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A Talent To Annoy: Essays, Articles, And Reviews, 1929 1968

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Nancy Mitford was the eldest and most famous of the Mitfords. However, before she shot to fame as a novelist with The Pursuit of Love, she had gathered a huge following with articles pouring drops of acid on the pretensions of the aristocracy. A relentless tease, she wrote brilliant sharp-tongued articles, first for the Lady Magazine owned by her uncle, and then soon there Nancy Mitford was the eldest and most famous of the Mitfords. However, before she shot to fame as a novelist with The Pursuit of Love, she had gathered a huge following with articles pouring drops of acid on the pretensions of the aristocracy. A relentless tease, she wrote brilliant sharp-tongued articles, first for the Lady Magazine owned by her uncle, and then soon thereafter for House & Garden, Vogue, The Times, Sunday Times, New Statesman, Spectator, New York Review of Books and the Atlantic Monthly in the US, as well as other publications. A first small selection of her articles appeared in The Water Beetle (1962), followed in 1986 by a larger selection of recent writings up to 1968. collection of Nancy Mitford's entire career. It aims to establish her as one of the first female journalists with a superb command of stylish invective whose anarchic streak has made her writings pass the test of time with effortless ease.


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Nancy Mitford was the eldest and most famous of the Mitfords. However, before she shot to fame as a novelist with The Pursuit of Love, she had gathered a huge following with articles pouring drops of acid on the pretensions of the aristocracy. A relentless tease, she wrote brilliant sharp-tongued articles, first for the Lady Magazine owned by her uncle, and then soon there Nancy Mitford was the eldest and most famous of the Mitfords. However, before she shot to fame as a novelist with The Pursuit of Love, she had gathered a huge following with articles pouring drops of acid on the pretensions of the aristocracy. A relentless tease, she wrote brilliant sharp-tongued articles, first for the Lady Magazine owned by her uncle, and then soon thereafter for House & Garden, Vogue, The Times, Sunday Times, New Statesman, Spectator, New York Review of Books and the Atlantic Monthly in the US, as well as other publications. A first small selection of her articles appeared in The Water Beetle (1962), followed in 1986 by a larger selection of recent writings up to 1968. collection of Nancy Mitford's entire career. It aims to establish her as one of the first female journalists with a superb command of stylish invective whose anarchic streak has made her writings pass the test of time with effortless ease.

30 review for A Talent To Annoy: Essays, Articles, And Reviews, 1929 1968

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    Enough with the poop that Tom Wolfe (and a few other NY ninnies) started New Journalism in the 60s. Mitford began her journalistic reflections in 1929 and was always personal. But UK jlism has always been superior to US scribbles. Traveling around Europe, (but never to the US, never) she writes for the London Sunday Times: "Athens is probably the ugliest capital in Europe." Can you imagine that line appearing in the NYT? "Furthermore," she adds (1955), "it has the dreadful air of prosperous vu Enough with the poop that Tom Wolfe (and a few other NY ninnies) started New Journalism in the 60s. Mitford began her journalistic reflections in 1929 and was always personal. But UK jlism has always been superior to US scribbles. Traveling around Europe, (but never to the US, never) she writes for the London Sunday Times: "Athens is probably the ugliest capital in Europe." Can you imagine that line appearing in the NYT? "Furthermore," she adds (1955), "it has the dreadful air of prosperous vulgarity that one does not expect to see this side of the Atlantic." Aw, Nancy, why didn't you visit the US? Rome, she avers, "in fact and at heart is a small village with its single post office, single railway station and life centered around the vicarage." The Piazza di Spagna is the village green. She infuriated Romans (1952). She also disses French, British, American chic in a hilarious essay, finds the stupidity of Marie-Antoinette monumental, and, in her famous tease about U and non-U words, reminds us that "wealthy" is non-U for "rich." (As "home" is for "house"). To the GR point she stresses, "As far as I am concerned, all reading is for pleasure."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A cleverly named compendium of Nancy Mitford's short works, I found this book best read in small doses-- not for a negative reason, but to allow her to sink in a bit. This updated edition of Nancy's essays, reviews, and articles is edited by niece Charlotte Mosley, and includes snippets of Nancy's letters to Evelyn Waugh and similar luminaries to introduce each selection. Because she was resident of France during the time she wrote this, many of the books she reviews deal in French Regency histor A cleverly named compendium of Nancy Mitford's short works, I found this book best read in small doses-- not for a negative reason, but to allow her to sink in a bit. This updated edition of Nancy's essays, reviews, and articles is edited by niece Charlotte Mosley, and includes snippets of Nancy's letters to Evelyn Waugh and similar luminaries to introduce each selection. Because she was resident of France during the time she wrote this, many of the books she reviews deal in French Regency history. If you are not interested in the details, these parts may be slow going. But Nancy infuses French history with her own wit and sarcasm; plodding through it will reward you with a few gems of her sharp humor. The famous "U and Non-U" is within; this introduced me to Nancy many years ago and started my great awakening to all things Mitford. I took it quite seriously on first reading (as did many who read it), and when I realized it was a tease from start to finish-- well, to put it in her own words, how I shrieked! If you enjoy a keen wit and sarcasm with your facts, don't miss Nancy Mitford.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Umi

