labwriter's Mitford Sisters thread, #1

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labwriter's Mitford Sisters thread, #1

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1labwriter
Editado: Mar 22, 2011, 2:26 pm

I've been moodling around this idea about a separate Mitford thread. Now that I'm three-quarters the way through my third Mitford book, I've decided that I'm going to do this. Any and all comments are welcome here!

Thanks to LizzieD (Peggy) of the 75 Group for the idea of looking these women up on YouTube. There are some great clips of these sisters to be found there with interesting photos and also their voices. Thanks, Peggy!

The book I'm into now is the the correspondence between the sisters: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley, Diana Mitford's daughter-in-law.



The biography I read before reading their correspondence was The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, by Mary S. Lovell.



If you're new to the Mitfords as I was, I would recommend reading these two books first. I read the biography first and then the letters. If the biography doesn't hook you on these sisters, then you're probably not going to get hooked.

I plan to copy and paste the comments about the Letters from my generic thread here, as the Letters book is still an ongoing read. Back later.

2labwriter
Editado: Mar 22, 2011, 8:56 pm

There were six Mitford Sisters (there was also one brother, Tom, who was killed at the end of WWII). In the photo, from left to right: Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity, and Pamela, 1935. The youngest, Deborah, is not pictured.



I'm going to post links here about the sisters and the family as I run across them.

The Creepy Mitford Sisters

The Amazing Mitford Sisters: Beauty, Brains, and Maximum Dysfunction

3drneutron
Mar 22, 2011, 4:17 pm

I linked to this thread on the wiki as a Group Read so that we can find this discussion easily. It's called Mitford Sisters.

4labwriter
Mar 22, 2011, 4:52 pm

Thanks very much, Jim!

5phebj
Mar 22, 2011, 5:48 pm

Becky, I think this thread is a great idea. Thanks for setting it up. I don't know when I'll get to it, but I want to start with the Lovell biography like you did and am looking forward to being able to find all the comments easily. Starred!

6labwriter
Mar 22, 2011, 6:02 pm

Hi Pat. Yes, that's what I love about LT. It can be a great resource. Plus, it's just plain fun, I think.

7labwriter
Editado: Mar 22, 2011, 9:28 pm

The oldest was Nancy. Her dates: 1904-1973.

Nicknames: Lady, French Lady, Naunce/Naunceling



Despite her rabid anti-American bent, I like Nancy, but I'm not sure I would have liked her as a sister. She was a terrible "tease" of her sisters, reported the biographer. She also had a very sharp wit. Her sister Deborah recalled, "She once upset us by saying to Unity, Jessica, and me, 'Do you realize that the middle of your names are nit, sick, and bore?'"

Nancy was a novelist, an essayist, and a biographer, supporting herself all of her life with her writing. She was also a Francophile, living most of her adult life in France.

Here's an "official" website for her: Nancy Mitford that includes information about her books.

Here is Nancy's page on LibraryThing.

8-Cee-
Mar 22, 2011, 6:43 pm

How cool is this? I'm reading The Sisters right now! Thanks for this thread, Becky. :)

9brenzi
Mar 22, 2011, 7:10 pm

Well obviously I've followed you and the Mitfords too long Becky because yesterday, while at Borders, what do I find myself holding in my hands in line?? That's right The Sisters: the Saga of the Mitford Family. I haven't read anything else by or about them but I do have The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate on my shelf. Now all I have to do is find time for these people. You've certainly painted a fascinating picture of them.

10labwriter
Mar 22, 2011, 8:06 pm

Bonnie & Claudia! This will be fun. I hope you'll feel free to post anything that strikes your fancy about the sisters.

11labwriter
Editado: Mar 22, 2011, 9:21 pm

The second sister was Pamela. Her dates: 1907-1994.

Nicknames: Woman, Woo, Wooms



Pamela was the least well-known outside of the family. The collected letters volume has fewer letters to or from Pam than any of the other sisters. As adults, there were a lot of back-and-forth snarky, petty comments about Pamela from some of the other sisters, not said directly to her, but written about her behind her back. At the end of their lives, I think the sisters came to appreciate Pamela as a giving, warm-hearted person.

