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Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford
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Wigs on the Green (1935)

by Nancy Mitford

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An early novel which Mitford chose not to reissue after ww2. It's an affectionate send-up of her sister Unity, who was infatuated with Hitler and fascism, but there is an unsettling ambiguity and ambivalence to it given the outcome. It's quite understandable she wanted it suppressed for while it is clear she is making fun of the 'Jackshirts' there is no doubt in my mind had she had the least idea of the outcome of the war, the seriousness of Nazi violence and aims, she never would have written a book so 'light-hearted'. Plus ole Nancy was kind of a snob - it's muffled in her later books somewhat - but here it is front and center, creating an odd vibration between the fascists, the Hons, and well, everyone else, as a mad Duke at the exclusive residence Peersmont (modelled on the House of Lords) for mad titled persons, says to a nephew, "It appears that every year a few thousand totally unimportant persons are killed on the roads, and that lunatic Gunnersbury, supported by some squeamish asses on the Labour benches* brought in a bill to abolish all motor transport. These Socialists put a perfectly exaggerated value on human life, you know. Ridiculous." It was a bit like looking at one of those flat pictures that if you tip it one way it is funny, tip it another and it is thoughtless and even offensive. Nonetheless Mitford's cleverness and wit are everywhere evident and it is an interesting novel. By a coincidence I have been listening to a book on poisonous plants and the author mentions Mussolini's men tracking downn 'leftists' and to pour castor oil down their throats as a punishment. Mitford had evidently picked up on this and there are many mentions of castor oil or ex-lax, that I would not have known the significance (reference to Mussolini) until now. It sounds so teen-aged prankish and idiotic. ***
* in this pseudo House of Lords, the Hons spend their time putting forward bills and voting and etc. ( )
1 vote sibyx | Jan 5, 2014 |
Wigs on the Green was written as a satire of British fascism, and specifically a satire of the members of Nancy Mitford’s family that partook of the movement. Sir Oswald Mosley, Nancy Mitford’s future brother-in-law, formed the British Union of Fascists in 1932 and by the mid-1930s, when this book was written, the BUF had aligned itself with the Nazi party in Germany.

Mitford regretted writing this book and worked to suppress copies of it from getting out to the public (not surprising, honestly). The plot focuses on a young woman named Eugenia Malmain (based on Unity Mitford); and two young men who come to the town of Chalford with mischief on their mind. Eugenia is a rather idealistic young woman who works tirelessly on behalf of a political party called the Union Jackshirts (a play on the word “Blackshirts,” the uniform of the BUF), and the plot contains a lot of witticisms and attempts at humor. The meaning of the title comes from an 18th century saying that signifies that a brawl is about to break out—a brawl so forceful that it would knock men’s wigs off. The culminating moment of the novel is an 18th-century-themed pageant, hence the literal, and satirical, meaning of the title.

I definitely found humor in the characters that Mitford gives us. But I think that, because the author was so close to the subject that she pokes fun at, she didn’t have a chance to distance herself from her characters. So there’s not much in this novel that’s truly fictional; just an exaggerated portrait of the people that Mitford knew (she originally meant the book to be a satire of Sir Oswald Mosley, by centering the plot around a character named General Jack).

This is certainly not one of Nancy Mitford’s best books; it's hard to satirize fascism and so the book falls flat in many places. Its dated theme isn't particularly funny now, and it certainly wouldn't have been funny at the time it was written. As Dorothy Parker, a vehement anti-fascist, wrote in 1939, "I don't think these are funny times... I don't think I can fight fascism by being comical, nor do I think that others can." I think with the hindsight of 70 years, the book might have actually been better with the mythological three chapters she apparently got rid of in order to appease her sister Diana. As such, there are holes in the novel; it seems like a rough draft at times. It’s easy to see why, in the political climate of the 1930s and 1940s, Mitford didn’t want this book reprinted. ( )
2 vote Kasthu | Feb 2, 2013 |
Being rather a fan of The Mitfords, and having read several biographies and letter collections as well as some of Nancy's later, better known novels, I was very curious when I heard Wigs on the Green was being re-issued. Having been out of print since not long after it first appeared, it is easy to why it caused such disquiet among her family. The introduction by Charoltte Moseley casts an interesting light upon this, and apparently Nancy took out 3 chapters which particularly mocked Sir Oswald Moseley. There is plenty of Nancy's famous wit in evidence here, but this is really no scalding satire. The novel is light and frothy, funny and very tongue in cheek, and yet even now after all these years it is hard to see the humor in fascism. There is plenty of Wodehouse like jolly japes - a lovely country house, eccentric relatives and impoverished young men looking to marry money. All in all a 1930's cosy read - albeit a slightly uncomfortable one politically. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jul 30, 2011 |
An intriguing issue. The foreword, from Charlotte Mosley, describes the troubled gestation and subsequent shelving of Wigs on the Green, Nancy Mitford's satire on fascism. Understanding how the book reflects Mitford's attempts to remain on good terms with her fascist sisters, while ridiculing their beliefs in the manner of her earlier comic jeux d'esprit, helps to explain its strange unevenness of tone. Any book which mixes Hitler with humour is, of course, bound to be read with unease. There is some wonderful Mitford wit here, and dialogue reminiscent of Waugh, with the impecunious and irrepressible Jasper Aspect, an asylum for peers of the realm exactly like the House of Lords and Anne-Marie Lace, the affected local beauty straight out of EF Benson's Riseholme. But these are all overlaid with affectionate jokes about fascism, which are difficult to stomach and the family in jokes fail to make them more palatable. In a way this oddity is a transition between the sparkling heartless early books, and the post-war maturer romance of the Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. It is most like Pigeon Pie, set in World War 2, which also doesn't quite work. Waugh moved from heartless comedy to a more serious trajectory of romance and tragedy through the war, Mitford, a lesser talent, didn't quite get it. She is a writer of peace and affluence - and very much loved for that, not least by me.
1 vote otterley | Sep 20, 2010 |
Although not up to Mitford's other books. This is still a book filled with her trademark wit and humour. There is, of course, a political element to the book as Mitford was engaged in satirising those members of the British aristocracy who were engaged in fascism. The full horrors of fascism were still to be revealed and Mitford (alongside Wodehouse who also satirised Moseley and his followers by creating Sir Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts) found much to be ridiculed in both the British fascists and their fascination with Hitler. I appreciate that this can be difficult for some readers to understand, but for many the ability to ridicule an adversary enabled them to work towards their defeat. Mitford prevented the book from being republished during her lifetime, but now, nearly 40 years after her death, it is time for this work to be republished and reevaluated by a new generation of readers. ( )
  riverwillow | Sep 8, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Mitfordprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mosley, CharlotteForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"That man is by nature a buffoon and that his best work is done in an antic, is a theory which gentlemen of leisure and high spirits will find very comforting."
A. F. Wedgwood
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To Peter
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No, I'm sorry,' said Noel Foster, `not sufficiently attractive'.
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Eugenia Malmain is an ardent supporter of General Jack and the Union Jackshirts, one of the richest girls in England; Noel and Jasper are both in search of an heiress; Poppy and Marjorie are nursing lovelorn hearts; and the beautiful bourgeois Mrs Lace is on the prowl for someone to lighten the boredom of her life.… (more)

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