Third book read for the Girl Detective's 15/15/15 project was the long-out-of-print 1935 Wigs on the Green, reissued recently by Penguin. Nancy Mitford based her characters on her sister Unity, who was enamoured with Adolf Hitler; her sister Diana's lover and second second husband Sir Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists; as well as her own husband Peter Rodd and his Oxford friend Basil Murray. World War II and the fact that the book caused discord within her family led Mitford to refuse her publisher's efforts to bring out a reprint during her lifetime.

A comedy of manners, Wigs on the Green tells the story of two young men in search of wealthy heiresses to marry. Since the wealthiest heiress in England lives in the village of Chalford, and is regarded as enough of a lunatic to give their scheme a chance, they take rooms at the hotel there. Jasper and Noel quickly meet a pair of interesting young ladies using the aliases Miss Smith and Miss Jones, although their true identities will soon be exposed. Almost as quickly, they meet the local village beauty, an affected young married woman discontented with her life and willing to fall in with the hotel crowd.

And, of course, there's the heiress herself, the teenage Eugenia Malmains, who dresses in "an ill-fitting grey woollen skirt, no stockings, a pair of threadbare plimsolls, and a jumper made apparently out of a Union Jack." There's a dagger attached to her belt, and she's followed everywhere she goes by her loyal black horse and large mastiff. She's prone to mounting overturned washtubs in the village green and exhorting the crowd that gathers to pay their dues and join the Social Unionist movement--they'll receive a Union Jack shirt and emblem in return.

Before long, the group will be planning an outdoor pageant and falling into love with the wrong people, although Jasper admonishes that there are times "when love has got to take its proper place as an unethical and anti-social emotion, and this is one of them."

Provides an interesting glimpse of how Nazism could be regarded for a time by those who found "nothing grand, nothing individual, nothing which could make anybody suppose that the English were once a fine race, brave, jolly and eccentric" as a saving spirit of sorts.

4 comments:

Jeanne said...

In an odd way, this sounds like an important book--how else can we understand the lure of wacky social movements unless we learn from history?

Farheen said...

The book reminds me of Tarantino's film, 'Inglorious Bastards'. Is it like that?

Here's my fourth read.

http://beanbagtales.blogspot.com/2010/04/book-4-wayward-bus.html

grantmebookshelves said...

It sounds like a good read for some insight into Unity Mitford -- she both fascinates and repels me at once.

Is it up to the mark set by some of Mitford's others, though, or just a curiosity piece?

SFP said...

I don't think it's supposed to be as good as Mitford's best. But I've only read one other. . .