Her life is summed up well in an online obituary.

12labwriter
Editado: Mar 22, 2011, 10:03 pm

The third child, Tom. His dates: 1909-1945.

Nicknames: Tud, Tuddemy



Dearly loved by his sisters, Tom was the only child to be sent to school; as was typical for the time and his class, he was sent away to boarding school at the age of eight. Tom was not rich, by any means, but he received a good allowance from his father and made it work for him for he travelled extensively, dined in the best places, was seen in the best company. He fought for England in WWII and was killed in Burma at the end of the war.

Mary S. Lovell, the biographer, concludes that Tom was not deeply politically committed in any direction and was happy to be whatever was necessary to be allowed to visit his sisters.

This is from a 1969 letter from Diana to her sister Deborah: "It's Tom's birthday & he would be 60 which seems completely incredible. When I thought about it I couldn't help crying. Not only do I long for him to be alive for himself but also selfishly for me. Kit {Diana's husband} is such a strange person when it comes to his sons & I know Tom would have been someone he would have listened to. One hasn't got a single male person to rely upon as a result of all these vile wars, so the ones who are left just do as they please which is often highly dire, eh."

When he was home from school for the holidays, Tom and sister Diana were inseparable.

13LizzieD
Mar 22, 2011, 11:23 pm

Thanks so much for starting this, Becky! I'm almost finished with the family biography that I started first, The House of Mitford by Diana's older son from her first marriage, Jonathan Guinness. He spends rather more time than I would like with Diana and Unity's obsession with Hitler. On the other hand, he gives the background by devoting about 100 pages to the grandfathers and to David and Sydney, the Poor Old Male and Poor Old Female. He discusses Pam and Tom together in two chapters. Tom and Pam's husband Derek Jackson were (along with Sydney) both supporters of Diana's second husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, the Fascist, anti-war leader. Both of them, however, fought bravely for Britain when war was declared. This is the sort of apology/non-apology that fills Guinness's book.

14labwriter
Editado: Mar 23, 2011, 8:21 am

>13 LizzieD:. Peggy, I think the Lovell biog has the same sort of tone that you mention about Diana and Unity. I got from it a sense that she was whitewashing some of what went on there, although maybe it was "kindness" rather than "whitewashing." I think she probably took the kindest possible route when she was making an assessment, although she didn't make them out to be saints, either.

I think Guinness's book would be a fascinating read, particularly to get perhaps a different take on "Muv" and "Farve." I think of all the sisters, I probably feel least sympathetic to Diana (Unity is a special case). Her letters have a sort of whining quality to them that's unappealing. Although one thing I should keep in mind is that she evidently suffered terribly from migraines--sometimes every day. So I should probably cut her some slack. Her relationship with her husband, in later years, reminds me somewhat of the Duke & Duchess of Windsor.

I wish someone would publish Lady Redesdale's letters to her daughters.

15labwriter
Editado: Mar 23, 2011, 8:49 pm

The third sister was Diana. Her dates: 1910-2003.

Nicknames: Cord, Honks, Nard/y



Diana was the acknowledged beautiful one, all of her life. Diana and her husband, Oswald Mosley, were secretly married in Joseph Goebbels' drawing room in Berlin. During WWII, she was called "the most hated woman in England," imprisoned in Holloway Prison for the duration of the war as "a danger to the king's realm." When Diana and her husband were controversially released from prison in November of 1943, her sister Jessica described the decision as "a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti-fascism."

Her obituary in the Guardian gives a good summary of her life.

16labwriter
Editado: Mar 24, 2011, 11:11 am

The fourth sister was Unity. Her dates: 1914-1948

Nicknames: Bird/Birdie, Boud/y



Unity has the strangest story of any of the sisters. There's a film series that can be viewed on YouTube in five parts: Hitler's British Girl. I can't vouch for the series, since I haven't watched it all, but what I've seen of it is fascinating.

In 1974, a friend of the family, David Pryce-Jones, wanted to write a biography of Unity. Jessica and Deborah discussed the project in letters to one another. This is Deborah's take on the idea:
Not only do I think that but I also think anyone who didn't know her intimately simply couldn't possibly get the hang of the amazing contradictions of her character, nor her great funniness, nor all her oddness, therefore it could only miss the point & it would just be Nazis all the way.
The biography was published in 1976: Unity Mitford: A Quest.

