Top positive review
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Not perfect, but worth reading
on 25 November 2010
Although I enjoyed this book, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I thought I would. But that's more due to expectations - I expected it to be a really biting, vicious, no-holds-barred satire on British Fascism in the 1930s.
Instead the satire is done in a more gentle, good-humoured way. Aside from the ending, which trailed off rather than ending with a bang, it's still quintessential Nancy Mitford. So thank goodness it's finally available after being out of print since the 1930s.
The introduction by Charlotte Mosley explains a lot: Mitford had to be careful not to libel her brother-in-law Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists (with his `Blackshirt' followers - `Jackshirts' in the novel). The year before its publication, Mosley had won 5000 pounds in damages in a libel suit, so this was no idle threat.
Mosley states that Mitford had to excise material dealing with her character Captain Jack, modelled on Mosley: "Nancy refused to abandon the book but she did agree to remove nearly everything directly relating to Captain Jack - some three chapters altogether". Wigs on the Green would no doubt have been a lot less lightweight if they had been in it, and would also have been longer than 170 pages. I was left wondering whether Mitford may have been disappointed that she wasn't able to do more with the ripe-for-satire material that was available to her, if only family, politics and concerns about libel hadn't forced her to exercise caution, or remove parts of the book altogether.
There's still plenty of her trademark humour. For example, the beliefs of Lady Chalford, modelled on her mother, are described as follows: "She went to church herself, of course, feeling it a patriotic duty so to do, but she had no personal feelings toward God, whom she regarded as being, conjointly with the King, head of the Church of England." This is similar to a comment that Mitford made in an essay called `Blor', in which she wrote, "My parents were ultra-conservative and Church of England, with the emphasis on England. They went to church regularly, in order to support the State."
Her portrait of the under-educated, over-enthusiastic, fascism-obsessed Eugenia Malmains is also brilliant. It's not hard to see why her sisters Unity and Diana were not happy about the book. Mitford wrote to Diana that Wigs on the Green was "far more in favour of Fascism than otherwise", but I doubt anyone, including herself, believed that for a moment.