Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.
There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.
‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’
At the centre of Wigs is an heiress, Eugenia – she’s a staunch advocate of ‘social unionism’ and her grandparents are keen to find her a suitable husband. Along comes world-weary Noel Foster and his scheming friend Jasper Aspect, both in search of a meal-ticket. Add a Lady disguised as a commoner; the local beauty who behaves well above her station; and a grand scheme to hold a pageant – and in the tradition of satires, all sorts of shenanigans ensue.
It’s abundantly clear why Nancy’s relationship with her sisters was fractured after the publication of the book – she mercilessly pokes fun at politics and those involved –
“Under the social unionist regime,” said Jasper, “your captain should make a law that all really beautiful houses must be preserved and occupied… so many are being destroyed – allowed to stand derelict or worst of all, handed over to the proletariat, turned into piss-cart counters and ice-cream booths. That is too ignoble. Beautiful houses ought to be a setting for beautiful women, their lovers and perhaps a few frail but exquisite little children.”
‘That evening, Mr Leader was dragged from his bed by masked men wearing Union Jack shirts and flung into an adjacent duck pond. As the weather was extremely hot, he took no chill and suffered nothing worse than a little mortification and the loss of his eau de Nil pyjama trousers’
And there’s no question as to what Nancy’s stance is – ‘When you find school girls like Eugenia going mad for something you can be pretty sure it’s nonsense.’ But politics aside, Wigs of the Green shows off Mitford’s razor-sharp wit, wicked caricatures and snappy dialogue.
Like any good satire, Wigs culminates in a great, final fiasco – horses bolting, pageant costumes gone awry, and couples stealing across lawns at midnight. Jolly good fun.
4/5 Irresistible froth.
‘The artistic young men were getting tired of scrambled eggs and sardines eaten off studio floors. They longed to sit up to a table and attack a joint.’
The artistic young men may be tired of scrambled eggs but I love them.