17labwriter
Editado: Mar 24, 2011, 11:47 am

The fifth sister was Jessica. Her dates: 1917-1996

Nicknames: Decca, Squalor



Jessica eloped at the age of 19, sending her family, particulary her parents, into a frenzy. She and her husband Esmund moved to America in 1939; Esmund joined the Canadian Air Force and was killed in action in 1941. She married again in 1943. They were both active members of the American Communist Party from 1944-1958, so it's clear that the split between Jessica and Unity and Jessica and Deborah was unavoidable. She wrote a memoir, published in 1960, that she called Hons and Rebels; the success of the book allowed her from that point on to make a living from her writing.

Jessica's best-known book is The American Way of Death, a "muckraking" book about the American funeral industry.

Here's a link to Jessica's obituary in The New York Times.

Here's a link to a 1995 version of Jessica performing the song, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" made popular on The Beatles White Album. Jessica is so funny in this and is obviously having the time of her life. Thanks to LizzieD for tipping me off to this link.

18labwriter
Editado: Mar 24, 2011, 11:04 pm

The sixth and youngest sister was Deborah. Her dates: born 1920.

Nicknames: Debo



After her mother's death, Deborah was the true heart of the family, keeping the sisters together and in touch with each other--although she was no saint, since she did seem to like to stir the pot at times, particulary her sister Nancy's pot.

She married Andrew Cavendish when she was very young. As a second son, he had no expectations of inheriting the family fortunes; however, his older brother was killed in WWII, so Andrew eventually inherited the title of the Duke of Devonshire. Along with the title and family wealth, he also inherited crippling death taxes. It was largely due to Deborah's good business sense that allowed the debts to be paid off and that kept the Chatsworth estate in the family's hands.

Through her letters to her sisters, I came to like Deborah very much--her humor, intelligence, and family diplomacy. I think she's my favorite of the sisters.

She can be seen on YouTube, discussing her life and her memoir, Wait for Me: Memoirs.

19LizzieD
Mar 24, 2011, 11:05 am

Sure, Becky! Here's my little comment about The House of Mitford. I'm extremely excited to be starting The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters! (I am finding questionable usage already in the introduction though, pedant that I am, so I have to ask "between six"??? What am I missing?)

Jonathan Guinness is Mitford Sister Diana's oldest son, so he has the inside track on all things Mitford. The House of Mitford is a fairly comprehensive biography of the family, beginning with the grandfathers and the parents for a couple of hundred pages before arriving at the sisters. These were all very interesting people, and tracing family traits through three generations is a captivating process.
The most of the book, however, deals with the six sisters, Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. A brother, Tom, was killed in 1945. Guinness has less to say about Pam, Jessica and Deborah because Pam was the "dull" one of the bunch, Jessica refused to talk to him when he was preparing the book, and Deborah was the youngest and not really in the picture for the drama of the war years. He spends the most time writing about his own mother and her partner in Fascism, Unity. I would not call his commentary "apology" exactly. He acknowledges that Hitler and his followers committed atrocities, but he also goes to some lengths to show that Diana and Unity did not see this side of the man. I confess to being chilled as I read about Diana and Mosley's visits after WWII to "the respectable remnants of European Fascism," including Peron (not European, but still...) and Franco's brother-in-law. In fact, to one accustomed to think of Sir Oswald Mosley as a jerk of the first order (thanks mainly to P.G. Wodehouse's fictionalized treatment of him), the respectful tenor of remarks about the Fascist and Nazi elite with whom Diana and Unity socialized is jarring. However kindly he paints her, Unity comes across as practically certifiable even before her suicide attempt, and Diana not much more balanced.
In short, Guinness provides a pretty candid look into the lives of a fascinating family and a good basis for further reading.

20labwriter
Mar 24, 2011, 11:36 am

I am finding questionable usage already in the introduction though, pedant that I am, so I have to ask "between six"???

I stumbled on that a bit myself, Peggy. I guess I reconciled the "between" because the letters were always between two of the sisters, never among three or more of them. But it is somewhat awkward.

