Noblesse Oblige: An Enquiry Into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy

by Nancy Mitford, Osbert Lancaster

This collection of essays started with Nancy Mitford’s article “The English Aristocracy”, published in 1955 in the magazineEncounter.

  • Paperback
  • Pages: 156 pages
  • Average Rating: 3.7 out of 5
  • Published April 1st 1986 by Atheneum
  • Original Title: Noblesse Oblige: The Inimitable Investigation into the Idiosyncracies of English Idiom
  • ISBN: 0689707045 (ISBN13: 9780689707049)

This collection of essays started with Nancy Mitford’s article “The English Aristocracy”, published in 1955 in the magazine Encounter. The expressions “U” (Upper Class) and “Non-U” (non-Upper Class) came to prominence in this article, which sold out the edition of the magazine immediately after publication. The article caused a great deal of light-hearted controversy. The book was published one year later. There is sharp disagreement among the U’s who have contributed to this book.Considered one of the most gifted comic writers of her time, Nancy Mitford said she wrote the article about her peers “In order to demonstrate the upper middle class does not merge imperceptibly into the middle class”. She said differences of speech distinguish the members of one social class in England from another. Unabashedly snobbish and devastatingly witty, Miss Mitford achieved enormous success and popularity as one of Britain’s most piercing observers of social manners… Indeed, one of Miss Mitford’s pet concerns entered the history of obscure literary debates when, in 1955, she published perhaps her most famous essay on upper-class and non-upper- class forms of speech. The essay sparked such a controversy in Britain, with responses from many major literary figures, that Miss Mitford was compelled a year later to bring out a thin book, “Noblesse Oblige,” with her disquisition on the subject as its centerpiece. Her argument, a set-piece even today among literary parlor games, was that the more elegant euphemism used for any word is usually the non-upperclass thing to say–or, in Miss Mitford’s words, simply non-U.