Books by Nancy Mitford

Released: May 19, 2001

Nancy Mitford, who has already placed a personal cachet on the French aristocracy in its contemporary survival, returns to the age- and the personages who saw its fullest if final effulgence, and the brilliance of court life under Louis XV provides a splendid spectacle to which she brings an indulgent affection. The Pompadour, censured at the time and discredited later, is here restored to grace-not only in her beauty, and the charm which was unaffected by the world to which she rose from bourgeois beginnings, but particularly in her dedicated devotion to her "petit epoux", also a rather irresistible figure here. Her establishment as the unacknowledged consort who replaced the Queen, whose unfashionable, dreary little life of pious pursuits could only bore Louis XV; her increasing influence and power through the years which overrode the hatred of Richelleu and the people ; the much regretted failure of the physical relationship she could not sustain — but the abiding companionship which replaced it; her patronage of artists and intellectuals whom she encouraged and stimulated; her many tastes and interests her houses and gardens; all this provides a portrait of a personality and an era which does not ignore the conduct of political and foreign affairs.... For those who are anticipating the tender malice of her novels- there is none here- her sympathies are wholly engaged, and her native appreciation of grace and elegance is a happy complement. Read full book review >
Released: March 26, 1997

Twenty years (1946-66) of reciprocal, unconditional support between the twin sensibilities and manifestly unlike personalities of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, expressed in a private shorthand of shared history and coined language. Mitford, refreshingly, "can never take [her]self seriously as a femme de lettres" or anything else; Waugh, depressive and dyspeptic, finds her characterological happiness "entirely indecent," and her punctuation "pitiable," but convention is hardly her strong suit. Or his. They write about writing (especially their own) and about politics and economics and money—Waugh unbendingly conservative, Mitford flexibly socialist ("All the poor people in the world & so on. It's terrible to love clothes as much as I do"). But chiefly they write about Society, exchanging news of scandals and slights in their overlapping circles, peevishly keeping tabs on their pets: Cyril Connolly, a.k.a. Smartyboots or just S. Boots; Diana "Honks" Mitford Mosley, the fascist sister; Lady Diana "Honks" (also) Cooper and husband, Duff; Jessica "Dekka" Mitford, the communist sister; cousin Randolph Churchill, not always "on speakers" with Nancy; "Prod," her mostly absentee husband, Peter Rodd; the "Colonel," her mostly absentee lover, Gaston Palewski. Their common references can be suffocatingly precious or jarring—they consistently consider Jews a breed apart. Their contrariness bonds them at least as much and makes for better material: Mitford is a passionate expatriate who settles in France after the war and sprinkles her letters with idiomatic French; Waugh is a resolute Francophobe who tolerates America (which she abhors); he's a father, she's childless. Withal, they seek each other's counsel and salve each other's loneliness irreplaceably. Editor Mosley (wife of Mitford's nephew and editor of Love from Nancy, 1993) orders their high gossip appreciatively and authoritatively, contributing conscientious footnotes, welcome biographical apparatus, and the admonition that the whole correspondence is "to be read as entertainment, not as the unvarnished truth." Best in controlled doses. Quite the battle of wits. Read full book review >
Released: May 8, 1987

The supersnob Brit for the ages in some sparkling journalism, most of which has already appeared in other books long out of print. The poor title, a play on Noel Coward's self-praising "talent to amuse," does Mitford an injustice. At her best, she was champagne-funny and infectious in her enthusiasms. Her pop bios of royalty were stunningly inaccurate, yet irresistibly zestful. Her articles on France, here reprinted from the London Times, make Janet Flanner's far more celebrated accounts seem positively dull. Her acid wit on analyzing upper- and non-upper-class behavior remains very amusing, as are comments like "The shrieks of eight tiny children who play in my courtyard reached such a pitch that I began to long for the days when germ warfare will be within the reach of us all." Unfortunately, Mitford's bitchily anti-Semitic jokes exchanged with friends like Evelyn Waugh are not in any way addressed by the editor; this is an important point, as Mitford's anti-Semitism was very real, differing only in degree from the open adoration of Hitler and the Nazis displayed by her sisters Unity and Diana. This major flaw apart, the pieces themselves retain their sparkle. A fine appreciation of E.F. Benson's Lucia novels is joined by a diary of a Paris "Revolution" as stuffy as anything Marie Antoinette might have imagined. Still, at her best, which she is in some of these essays, Mitford is amusing indeed. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 14, 1970