Thanks so much for posting your review of the Guinness biog! If you read Mary Lovell's biog of the sisters, The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, I think you'll find a pretty balanced treatment of the horrific details of the Hitler period of Deborah's and Unity's life. Lovell doesn't sugar-coat it, by any means, but somehow she allows the reader to end up not hating the sisters for their relationship with Hitler. Frankly, I'm not sure how she was able to pull that off.

21LizzieD
Mar 24, 2011, 12:46 pm

I was able to reconcile the "between 6" in the same way that you did, Becky. (I'm less happy with a basic subject/verb disagreement in the introduction.) I will read the Lovell, but I'm hot after the letters for at least a little while.

22phebj
Mar 24, 2011, 2:29 pm

Becky, I found a used hardcover copy of the Lovell biography on Amazon last night for $4.58 (including my "free" 2 day shipping) so I should have my copy on Saturday. I'm not sure how soon I'll start it but this thread is really making me eager to get to it. Thanks for including all the information about the siblings and the links. Diana's obituary was amazing. I'm always drawn to the underdogs so I already have a softspot for Pam.

23labwriter
Mar 24, 2011, 3:30 pm

Wow, what a great deal you got! I think Pam was unfortunate to be born into a family of so many high-octane sisters. Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on brain-smarts when we ought to pay more attention to people with emotional intelligence. She loved animals and they evidently loved her back, so that makes her OK in my book!

24labwriter
Editado: Mar 26, 2011, 11:43 am

Nancy was trying to work on her memoirs at the end of her life; however, she spent the last four years of it in terrible pain, so although she made notes for the book, she never got it completed.

I'm up to 1974 in the letters, and I came across a letter from Deborah to Diana, referencing THE BOOK, a book about Nancy written by Harold Acton and published in 1975. Evidently he used Nancy's letters and the notes she made for the memoir: Nancy Mitford: A Memoir.

Sister Deborah writes in her letter to Diana that Acton gets some things wrong, and says, "It has fired me to get all the letters put in order at home. It will be a long & terrific work but I think it must be done . . . because if people are going to be interested in this book (and I think they will) they had better know the real story one day."

I would think that if someone is a Nancy Mitford fan, then this would be a good addition to the Mitford pile of books. Cautionary tale, however: Acton was a life-long friend of Mitford's, so don't look to the book for objectivity; look to it more as a personal memoir.



I love these letters between the sisters. This was 1974 when Deborah was writing to Diana about Harold Acton's book about their sister Nancy. She was actually staying with Acton at the time, in Florence, and she adds the following: "H is planning a trip to Norway (well, to anywhere really) in August to escape another possible visit from Princess Margaret. He really is too old to be subjected to that. Pathos." Screaming.

25labwriter
Editado: Mar 26, 2011, 12:10 pm



Speaking of Mitford books, the newish biog of Jessica Mitford by Leslie Brody gets mixed reviews: Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford. Has anyone read this one?

26elkiedee
Mar 26, 2011, 9:50 pm

Thanks I've only just learned about the Jessica bio from you - something I need to look into further, I think.

27labwriter
Editado: Mar 27, 2011, 3:46 pm



Diana was very upset about the biography of Unity that was written and published by David Pryce-Jones in 1976: Unity Mitford: A Quest. The stories about Unity in the book, from people Pryce-Jones describes as "old friends," Diana reacts to in a letter to Deborah as "nasty," "obviously false," "horrid," "silly," "surprising," "extremely voluble & quite horrid," "shocking," "disagreeable," "completely mad", "fancy listening to someone over ninety,--"Jones is the worm of worms....Oh Debo it all makes me long for poor Bird & to defend her with tooth & claw but it's not easy.

Jessica evidently talked to Pryce-Jones about the book, while the other sisters did not. Jessica criticized them for not talking; the other sisters criticized Jessica for talking to him. None of them, including Jessica, thought that Pryce-Jones had captured the essence of this complicated sister.

