Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace

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Friday, May 13, 2022

The Longest Running Magazine in England



Before Nancy Mitford was a novelist, she worked for the magazine The Lady, which is the longest running magazine in England, and still publishes today. 


The magazine was founded in 1885 by her maternal grandfather, Thomas Bowles. He gave Nancy's father his first job as the general manager of the magazine as well, and her mother, owning a percentage of the magazine after his passing, collected a steady income from it.


Nancy was a regular contributor to articles on fashion, etiquette, society news etc... The magazine hosted famous writers, including Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland).


There is a quote on The Lady website from a 1945 article titled, Cosmetics in Prison, that says: "Now that the use of cosmetics is so general, a woman deprived of them may find their absence demoralising." I can't help but wonder who wrote this, and who it might have been intended for, considering Nancy's sister Diana was imprisoned during this time for her dangerous relationships to fascists. (You can read more about that in The Mayfair Bookshop!)

Friday, May 6, 2022

How One Famous Socialite Volunteered During WWII


During WWII, novelist Nancy Mitford did quite a lot voluntary service to her country, in addition to working at the famous bookshop, Heywood Hill, where she entertained writers and bibliophiles alike in her makeshift salon, “Club Nancy,” along with sharing the love of books with those left in London.

While two of her sisters were actively courting friendship with Hitler, Nancy doubled down on her patriotic duties to Great Britain. She spent a very short time as an ARP ambulance driver during the Blitz which resulted in a small accident. Considering that there was a blackout at night in London during the blitz, her volunteering to drive was quite brave. All lights were extinguished during this time, and no headlamps were allowed to be used on vehicles, which of course resulted in an increase in accidents.


After the accident, Nancy sought a different type of service. She worked in a first aid post in Picadilly, rolling bandages and assisting those who came in needing aid, but she also used a blue indelible pencil to write identifying information on bodies that came in after the Luftwaffe attacks. 


She had a brief stint as a BBC broadcaster, teaching the people of London how to put out fires. However, listeners found her voice to be irritating enough that they wrote into the BBC complaining about it and asking that she be replaced. That didn't stop Nancy from aiding her fellow Brits. She also served on the fire watch herself, often at night after a long shift at Heywood Hill. 


When her family’s home, Rutland Gate, was used as a billet for about 70 Jewish refugees from the East End of London, she took up the care and running of the household and its new inhabitants. This included getting everyone's rations, making sure the house was maintained, making appointments for the refugees healthcare, etc... 


And, perhaps most intriguing of all, when a friend at the war office asked for her help in spying on the French who’d recently come to London, Nancy didn’t hesitate. She made friends with the Free French officers and got herself invited to their club so she could listen in on their conversations.


The resiliency of those on the home front during WWII has always fascinated me, and I made sure to add Nancy's service to my historical novel, THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP, to highlight that she was much more than the scandalous socialite she’s often made out to be. Nancy had a big heart, which was much too often broken.

To dig in further into Nancy's and her family's participation in WWII, including the two sisters who were cozy with Hitler, order the book today!



The Mayfair Bookshop: A Novel Of Nancy Mitford And The Pursuit Of Happiness…


From USA Today bestselling author Eliza Knight: a brilliant dual-narrative story about Nancy Mitford—one of 1930s London’s hottest socialites, authors, and a member of the scandalous Mitford Sisters—and a modern American book curator desperate for change, connected through time by a little London bookshop.


1938: She was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly sparkling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping to make ends meet, and discovers a new life.


Present Day: When book curator Lucy St. Clair lands a gig working at Heywood Hill she can’t get on the plane fast enough. Not only can she start the healing process from the loss of her mother, it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author.  Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways. 


Order your copy!

Personalized Signed Copies: https://www.sykesvillebooks.com/eliza-knight

Harpercollins: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop

Bookshop: https://bit.ly/TheMayfair_Bookshop

IndieBound: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BuyIndie

Books-a-Million: bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BAM

Amazon Print: https://bit.ly/MayfairBookshop

Amazon Ebook: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Ebook

Amazon Canada: https://bit.ly/MayfairBookshop_CA

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BN

Kobo: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Kobo

Apple: https://apple.co/3AhR8fV

Chapters: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Chapters

Audible: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Listen



Friday, February 25, 2022

Cafe de Paris: One of the Hottest Night Clubs of London


The Cafe de Paris opened in 1924 and was a swanky club in London for food, dancing, music, and drinks for decades. Big bands, famous singers, cabaret dancing, every night was designed with the partying patron in mind.

