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On this day in history in 1904, was born Nancy Mitford.
Mitford was an author who wrote amusing novels on upper class life, and coined the expressions 'U' and 'non-U'.
Nancy Freeman-Mitford was born on 28th November 1904, in London, the daughter of the 2nd Baron Resedale, an eccentric individual, the basis for the character of Uncle Matt, in The Pursuit of Love. Nancy was the eldest of six sisters, each of whom achieved fame or notoriety. Her sister, Diana, married Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists, at a ceremony at the home of Joseph Goebbels, a leading Nazi. Jessica eloped with Esmond Romilly, a leading communist and a nephew of Winston Churchill. Pamela married Derek Jackson, a scientist and jockey. Unity became infatuated with Hitler, who called her ‘a perfect specimen of Aryan womanhood’, and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany. Deborah married Andrew Cavendish, later 11th Duke of Devonshire.
All the Mitford sisters were home educated as befits the daughters of the aristocracy. In 1933, Nancy married Peter Rodd, youngest son of the 1st Baron Rennell, British ambassador to Italy and, so it is said, erstwhile lover of Oscar Wilde. The marriage was not a success, Rodd had numerous affairs and Nancy had an affair with Colonel Gaston Palewski, a French soldier and politician, and a confidante of General de Gaulle.
Nancy wrote several biographies of distinguished French aristocrats, including Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire in Love and The Sun King. She was, however, better known for her satirical novels concerning the antics of the British upper class, including The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, and Don’t tell Alfred. In Noblesse Oblige, she identified the distinction in linguistic usage, between those people who are upper class (U), and those who are not (non-U). Some of the distinctions are obvious. ‘U’ people say “luncheon, knave and looking-glass’, while ‘Non-U’s say ‘dinner, jack and mirror’. But it was not apparent at the time that ‘U’s say ‘mad, jam and rich’, while ‘Non-U’s say ‘mental, preserve and wealthy’.
In 1972, Nancy was made a CBE, and was appointed to the French Legion d’honneur. She died in Versailles on 30th June 1973, and was buried in Swinbrook with sisters, Unity, Dianna and Jessica. [St Mary’s Church, Pebble Court, Swinbrook, Oxfordshire, OX18 4DY]
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