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Reflections

Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

A Controversial Book, Back in Print at Last -- Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Wigs on the Green - Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford fans, including me, have been waiting a long time for this novel to be republished. Even used copies of WIGS ON THE GREEN have been hard to find, since after its release in 1935 it has only rarely been back in print. It became controversial because it was written at a time when Hitler was someone to laugh at, at least for Nancy, and it caused uproar in Nancy's family because Diana and Unity, her two passionately fascist-leaning sisters, did not like the way their beloved movement was teasingly ridiculed.

 

Nancy never let it be reprinted in her lifetime. Nancy's determination to always find something ironic or funny in even the worst situations makes for wonderful reading and this book is no exception. Her humor manages to combine the social insights of Jane Austen with the laugh out loud absurdity of P. G. Wodehouse. In the aftermath of WWII, laughing at Hitler and his followers seemed about as inappropriate as basing a sitcom on Osama bin Laden, but part of the fascination of this book is its glimpse into the thoughts of a world before the catastrophes of the Holocaust.

 

In plot and tone WIGS ON THE GREEN is more similar to Nancy's first two frothy, fast-paced novels, HIGHLAND FLING and CHRISTMAS PUDDING, than it is to her later more serious novels, The PURSUIT OF LOVE and LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE. Though the later novels are considered her masterpieces, to me they ramble and I enjoy her early, breathlessly funny books more. The political bent of WIGS ON THE GREEN gives it a greater heft than her other early novels, so fans of Nancy's later work may appreciate it more than her first, more purely fanciful books.

 

Most of the action in WIGS ON A GREEN takes place in and around the small village of Chalford where Anne-Marie Lace, the Local Beauty, fights boredom by assuming the role of patroness and muse for the town's meager, mercenary artist colony. Lady Marjorie is hiding out, thinly disguised as a commoner, with her friend Poppy while she tries to decide what to do about the duke she just jilted. Work-weary Noel Foster and his freeloading friend Jasper Aspect, based on Nancy's difficult husband Peter Rodd, are both scheming to marry the village's wealthy, politically obsessed heiress. This fanatic heiress, Eugenia Malmain, was inspired by Nancy's sister Unity, who by all accounts was an amazing and paradoxical force of nature.

 

When Nancy had Eugenia climb on an overturned washtub in Chalford's village green to exhort the locals to awake, and save the diminishing prestige of Britain by joining the Union Jackshirt party, it was before anyone knew about the tragedies to come. At the time Unity's obsession with Hitler and fascism just seemed like a great joke to Nancy, and she couldn't resist what she saw as good material for her book.

 

The chance to get a little more insight into Unity Valkyrie Mitford will make WIGS ON THE GREEN irresistible to fans of the Mitford sisters. Unity was a beautiful, intense, larger than life girl, who wore a pet snake around her neck at debutant balls. She became a great admirer of Hitler and through determination and persistence she managed to meet him and become part of his inner circle of friends. In her published letters to her sisters she refers to him as her dear sweet Führer. She shot herself in the head when England and Germany went to war, and died of her wounds in 1948.

 

As shocking as that all sounds, the people who knew Unity adored her. Jessica, the communist Mitford sister, spent most of her life refusing to speak to Diana, the Mitford sister married to British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. But no one in the family, including Jessica, could ever bring themselves to cut Unity out of their life.

 

The five star rating is mainly for those fascinated by the Mitford sisters, but I would still give WIGS ON THE GREEN at least four stars, even for people who have never heard of the Mitford family.