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Noblesse Oblige: An Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy Hardcover – October, 1995


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 114 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Univ Pr (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192827073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192827074
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,219,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Nancy Mitford (1904-73), born in London, was the daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale. She became well known for her novels The Pursuit of Love (1945), Love in a Cold Climate (1949), The Blessing (1951), and Don't Tell Alfred (1960). After World War II she moved to France and wrote biographies of Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire, Louis XVI, and Frederick the Great. As one of the essayists in and the editor of Noblesse Oblige (first published 1956) she helped to establish the 'U' (upper-class) and 'non-U' classification of linguistic usage and behaviour. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Megan on November 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Americans think that "My Fair Lady" is sort of a joke, akin to pulling someone with a Jeff Foxworthy redneck accent out of West Virginia and teaching him to talk like a Connecticut River Valley Knickerbocker. I always thought so too, until I actually lived in England and married a Brit. America is such a big country, but we have so few accents... unlike England where a native can tell what street in which city you grew up on just by hearing your voice! The system is so concrete that it is impossible to fake out anyone who "knows."

This is a sort of difficult book for Americans to read, because we don't really understand just how important language is as a social and class divide in England. It is still the case, but when Ms. Mitford's essay was first published it was even more concrete. At times, I grew a little bored of the book because even though I understand that it is a big deal over there, the democratic American spirit in me doesn't particularly like or appreciate it.

The book consists of Ms. Mitford's essay, and several supplemental and follow-up essays and letters about it. It is worth a read if you are interested in class in England, or in linguistics (though keep in mind that it's best described as "anecdotal linguistics" and not as a real academic study). However, it is rather snobby at times, though she tries to cover this up with her considerable sarcasm and wit, and Americans who haven't witnessed firsthand the language snobbery that goes on over the pond might be confused.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By I. Hakala on February 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I found the book very humorous. It was contridictory to many of the current
standards, however quite insightful as to the nature of the cyclical patterns of the
"Upper Class". I would recommend it for anyone interested in
linguistics and the different subjective views of what is correct or incorrect.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are interested in what the British Aristocracy is all about, or more specifically, what are the external signs of an aristocrat, try to get your hands on a copy of this book. It is a lively exploration of the quaint turns of phrase, social peculiarities, and other habits that identify the British upper-classes (charmingly referred to as U), as distinguished from the lower-classes (non-U).

As the title suggests, what makes an aristocrat is a sense of Noblesse Oblige, or the obligation of the nobility to put his high position at the service of those beneath him, and at the service of the common good. That being said, there is always a je ne sais quoi about the fictional and non-fictional characters of the Aristocracy that make them sometimes irresistible and other times loathsome, but always fascinating, and often extremely funny.

If you simply want to know for the sake of idle curiosity--or if you want to avoid the blunders (beginning with audible self-promotion and ending with obnoxious table manners) that might make the occasional aristocrat you run into at a dinner party either enjoy your conversation (think of Elizabeth Bennet) or avoid you like the plague, (think of Mr. Collins) you will enjoy this book.

If you are a sociologist studying the nature of class-distinctions which the human race routinely creates (in spite of every attempt to prevent it) than you will REALLY enjoy this book.

If, on the other hand, the very thought of social class gives you hives, avoid this book at all costs.
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Format: Hardcover
Nancy Mitford was probably the best-known of the five Mitford sisters who cut a broad swath through English society in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. She was a novelist, a journalist, a noted biographer, and a socialist aristocrat who knew how to be amused at herself and her class. In 1955, she wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek article on the upper class in Britain and how to distinguish its members from the merely middle class by paying attention to the way they spoke and the vocabulary they used. This was based on a paper published the year before, "U and Non-U" ("U" meaning upper class), by Alan Ross, who first codified the language division. The two pieces caused a mild uproar in Britain on the issue of dwindling class distinctions since the two World Wars, and whether there ought to be a distinction -- or whether such a distinction was simply unavoidable. This volume brings together Ross's and Mitford's articles with rejoinders by Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes, and others.

The whole question of class differences in Britain is still with us, though the situation and the arguments are now rather different, and the division by speech patterns is far less noticeable. This is still an interesting anthropological inquiry from a historical perspective, though.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Baldwin on April 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was not as interesting as I thought it would be. But the service was excellent.
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