Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green
Nancy Mitford is probably best known for her novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, but recently relatives of Mitford’s have permitted some of her lesser-known novels to be reprinted. One such novel is Wigs on the Green.
During Mitford’s lifetime, it was not reprinted because of a family falling-out regarding its characters who were obviously based on Mitford’s own family. The most controversial character is Eugenia Malmains, the wealthy, lovely and eccentric heiress whose current hobby horse is “social unionism” which essentially is Nazism wrapped in a Union Jack flag. When Mitford was writing Wigs on the Green in the mid 1930s, her sister Unity had essentially joined the Nazi party.
The novel Wigs on the Green offers a surprising glimpse at the attitude in England towards Germany pre-WW II and before Germany’s Nazi movement escalated to the horrors modern people associate with it. That said, Wigs on the Green is a humorous read. Nothing, not even Eugenia’s Union Jack movement, is taken seriously. Mitford again offers such spectacles of humanity like Mrs. Lace, the local beauty bent on greatness and filled with drama, or Jasper Aspect, the charming gentleman without funds who spends his days mooching off his friends and seeking out pleasure. One could easily see a Mrs. Lace or Jasper Aspect in modern-day life.
The action of the book takes place over the course of a few weeks when Noel Foster and Jasper Aspect decide to head to the sleepy town of Chalford to pursue an heiress, Eugenia. Eugenia, being consumed with the Union Jackshirt movement, quickly proves only amusing for her antics and not marriage-material. The action continues when two women come to Chalford one escaping an unwanted marriage with a duke and the other escaping a would-be adulterous husband. When Noel encounters the beautiful Mrs. Lace, they embark on one of the novel’s most ridiculous love affairs. The true entertainment of the novel culminates in a garden party gone awry, which is where the name Wigs on the Green comes from.
Mitford has created a charming, eccentric world that would be perfectly delightful to read, yet is somewhat jarring to a modern audience because of its references to “social unionism”. Still, Wigs on the Green is a character-driven, funny novel that shouldn’t be left on the shelf because of its lack of political correctness.