Speaking of Luxury

I’m reading Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.

I’ve read a few of these light little romps through the 1920’s in upper crust England. They’re fun. But this is the first one I’ve read being told in first person by a female character.

Suddenly, when all the ladies leave the men to their cigars and port, I get up and leave, too. Somehow, I had never before wondered what the women did while we men smoked and drank and discussed politics. Mitford has scratched a curiosity itch that I didn’t know I had. I like it.

On another note, she said that in the old days (meaning 1903?), a maid would creep into the room early in the morning to light the fire as quietly as she could. By the time the lady woke up, the room was too hot. Meanwhile, the hallway and staircase remained freezing.

But now, in the modern days (1922?), they have central heating. Mitford says that they had moved from the age of luxury to the age of comfort. Interesting distinction.

Mitford famously said that upper class people don’t use euphemisms (or, not to the extent that working class people do. I wonder whether she’d consider “working class” to be a euphemism for “lower class.” I guess it is.).

An example would be that people in Upper Class households say that the king “died,” while their servants say that he “passed away.”

I think I read that observation a long time ago and took it to heart, because I really don’t like those kinds of euphemisms. I probably decided as a child to talk like a rich person as much as possible.

[In all these upper crust books of the 20’s, the characters say “they’re talking French,” rather than “they’re speaking French.” Maybe the them, “speaking” would imply that it’s a first language?]

4 Responses to Speaking of Luxury

  1. Jill January 26, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    I have a great book that is similar from the same era. I got it free on the side of the road in Vermont. It’s older than dirt and original. I should let you borrow it, but its up on the bookshelf above the bed… you know, the impossibly high, unreachable one…

  2. weeklyrob January 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    If you remember the name, I might spare someone the pain of trying to reach it. Maybe I’ve already read it!

  3. BruceS January 27, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    I would guess that to Mitford, “lower class” included a lot of “non-working” poor. These are the bums and criminals that she may well not have any intercourse with. Just a guess. The idle rich spend a lot of time with hard-working people, whom some of the rich seemed to see as sort of zoo animals for their entertainment. Tired of gossiping about your peers? Well then, let’s make some broad generalizations about people of entirely another class. Don’t you just hate it when people do that?

  4. weeklyrob January 27, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    As to your last statement, I understand the irony and agree with the sentiment. That is, I suppose that some rich people are nasty, but I doubt that the percentage is higher than in other classes.

    At least with old money, there’s a theoretical idea about noblesse oblige.

    Meanwhile, I’d guess that bums and criminals are their own thing altogether, but who knows.

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