Headlining the evening's entertainment were some of the biggest stars, like Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich. Famous American dancer Louise Brooks danced on stage for season. It wasn’t unusual to have a Royal sighting or two since it was a favorite of the princes in the 1920s and 30s--and they may in fact have learned the Charleston while spending a night out on town at the club Even the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret made their way to the club, with Prince Philip who was a fan of the hot spot.

Check out this video for a little view inside the club in1929.









In the 1920s the club was a favorite spot for Fred Astaire and his sister Adele (which you will see in my forthcoming 2023 novel THE OTHER ASTAIRE). Nancy Mitford, one of the Bright Young Things spent plenty of time at the club as well with her friends (which again, you will see in my forthcoming novel THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP).

During WWII because the ballroom was below ground people still felt safe living it up when London was under attack (with constant daily bombings they needed to let off steam!) The club management lowered the prices so the club could be enjoyed by more people, including uniformed service members home on leave and needing to blow off steam.




However they weren’t as safe as they thought. The club was destroyed in 1941 when two bombs fell down the ventilation shaft and blew out the basement ballroom, killing dozens—including the musician playing that night, Snakehips—and injuring even more.



The club remained closed for the duration of the war, opening only after heavy renovations and rebuilding in 1948, as did most of London. 

Sadly it closed in late 2020 due to the pandemic and announced they would not be reopening.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Nancy Mitford's U and Non-U Idiom

 

My copies of books that contain Nancy's
articles on U and Non-U.

Context is everything -- and I'm not just saying that because it is apparently my greatest strength according to a test I just took.

In 1955, Nancy Mitford was asked to write an article about the English aristocracy. She thought it was silly, and was uncertain if she would agree. In fact, she wrote a letter to a family friend, Violet Hammersley, and said: 

"Can't quite decide, but if I do it will contain volleys of teases."

Anyone familiar with Nancy knew her wit and witticisms. She was dry, and people didn't often understand her sarcasm. They thought her cruel or snobbish, but I find her fascinating and hilarious.

Nancy did decide to write the article, and she sure did add in a lot of teases.

But, when printed on paper without the benefit of facial expression, or even a small laugh, and especially without being familiar with Nancy on a personal level, a teasing opinion of her own "upperclass" was taken out of context, and in fact caused quite a stir.

One of the elements she included in the article was the U versus Non-U idioms. U stands for Upperclass, and Non-U is Non-Upperclass. In her article she states that she spoke with Professor Ross from Birmingham University, explicitly so that she would not be accused of snobbishness, and that no one would dare accuse a professor. I find this to be rather clever and very "Nancy" of her. But people took all of this incredibly seriously. In fact, they still talk about it today, and they've updated her list for more modern use, AND--no one talks about Professor Ross, even though his list inspired hers.

So what are some examples of U and Non-U?

According to Nancy (and Professor Ross):

Napkin (U) vs Serviette (Non-U)

Bike (U) vs Cycle (Non-U)

Sick (U) vs Ill (Non-U)

Lavatory Paper (U) vs Toilet Paper (Non-U)

House (U) vs Home (Non-U)

In Noblesse Oblige, which Nancy edited, she included her article and then one one written by Professor Ross, which expands on the U vs. Non-U. 

Looking glass (U) vs. Mirror (Non-U)

Jam (U) vs Preserves (Non-U)

Rich (U) vs Wealthy (Non-U)

Additionally added to Noblesse Oblige, was her friend Evelyn Waugh's printed response to her English aristocracy article. At the time people saw it as a public rebuke of her, but if you knew how close the two of them were, how very sarcastic they were with each other, then you'd see beyond the actual language to the context beneath which was a teasing reply in itself. 

His response opens with: 

"Were you surprised that your article on the English aristocracy caused such a to-do? I wasn't. I have long revered you as an agitator--agitatrix, agitateuse?--of genius." 

I mean who would read that and think he was serious? Well, I suppose it would be people who didn't know them and those who were already irate about her teasing article to begin with. 

The funny thing is, Nancy laughed later that she did use mirror and several other Non-U words in her novels. And I think it's even more funny that to this day, 70+ years later, people are still taking it so seriously.


