As the author of The American Way of Death, Mitford would doubtless want to know how well her pieces have aged since initial publication. While there’s life in the old girls yet, they’ve nonetheless gone a little gray at the temples. As comedy, as exhumations of scandal, and as records of an American scene now passed or passing, they remain exemplary. But most of these pieces stop short of philosophy, failing to address the more profound hows and whys. (She writes, with only some irony, “I am not an essayist by nature; the word evokes high-level scholarship and rich, thoughtful prose on some abstract subject.”) A muckraker she was, but particularly fascinated by surfaces: who said what to whom, and how he looked while saying it. She leaves any deeper digging to us.

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Abigail Deutsch is a writer who lives in New York. Her work appears in The Village Voice, n+1, Bookforum, Poetry, and other publications.