Somehow the powdered entrees and escritoire intrigue of the Sun King's court in Miss Mitford's (1966) presentation tire easier and jollier to trace than the drearier finagling which accompanied Frederick the Great's several military/political endeavors. However the author makes the most of that remarkable 18th century ruler's most striking attributes and accomplishments. Consistently harassed in the late years of his gout-ridden mad rather, King Frederick William (the "Soldier King"), it is a wonder Frederick survived at all. In fact, in his youth he believed for a time he would be executed for desertion from the restrictive, even brutal royal close. Not surprisingly an admirer of French culture (his father had laid about with an ever-present cane at the mention of France), Frederick was a strenuous admirer of Voltaire and their uneasy relationship throughout the years reflected the formidable strengths and tetchy vanities of both. Frederick was not fond of the company of women (there is no exhaustive scrutiny of his sexual proclivities here) and perhaps bis favorite females were his sister Wilhelmine and the tough old adversary, Maria Teresa of Hungary. ("He had fought her but had never been her enemy.") Frederick's literary output (including the "anti-Machiavellian" treatise on government, philosophy and military sciences) his compositions and performances on the flute, his interest in education are not really scrutinized here with any fascinated attention and this is more of an accounting than a portrait. However, with 48 pages of color plates, 130 halftones, this will probably shadow the Sun King's path. Read full book review >
THE SUN KING by Nancy Mitford
Released: Oct. 3, 1966

Among the potted orange trees of Versailles, the incredible abundance of architectural invention, the glowing richness of the decorative arts originating in the reign of Louis XIV of France, Miss Mitford has discovered a turbulence of personalities — warring to playful mistresses; competent to anxious ministers; a variegated royal family; a likeable gardener; a core of career courtiers; doctors faithfully bleeding and excising royal patients; and the king himself, vigorous, brilliant in aspect, courageous, ruthless, assured of his semi-divinity. There are innumerable portraits, but the author delights in confrontations, a lively brew of personalities in situ — the king's ladies packed in a carriage, miserably bumping and banging along on one of his excursions; a tearful reconciliation with the eclipsed mistress, Louise de La Valliere, Mme. de Montespan and a regretful King; terrible operations and birthings with doctors hastening the departing; scandals involving poisons and murder; the king's religious discoveries. Handsomely and lavishly illustrated with 56 plates in color and 131 monochrome, this is a witty and graceful illumination of a fabulous community, and some remarkable personalities making their way in a difficult, circumscribed and yet exhilarating world. A lovely book—for gift, history and art shelves. Read full book review >
THE WATER BEETLE by Osbert Lancaster
Released: Jan. 1, 1962

These short pieces, some of which have had English newspaper and American magazine appearance, provide fastidious, casual, and altogether agreeable random reading. They range from Nancy Mitford's childhood and the retinue of Nannies and in particular the fondly remembered Blor, to her own taste in reading, to travels- Russia, Greece where everything is either "wonderful or horrible", Ireland and France, to figures from many centuries: Mme. de Rambouillet and other ladies whose salons set the cultural ton of their times; Louis XV and the Duc de Saint-Simon (the Francophile penchant is predictable); but then also the English diarist August Hare and a moving postscript to the last of the great classic explorations, Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. The pleasure of her company continues and few can fail to enjoy Miss Mitford's elegant apercus and considerable charm. Read full book review >
DON'T TELL ALFRED by Nancy Mitford
Released: April 3, 1961

Fanny and Alfred (of Love in a Cold Climate — 1949) shake off their Oxford seclusion when Alfred is called from his chair of Pastoral Theology to become, as Sir Wincham, the British Ambassador in Paris. That they follow the eccentric, glittering Sir Louis and Lady Leone starts them off on a very left foot, but, throughout a complex of ill-guided incidents and actions, they do accomplish their mission for key-noting sobriety and security. Their grown sons, Basil and David, create unexpected situations, the reporter Amyas Mockbar gives them the full blacklist treatment, Fanny's young and devastating secretary Northey swims in and out of international entanglements while Fanny's flighty relations — Uncles Davey and Matthew- help to salvage almost irretrievable errors. Crises of French governments falling, the issue of Les Isles Miniquiers, the erratic escapades of Fanny's younger sons which end in a mobbing of the Embassy (for a teen-age singer but which is thought to be a demonstration for Alfred) keep this on a farcical plane which lacks the bite that would make it noteworthy. Miss Mitford does however observe, turns a noticeable phrase, limns a fast character sketch, and has an eye for delicate diplomacy and social elegance — all of which could be used to better advantage. Still pretty good caviar. Read full book review >
VOLTAIRE IN LOVE by Nancy Mitford
Released: Feb. 21, 1957

