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


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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?