When I was writing my novel, THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP, I did a lot of studying of language and "Mitford idiom", because Nancy and her siblings had a singular way of speaking, and I wanted it to come across as authentic in my novel. It wasn't just the U vs. Non-U, they had a lot of words they used that were different than others, some from their own language called Boudledidge, and some just an over-exaggeration of English words like wondair for wonder. They also spoke with a very posh sounding accent that the youngest Deborah remarked on it being irritating even to her sometimes, and that got Nancy removed from a BBC series was hosting. I really enjoyed the deep dive, and I hope you've had some fun reading about the different words.

So, tell me, are you more of a luncheon person or a mid-day dinner? Guess which is U and Non-U!


Monday, February 14, 2022

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! 




What *is* this day we celebrate every February 14th with cards, chocolates, flowers and words of love? Believe it or not, this day of love is not something drummed up by modern culture. In fact it’s been around for hundreds of years. There is not one specific Saint Valentine that can be attributed to the holiday as the Catholic Church recognizes three sainted Valentine’s, all martyred. Here is where legends come in to form where the celebration of love was derived on this saint day. 

 

One legend states that in Rome, Emperor Claudius II (3rd century) banned young men from marrying so he could use them as soldiers to fight his wars. A local priest named Valentine rebelled by secretly marrying young couples in love.  When his treachery was discovered, he was executed.

 

Yet, another legend decrees that Valentine while in prison sent the first Valentine’s card himself to a woman who was his beloved, and signed it, “From Your Valentine”.

 

Why February? Some suggest it is because this is the anniversary of Valentine’s death. Others say that it is because when the Roman’s were trying to convert Pagans to Christianity, they chose a date that coincided with the Lupercalia Festival (a festival celebrated between February 13th and 15th that was meant to chase away evil spirits to release health and fertility.) Judging from how many Christian holidays and saint days fall on or around Pagan celebration days, it would be my guess that the latter was the beginning of it, and the legends created afterward—but that is only my opinion.

 

It was in the year 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared that February 14th was Saint Valentine’s Day.

 

It is said prior to Chaucer that links to Saint Valentine and February celebrations were mostly about sacrifice and not love. In 1382, Chaucer recorded what is noted as the first indication of Valentine’s Day being romantic. Now, is that to say that there were not previous stories told? No. It just means this is the first piece recorded and used as evidence of an origin date. The problem with history is that we are only as good as the facts we have on hand…

 

Here is what Chaucer wrote in Parlement of Foules (yr. 1382):

“For this was on seynt Volantynys dayWhan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

(Translates as: For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.”)

Perhaps this is where we get the term, “love birds”?


The oldest Valentine’s Day card still in existence today, was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. He wrote the poem for his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt (French and English battle took place in Agincourt, France—English, by what some deem a miracle, won.). The card can be seen at the British Library in London, as part of the manuscript collection. Here is an excerpt:

 

Je suis desja d'amour tannéMa tres doulce Valentinée...

 

(Translates as: I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine.)

 

Shakespeare, in the 16th century, even noted the love-day holiday in his play, Hamlet (Act IV, Scene 5)

 

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,All in the morning betime,And I a maid at your window,To be your Valentine.Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,And dupp'd the chamber-door;Let in the maid, that out a maidNever departed more.

 

In the 17th century Valentine’s Day became even more popular, another chance for not only courtly love to endure, but every one to celebrate love and romance. By the 1700’s pre-made cards became available for purchase. In strict contrast to the romantic period of the 15th and 16th centuries, during the 18th and 19th centuries, expressing ones emotions was frowned upon. Cards that were already made with devotions and admonishments were eagerly grabbed up and given to those who wanted to share romance and love.

 

 

In the 1840’s mass-printed Valentine’s Day cards became available in the United States when Esther A. Howland created her beribboned, laced cards.

 

One of my ALL TIME favorite poems about love was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (and one of the reasons I took 18th and 19th century Lit in college), here it is:

 

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

 

How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being an ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

 

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,- I love thee with the Breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!- and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

 


So, for those of you who are skeptics that Valentine’s Day was created to make those in the flower, chocolate, card and jewelry business money, YOU’RE WRONG. While those industries may very well benefit every February, this traditional holiday of expressing one’s romantic feelings dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. For those of you who can’t wait to find the perfect card, or to write the most wondrous poem, I bow to you. Keep the tradition alive and celebrate love to the fullest!  But most of all, celebrate that we have the ability to love, and that in this modern age, we can voice it if we want to.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!  What will you do on this special day?