    One of the more fun ones I've read recently. Some genuinely laugh out loud bits, plus you learn that Nancy was commissioned by Ian Fleming to write dispatches from Paris - o, to have been at that business lunch!! One of the more fun ones I've read recently. Some genuinely laugh out loud bits, plus you learn that Nancy was commissioned by Ian Fleming to write dispatches from Paris - o, to have been at that business lunch!!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    I am besotted with the Mitfords. I will read anything about them or by them. It is good thing several of the sisters were prolific and worthwhile authors. "A Talent To Annoy" is a collection of magazine essays by Nancy Mitford written between 1929 and 1968. Her intelligence, irreverent wit, love of history and attention to detail are all on display here. Count me among the multitude who wish I had had the pleasure of knowing Miss Mitford. I am not that lucky, so I will read her instead. I am besotted with the Mitfords. I will read anything about them or by them. It is good thing several of the sisters were prolific and worthwhile authors. "A Talent To Annoy" is a collection of magazine essays by Nancy Mitford written between 1929 and 1968. Her intelligence, irreverent wit, love of history and attention to detail are all on display here. Count me among the multitude who wish I had had the pleasure of knowing Miss Mitford. I am not that lucky, so I will read her instead.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Etta

    I really do believe one either loves or loathes Nancy Mitford. It is an aquired taste, and not everyone can tolerate her prose, which is girlish one moment and vicious the next, if not both at once. I am firmly in the camp which can, and which cannot get enough of it. Her essays and articles are characteristically opinionated and some may find them slightly inflammatory, so if you are easily outraged, give it a miss. I think it highly unlikely that Mitford ever gave a damn about outraging people I really do believe one either loves or loathes Nancy Mitford. It is an aquired taste, and not everyone can tolerate her prose, which is girlish one moment and vicious the next, if not both at once. I am firmly in the camp which can, and which cannot get enough of it. Her essays and articles are characteristically opinionated and some may find them slightly inflammatory, so if you are easily outraged, give it a miss. I think it highly unlikely that Mitford ever gave a damn about outraging people, which is fotunate, because if she did we would be deprived of some truly funny 'teases' as she calls them.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Verity (The Cosy Reading Nest)

    Before reading this book I had only a fleeting knowledge of Nancy Mitford, so I took to Wikipedia to gain a little more of an insight. By all accounts she was a real fire-cracker of a lady. She was the life and soul of the party in her youth as one of the “Bright Young People” on the London scene, and with a kind of temerity and force of character that made her an irrepressible force to be reckoned with. Mitford is best remembered for her novels about Upper-class life in England, but she also pen Before reading this book I had only a fleeting knowledge of Nancy Mitford, so I took to Wikipedia to gain a little more of an insight. By all accounts she was a real fire-cracker of a lady. She was the life and soul of the party in her youth as one of the “Bright Young People” on the London scene, and with a kind of temerity and force of character that made her an irrepressible force to be reckoned with. Mitford is best remembered for her novels about Upper-class life in England, but she also penned several biographies and had a very successful career as a columnist, book reviewer and journalist. Often when I read collections of essays such as this I have to read it alongside a fiction book; the thought of facing so many essays in one go is too dry. I was extremely gratified to find that this is in no way the case with “A Talent to Annoy”. Nancy Mitford is hilariously honest and bold in sharing her feelings about the topics she writes about. She is unrepentant and her voice is so clear; if she didn’t like a book and felt the author was poor, she made her feelings known and consequences be damned! Although she doesn’t sugar-coat her criticisms, there is no sense of bad feeling behind it. Her reviews balance enough humour alongside her honesty to make the overall tone of the piece good natured. She is never mean for the sake of being mean. As well as conveying her wicked humour so deliciously (as perfectly demonstrated in the now infamous “The English Aristocracy” where she playfully expounds on the merits of U versus non-U speak), Mitford delivers thoughtful, emotional essays with just as much aplomb. My favourite essay of the collection, “A Bad Time”, moved Mitford to tears as she was writing it, and very nearly caused me to shed a tear as a reader. In this essay, Mitford takes us through the ill-fated polar expedition of Captain Scott. Each of the key figures of the expedition are introduced wonderfully to the reader, intimate details of their days on their polar journey are shared and by the time the perilous and ultimately tragic end to their journey is described the reader is emotionally invested in the whole tale. Mitford’s own passion and sadness at the story is felt with every line written. Nancy Mitford is one of the most gifted, effervescent and droll writers I have ever read, and this collection of essays is a must read. This review was first published on Nudge-books.com on 25th May 2013.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This is a great collection of articles and reviews written by the incomparable Nancy Mitford over a period of more than 40 years. Her unique voice shines through each of the items some of which are quite short and snappy while others have enough length to them to allow you to really get your teeth into something. I think my favourite articles are those relating to the oddity that is the English Aristocracy as well as the one which explains the 'U or non U' philosophy. Alongside these, which seem This is a great collection of articles and reviews written by the incomparable Nancy Mitford over a period of more than 40 years. Her unique voice shines through each of the items some of which are quite short and snappy while others have enough length to them to allow you to really get your teeth into something. I think my favourite articles are those relating to the oddity that is the English Aristocracy as well as the one which explains the 'U or non U' philosophy. Alongside these, which seem to come direct from one of Mitford's wonderful novels, there are others which seem to be almost preparations of her French history studies as well as others describing some of her travels often to somewhat unexpected places. Her sense of fun and unusual family circumstances crop up throughout the articles, and I cannot help but recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed her other work. The whole book makes for a brilliant and fascinating period piece.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    I bought this second-hand paperback from DASA BookCafe, thinking there might be something worth reading since her essays, journalism, and reviews between 1929-1968 would reveal some interesting unread/unheard information or her unique ideas toward the past or contemporary issues to me, especially in the two decades before 1968. One of the reasons is that a few years ago I enjoyed reading a memoir “Hons and Rebels” by Jessica Mitford, the fifth daughter in the famous Mitford Family having six dau I bought this second-hand paperback from DASA BookCafe, thinking there might be something worth reading since her essays, journalism, and reviews between 1929-1968 would reveal some interesting unread/unheard information or her unique ideas toward the past or contemporary issues to me, especially in the two decades before 1968. One of the reasons is that a few years ago I enjoyed reading a memoir “Hons and Rebels” by Jessica Mitford, the fifth daughter in the famous Mitford Family having six daughters and a son (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitford_...) and we know from this website that Nancy was the eldest sister.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dvora

