Friday, 5 March 2010
A new look for an old Mitford
I am just surfacing from a week of too little sleep and too many deadlines, but this is my reward. Penguin have reissued several Nancy Mitfords with fresh new covers for spring, including Wigs on the Green, which has been out of print for almost 75 years. I've never read it before, despite being a Mitford fan, so I'm curious to discover the novel that she did not want reprinted in her lifetime. First published in 1935, it was Mitford's third novel, and was sufficiently autobiographical to cause a rift with her sisters Diana and Unity. According to the excellent introduction by Charlotte Mosley, the character of Eugenia Malmains is a thinly disguised portrait of Unity, while Captain Jack modeled on Diana's lover and future husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists. When Mitford's publisher asked her to consider reissuing the book in 1951, she refused. "Too much has happened for jokes about Nazis to be regarded as funny or anything but the worst of taste," she wrote to Evelyn Waugh, "so that is out."
Initially, Nancy had hoped that 'Wigs on the Green' might amuse Diana, but this was very far from the case. Charlotte Mosley reveals that 'The main reason for her refusal [to reprint the novel], apart from the jokes about Nazis, was that the book had caused such furious reactions within the Mitford family: Unity threatened never to speak to her again and Diana, who had recently divorced her first husband for Mosley, more or less broke off relations until the end of the war. Added to this, no doubt, was Nancy's unwillingness to revive the memory of Unity's suicide attempt in 1939 and her consequent death in 1948.'
Charlotte Mosley has already proved herself to be an exemplary editor of the Mitford sisters' letters -- every time I dip into her satisfyingly abundant book, I always discover another plum. Here is Nancy's letter to Diana, written from Paris on 4th September 1947:
'Yesterday I stood at Dior for two hours while they moulded me with great wadges of cotton wool & built a coat over the result. I look exactly like Queen Mary -- think how warm though! Ad [a cousin of the Mitfords] says all the English newspapers are on to the long skirts, & sneer. They may, but all I can think of now one will be able to have knickers over the knee. Now I'm nearly fifty I've decided to choose a style & stick to it, & I choose Dior's present collection [Christian Dior's second collection, which kept the nipped waist of the New Look, but had longer and fuller skirts.] Simply, to my mind, perfect... Some French paper has said that Queen Mary's dress for THE wedding [of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip] is to have a huge pocket over the stomach -- what can she being going to put there. Diana [Cooper] says a baby kangeroo...'
Am going to make myself a cup of tea now, toast a hot-cross bun, and read more...