Don't ask me to explain the reasons, but lately I've been on a total Mitford tear. I'm currently plowing through as many biographies* as there were sisters** and picking up all sorts of strange phrases.*** As a result of this immersion course, my husband and I have been flinging about Mitfordisms like mad, beginning with "How perfectly extraorders!" and always ending with "Oh, DO admit!"
In print, the sisters present themselves as rather a mixed bag. There's precious little to admire in either Diana or Unity, and Jessica's red-hot firebrand act often wears as thin as Pamela's domestic-goddess routine. But I find the rapport between eldest (novelist Nancy) and youngest (Duchess of Devonshire Deborah) sincerely affecting. Sixteen years' difference in age has little bearing on their favorite shared pastime: mockery, always couched in tones of prickly mutual adoration.
In letters, "Naunce" regularly greets "9" (a special name denoting her estimate of Deborah's permanent mental age) with tart accusations about her delinquency as a correspondent: "I see you have learnt to write in a single night." In turn, Deborah commences all of her missives to Nancy with the same zesty salutation: "Get on." Together they collaborate in ridiculing their mother (whose entire personality they distill to a single inarticulate syllable: "Orrhhn") and members of the Royal Family (in particular Princess Margaret, whose unfortunate taste in shoes earns her the code name Pygmy Peep-a-Toes). Aside from all the epistolary badinage, Deborah's steady affection and devotion to each sister over the decades is truly remarkable. She emerges as the linchpin around whom this tribe of Amazons revolves-- and in the end, it's always 'Debo' (with her lifelong yen for heirloom chickens and Elvis Presley) who wins the lion's share of my love.
So what to wear while Mitfording? I choose Royal Water, a delightful and sophisticated EdC variant from the thoroughly British firm of Creed. Like most eaux I've known, Royal Water is as respectable as a chaperone vetted personally by Mamma. It contains nothing in the least bit compromising to an Honourable's reputation... unless you know the signs to look for, in which case it smuggles in the very sort of cocktail recipe a Bright Young Thing might sample clandestinely whilst the parents are preoccupied with their Corgis.
Begin with equal measures of sweet mandarin, aromatic bergamot, and zesty verbena. To this mimosa-like base, add mint for a welcome chill and juniper berry for a playful allusion to gin fizzes. (When no one's looking, sneak in a shot of aldehydes for a glittering, seltzery lift.) Add a scant teaspoon of superfine sugar and shake well-- softly, so as not to wake Mother. The overall effect is fresh, frank, floral, and feminine, with a pleasant warm-skin-scented drydown perfect for dancing cheek-to-cheek at the most exclusive nightclubs after the absolute hell of one's court presentation is over and done.
It's the only reason one bothers, isn't it? DO admit.
*The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family (Mary S. Lovell); The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (Charlotte Mosley, ed.); Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford (Peter Y. Sussman, ed.); Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford (Leslie Brody); Wait for Me! Memoirs (Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire); Counting My Chickens-- And Other Home Thoughts (Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire). My library overdue fines are going to be EPIC.
**For the sake of keeping a tidy scorecard, there were six-- Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah.
***The Mitfords played at glossolalia the way other people played at badminton-- energetically and competitively. Jessica and Unity developed their own language known as Boudledidge, which no one could understand except Deborah, who dared not speak it herself lest she be convicted of theft. Instead, she and Jessica spoke Honnish, which was most emphatically NOT understood by the Horrible Counter-Hons (namely Diana, Nancy, and their brother Tom). All spoke a drawling dialect peculiar to the British upper-class between the wars-- exaggerated for effect in the Mitford tradition. Jessica lost this faculty after many years of life in America, but in speech only-- never in writing.
Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, peppermint, verbena, basil, cumin, juniper berry, tonka bean, musk, ambergris