Sunday, 4 April 2010

Wigs on the Green

Reading Nancy Mitford makes me believe that writing comic novels is one of the most purely humanitarian endeavors civilization has ever come up with. Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Nancy Mitford wrote two of the finest comic novels in the English language. Sadly, Wigs on the Green isn't one of them. To be fair I wasn't really in the mood for farce when I picked this up preferring something weighty and substantial, but of course I wanted to read a Mitford novel that hasn't been available in this country since 1935.

The opening was unpromising but I hoped the old Mitford magic would take over and draw me in. Certainly, in the portrayal of Mrs Lace the Local Beauty who dresses as if every day is a fancy dress party, you can see the comic potential of a writer who would go on to create the brilliant The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949).

The novel begins with Noel Foster who is left a small legacy by his aunt. He asks his friend, Jasper Aspect, a penniless cad to join him in his hunt to marry an heiress. Jasper suggests they go to the village of Chalford in search of Eugenia Malmains, the wealthiest heiress in England. On the village green they are startled by the appearance of the tall blonde Eugenia, standing on a wash-tub, wearing a jumper made from a Union Jack and haranguing the locals into joining The Union Jackshirts. The farce is further complicated by a runaway bride and her friend, Poppy, who has left her husband.

The fanaticism of Eugenia Malmains, is of course, a portrayal of Unity Mitford and in the light of what happened to Unity and the political events that later unfolded it is easy to understand why Mitford would not allow the novel to be re-published in her lifetime. One for Mitford completists only I think.

18 comments:

Hannah Stoneham said...

I love the idea of a "Mitford completist"! - and suspect that i am not quite one of them...

thanks for sharing and happy monday
Hannah

bookssnob said...

Disappointing. I've read a few reviews on this now and the consensus does appear to be that it's not up to her usual standard. However I think I'll still ask for it for my birthday, as I'm interested to read it for social history purposes!

Steph said...

Mitford is an author that I'd really like to read at some point, but wasn't exactly sure where to start. I love comic novels, though I tend to find most of the comedic novels I read are penned my male authors. I'm sorry to hear this was a disappointment for you, but at least it has a lovely cover! I'll remember not to start with this as my first Mitford!

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

Have you seen the versions where every cover image is a photo of Nancy at different stages of her life and wearing wonderful clothes?

Paperback Reader said...

Uh-oh, I have a copy of this on its way so I'm sad to read that it was one to disappointing. One to read only once I am a Mitford completist.

theduckthief said...

I've seen a book compiling the correspondence of the Miford sisters in a bookstore but know almost nothing about them.

Can you suggest where to start?

Nan said...

I too, like Hannah, love that phrase! Just perfect. I'm not a farce lover at all. I've found humor to be such a personal, specific taste. What makes one person laugh, another person just doesn't get. I also found the family connection so very interesting. You must have read Counting My Chickens, right? I so loved it.

freelanceimpressions said...

I have never read a Nancy Mitford...but your post has made me want to read one. Which one of her novels should I read first?

mary said...

I haven't read this one but knew I wasn't a Mitford completist having been disappointed years ago by Highland Fling and Christmas Pudding.
I'd say start with The Pursuit of Love ... and after The Blessing it's best to stop!

Michael Faulkner said...

Have enjoyed your posts and added your blog to my blogroll just now. Haven't read any Mitford but have ordered Love in a Cold Climate on the strength of your comments, look forward to it. M

Dividing My Time said...

I'm loving spending a rainy Friday afternoon finding Mitford enthusiasts on line! Has anyone read "Daughters and Rebels" which is Jessica Mitford's take on the childhood Nancy fictionalized? I'd say that is a super place to start. For true enthusiasts, the collected letters of all the sisters makes for fascinating reading!

fleurfisher said...

That is disappointing. I read another early book - Pigeon Pie last year and that didn't quite have the magic either.

Darlene said...

Oh darn it! I'm reading The Pursuit of Love just now and it's a scream, don't think my husband likes me reading funny bits to him anymore though.

Better luck with your next book!

makedoandread said...

Oh dear, what a shame. A "new" Mitford sounded promising. I think I'd only read this one out of curiosity since it's such a thinly veiled portrait of her family.

Mad Housewife said...

Some of her novels are classics, but I had trouble with Christmas Pudding and The Blessing. Wigs on the Green looks like a pass for me!

I love Don't Tell Alfred, a sequel to The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

BTW, I have a new blog address!

Vintage Reading said...

Hannah, hi, I'm not a Mitford completist either, but at her best, Nancy was a great writer.

bookssnob, yes, it's worth reading as social history and it provides a biographical perspective on the relationships between the sisters and their politics.

Steph, I would recommend starting with The Pursuit of Love. The cover is great isn't it.

Linda, no I've not seen it. Nancy was a very stylish woman. Hope you're enjoying the letters.

Paperback Reader, as a satire on the political beliefs of her sisters, Nancy has done a great job. As a novel it is less satisfying. Cover is lovely!

theduckthief, yes the Mitford 'industry' rivals the Austen production line! The Pursuit of Love is an excellent place to start with Nancy's fiction.

Nan, yes, farce is not my thing. Counting my Chickens, is that Deborah's book? If you recommend it I'll check it out.

Mary. Agree 100%! Do you like Don't Tell Alfred?

freelance impressions, Love in a Cold Climate or The Pursuit of Love. Enjoy them!

Michael, look forward to your Mitford review.

Dividing My Time, is that Hons and Rebels? Yes, I read it many years ago. I'm fond of Jessica. Yes, I've read Letters Between Six Sisters and thoroughly enjoyed it. There's a lot of us Mitford enthusiasts on-line!

fleurfisher, not read Pigeon Pie. Probably won't now, though!

Darlene, I love the idea of reading The Pursuit of Love aloud to your husband! Wonder how much Nancy's humour appeals to men?

makedoandread, yes, I don't think I'll seek out Christmas Pudding and the early novels. I'll just re-read my favourites.

madhousewife, yes I'm fond of Don't Tell Alfred. It doesn't get the attention of the other two in the trilogy does it? Recording your new address!

Desperate Reader said...

I agree that it's not Nancy at her best, and I think you need to be in the right mood for it, but I found wigs on the green fascinating and sometimes funny. But given it was surpressed by Nancy for so long both because of content and quality it probably is one for fans:)

Vintage Reading said...

Desperate Reader, I'm glad you liked it - it has its moments and Nancy certainly has a gift for comedy.