    While her writing (and her wit) is excellent (I love reading people who have a way with words), I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. I think she was writing for a more literate and better-educated audience than me (or I), so quite a few of her words were beyond me. Then again, that made it all the more gratifying when I did get an oblique (or maybe not so oblique) reference. There was a lot that I liked; the two essays I liked best were The Tourist, and A Bad Time, the agonizing story While her writing (and her wit) is excellent (I love reading people who have a way with words), I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. I think she was writing for a more literate and better-educated audience than me (or I), so quite a few of her words were beyond me. Then again, that made it all the more gratifying when I did get an oblique (or maybe not so oblique) reference. There was a lot that I liked; the two essays I liked best were The Tourist, and A Bad Time, the agonizing story of Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Harry Fulgencio

    I had a good laugh on the last few chapters. What a character she was in real life. The characters in her novels are toned down version of hers. I might need to have the last three chapters (Views; 1968 France Revolution Diary I and II) photo copied for those dreary days here in Holland. It was such a treat. Now off to reading her next masterpiece "Love in a Cold Climate". I had a good laugh on the last few chapters. What a character she was in real life. The characters in her novels are toned down version of hers. I might need to have the last three chapters (Views; 1968 France Revolution Diary I and II) photo copied for those dreary days here in Holland. It was such a treat. Now off to reading her next masterpiece "Love in a Cold Climate".

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I enjoyed this a lot. Of course it's dated now, but that's also part of the fun. Nancy Mitford is very self-aware, so even as she's writing, she's careful to make it clear that she's writing from her point of view, but it's an amusing one. I enjoyed this a lot. Of course it's dated now, but that's also part of the fun. Nancy Mitford is very self-aware, so even as she's writing, she's careful to make it clear that she's writing from her point of view, but it's an amusing one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alan Hughes

    Although this is now very dated it is still very light, humourous and accessible writing. It contains the essay on the British Aristocracy which is a 'good tease' with it pronouncements on U and non-U language. Although this is now very dated it is still very light, humourous and accessible writing. It contains the essay on the British Aristocracy which is a 'good tease' with it pronouncements on U and non-U language.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John

    I was going to give three stars, but there really wasn't bad one in the bunch, perhaps a couple that held my interest less than others (the last couple about the Paris in 1968 were likely au courant at publication, but seemed terribly dated); writing quality was consistently high. I was going to give three stars, but there really wasn't bad one in the bunch, perhaps a couple that held my interest less than others (the last couple about the Paris in 1968 were likely au courant at publication, but seemed terribly dated); writing quality was consistently high.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    This is a collection of newspaper articles by Nancy--including the funny and famous piece about U and non-U (Upper Class and non-Upper Class) speech.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Mader

    Oh, I liked this one. She can write! (And I'm sure she would have been *so* relieved to hear my opinion.) Oh, I liked this one. She can write! (And I'm sure she would have been *so* relieved to hear my opinion.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor Doughty

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tonya (music_city_bibliophile)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Conmey

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michele P. Olender

  20. 5 out of 5

    Badgwendel Badgwendel

  21. 5 out of 5

    Diane

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lheer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lulu Flitton

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  26. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kat Warren

  28. 4 out of 5

    Helen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gisela

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cera

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