Monday, November 29, 2021

THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP Giveaway

My wonderful publisher, William Morrow, is giving away a print copy of The Mayfair Bookshop: A Novel Of Nancy Mitford And The Pursuit Of Happiness




USA Today bestselling author Eliza Knight a brilliant dual-narrative story about Nancy Mitford—one of 1930s London’s hottest socialites, authors, and a member of the scandalous Mitford Sisters—and a modern American desperate for change, connected through time by a little London bookshop.


1938: She was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly sparkling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping to make ends meet, and discovers a new life.


Present Day: When book curator Lucy St. Clair lands a gig working at Heywood Hill she can’t get on the plane fast enough. Not only can she start the healing process from the loss of her mother, it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author.  Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways. 


The contest ends tomorrow. If you want to enter, click here.


Pre-Order your copy!

Harpercollins: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop

Bookshop: https://bit.ly/TheMayfair_Bookshop

IndieBound: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BuyIndie

Books-a-Million: bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BAM

Amazon Print: https://bit.ly/MayfairBookshop

Amazon Ebook: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Ebook

Amazon Canada: https://bit.ly/MayfairBookshop_CA

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_BN

Kobo: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Kobo

Chapters: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Chapters

Audible: https://bit.ly/TheMayfairBookshop_Listen


Add THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP to your reading lists!

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/Read_TheMayfairBookshop

BookBub: https://bit.ly/Share_TheMayfairBookshop



Praise For The Mayfair Bookshop…


"Eliza Knight’s wonderfully descriptive novel is a window into the riveting life of Nancy Mitford, not as an untouchable socialite, but as a woman who has her share of struggles on a very real, very relatable level—an absolute must read!"

— Madeline Martin, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London


"The force of nature that was Nancy Mitford dazzles in The Mayfair Bookshop, first as one of society's 'bright young things' between the World Wars and then as a wildly successful writer. Both Nancy's razor-sharp wit and hidden heartaches make for riveting reading!" 

— Stephanie Marie Thornton, USA Today bestselling author of A Most Clever Girl


"Knight brings vividly to life the war years, the troubling associations of Nancy Mitford's aristocratic family, and the ripple effect of their misdeeds throughout England and beyond. A rich portrait of a fascinating woman, The Mayfair Bookshop hits all the right notes: intrigue, great heart, and hope. Not to be missed!"

— Heather Webb, USA Today bestselling author of The Next Ship Home 


"Eliza Knight’s The Mayfair Bookshop takes readers into the legendary Nancy Mitford’s head, and more importantly her heart...Twining two timelines together, Knight reminds us that women and books have the power to shape the world, and we have the power to forge our own destinies—even in times of extreme adversity."

— Sophie Perinot, award-winning author of Medici's Daughter


Monday, June 7, 2021

Mitford Family Pets

I've been familiar with the Mitford family since college, when I first read Nancy Mitford The Pursuit of Love and then just had to go on a deep dive into the infamous family.

For the past nearly two years, I've had the pleasure of digging even further into the family while researching my forthcoming novel THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP.

Side note here, I am SO EXCITED for this book to release, and I will be sharing all of the details here on History Undressed soon, including the cover! The novel is a dual timeline with a modern day book curator who has a connection to Nancy, and then the second point of view is Nancy herself. I've had some really great feedback from early readers!

So back to my topic today...

The Mitfords LOVED their pets. Nancy had a number of dogs, and loved French bulldogs so much, as did most of the family. There are so many fun stories about their pets when they were going up of which they had a veritable menagerie. In the family photo below you can see a couple of cute pets. Nancy is in the top row, sitting down on the left with her dog.

Not shown were the chickens, ponies, goats, etc... Several of Nancy's dogs make appearances in THE MAYFAIR BOOKSHOP. I'm a sucker for dogs, what can I say?

Fun pet fact...
Unity Mitford, on the left in the bottom row with two braids (also later in life to be a friend, and rumored mistress to Hitler), also had a pet rat named Ratular, that she would sneak into debutante balls along with her snake Enid to torment the other girls. Nice, right?

I tried to find a picture of her with her rat but alas, I have had no luck. I know I've seen it somewhere, so when I find it, I will update!

Do you have any pets? I have a Newfie, a lab/newf mix, a turtle and a hermit crab <3