A portrait of Voltaire, from late youth to his middle years-and not as a "toothless old man in a rage", is based on some new, revealing correspondence, and shaped- as one might expect- by Miss Mitford's taste for an era of intellectual distinction and worldly elegance. However, Voltaire, in his own words- or Miss Mitford's, is never really a lover. The long (16) years of his relationship with Emilie, Madame du Chatelet, begin with a mutuality of intellectual interests as they pursue their "amours philosophiques", thin out into the dependence of habit. Emilie, certainly a more passionate creature than Voltaire, always retains her proprietary interest and sometimes selfish control over him-while indulging in other affairs. Voltaire spends a great deal of his emotional energies in endless, ill-natured literary wrangles-and is seduced away from Emilie by the patronage of Frederick of Prussia. Toward the close of the long attachment, he finds himself an "old, ill man", too old for love- with Emilie- but susceptible to his young, widowed niece. And Emilie, the victim of her rather ridiculously headlong attraction to a new lover- becomes pregnant and dies at 44..... If Miss Mitford keeps her distance- and the reader's- from those engaged in all this fond, foolish philandering- she is always a civilized commentator and adds polish and irony to this age of reason. Read full book review >
Released: July 25, 1956

A transatlantic import consists of six pieces, along with an introduction by Russell Lynes, and primarily Nancy Mitford's article The English A which had an aroused and/or amused response, led to more than one tempest in and over the tea cups, and even provoked the cover on Punch with the device Snoblesse Oblige. Miss Mitford's article, which was based in turn on Professor Ross' "essay in sociological linguistics" on (upper class) versus Non-U parlance, widened the inquiry from the unintentional lgarities and unforgivable vulgarisms of speech to a discussion of other manifestations of pedigreed behavior. Evelyn Waugh delivers a teasing rebuke; the anonymous "Strix" has his word to say on Posh Lingo an unfortunate institution "like lorgnettes to be used to outface non-U speakers"; Christopher ykes has his projection of T-speech; and John Betjeman's concluding poem which includes all the tattle tale words of the unfortunate Non-U user in very funny.... The Honble. Mrs. Peter Rodd's (Nancy Mitford) social cartography, her trifling proprieties and prohibitions will not cause more than pause to wonder at this classy bit of class consciousness but she has a certain cachet, as do the other stylish contributors. Those who liked the Stephen Potter books and Russell Lynes' Snobs, will certainly enjoy this. Read full book review >
THE BLESSING by Nancy Mitford
Released: Oct. 1, 1951

An expert entertainment which applies a gentle goad of social satire, proceeds wit and elegance through the domestic drama of Charles-Edouard de Valhubert and his tish bride, Grace, and also airs some antipodal national attitudes as the flexible ity of the French meets a cold rebuff across the Channel. Married precipitously and uptly during the war, Grace is not to see Charles-Edouard for seven years, and during time bears and rears "the blessing", Sigi. With her husband's return, Grace and and his Nanny are taken first to the provinces, then to Paris, where Nanny eyes the and the plumbing with indignant disapproval, while Grace feels ill-equipped and ill ? in the salons of haute couture and high society. First dubious, then unable to rlook some prima facie evidence of Charles-Edouradle infidelities, Grace returns to England- and Sigi divides his time between them. Escaping from the nursery for the first , Sigi is indulged by prospecting, prospective stepmothers, is thoroughly spoiled, is determined to keep his parents apart and attentive to him, while Grace spends several miserable months at home. But Sigi's stratagems are discovered, and Grace softens, her own sake, for Sigi's, and for Charles-Edouard ("forced to go to bed at the most convenient times" with other wives)... A profitable pleasure to sell- which the Book the Month selection will stimulate. Read full book review >
Released: July 8, 1949

With less of the charm and debonair gaiety of Pursuit of Love, this approximates more closely social satire and is a delicately devastating portrait of the British aristocracy. As told by Fanny Logan, the most natural note in the narrative, this concerns several families of imposing bloodlines and often erratic eccentricity, particularly the Montdores whose only daughter Polly is Fanny's close friend. Lady Montdore, with her gimlet eye toward the rest of the world and her aggrieved attitude towards Polly, is a redoubtable figure, while Polly, whose beauty does not conceal her indifference towards the men she should attract, is quietly hostile towards her mother's social and marital ambitions for her. With the death of her aunt, Polly marries her uncle, a tired reprobate, is promptly disinherited by the irate Lady Montdore. It is Cedric, a cousin from Nova Scotia, imported as Polly's successor, who- though a nance- brings back warmth and splendor to the Montdores' lonely lives, accomplishes Lady Montdore's radiant rejuvenation... A portrait of an era, a class, a tradition which is always amusing and accomplished- but which lacks the engaging, endearing (presumably more popular) qualities of the first. Read full book review >