Deborah was also upset about the book, as she wrote in a letter to Jessica:
Her qualities didn't exist to the author…her huge bold truthfulness, funniness, generosity, honesty, courage. He never once describes anything nice about her, the sneering style comes through every sentence, none of her friends are reported as saying they loved her etc. until one is left wondering why on earth those friends saw so much of her, as presumably they needn't have done. He uses a despicable form of writing which unfortunately is within the law, viz. putting in quotes things meant to have been said by people who are dead.

28labwriter
Editado: Mar 29, 2011, 4:27 pm



Another memoir, this one written by Jessica and published in 1977, A Fine Old Conflict. It's fun to see the sisters' reactions to these books as they're published. Neither Diana nor Deborah, for various reasons, were very happy with Jessica at this point, so they weren't disposed to like her book.
Diana writes to Deborah: Two odd things about Henderson's book {Henderson, a nickname for Jessica derived from "Hen," a name that Deborah and Jessica called each other--"My Hen."} --she doesn't mention two of the most searing things in her life--the death of her first baby which surely was the reason they went to America, nor the death of Nicky Treuhaft {Jessica's son who was hit by a car and killed}. The other thing is, and I shall ask her why she did it, why if she is so ashamed of & so hates all to do with her childhood & first youth did she write her first book under the name of Mitford. I'm only asking. It seems so odd.
Pamela wrote a letter to Jessica in 1978 about the book. This is one of the very few letters from Pamela that are in the book edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Pamela to Jessica: You said you couldn't return to England after Esmond's death because all the family were pro-Nazi. This was a sad figment of your imagination, what about Nancy, rabid anti-Nazi & always announced she was a socialist, Debo {Deborah}, Andrew {Deborah's husband}, Tom {their brother}, Derek {Pamela's husband} & myself? We had all very much hoped you would return & I thought it was probably because of the very hazardous journey that you had decided not to do so. I had to skip a great deal of the American political part as I couldn't really understand it all, but everything else I enjoyed & you do explain all the incidents so well.
I found a Time magazine review of Jessica's book: "Decca's Blithe Zeitgeist, 5 Sep 1977.

29labwriter
Editado: Mar 28, 2011, 10:26 am



I forgot to mention Diana's memoir, A Life of Contrasts, which was published in the same year as Jessica's, 1977. From the letters, it sounds as though Diana had trouble writing this book and wasn't very happy with the result, although it's not possible to say for sure. She calls it her "silly" book and says she had trouble getting their mother "right." She may have felt like her book was eclipsed by Unity's biography and Jessica's memoir.

30LizzieD
Mar 28, 2011, 11:17 am

This is some industry! The book of Diana's that intrigues me was never published, I don't think. It was Five Beautiful Houses (and no Touchstone seems to confirm the fact that it never made it into print) about some of the places that she lived. Since Diana was the arty one, or one of the arty ones, I suspect that this had the potential of being a charmer.

31labwriter
Editado: Mar 28, 2011, 12:33 pm



Evidently the other books coming out by and about family members put the bug into Deborah to write her own book. She started it around 1977, and it was published in 1982: The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth.

This is Diana, "encouraging" Deborah about her book idea in 1977: How thrilled I am to think of your BOOK darling. It will be a raging best-seller until kingdom come because it will never grow old as we who are left grow old. You must give it chief priority over everything. When you get a bit depressed just picture it in the SHOP & you will cheer up & go on with the grind.

ed. to fix name error

32labwriter
Editado: Mar 28, 2011, 11:27 am

>30 LizzieD:. Hi Peggy! I'll keep a lookout for any mention of Diana's book as I read through the letters.

33LizzieD
Mar 28, 2011, 11:34 am

Hi, Becky! I could get my *House of* book back down and try to determine when she might have been writing it, but it would take more effort than I want to spend...... Look at your last post; I think you typed "Diana" for "Deborah."

34labwriter
Mar 28, 2011, 12:32 pm

>33 LizzieD:. Oh--you're right. Thanks much, I will fix. No, don't get the biog down to reread that part. I'm sure Diana will mention the book somewhere in the letters--unless of course the editor left that one out. We'll see.

35labwriter
Editado: Mar 28, 2011, 1:26 pm

Oh, Peggy, I forgot--BANG! BANG! at you, right back. Ha. I fell off my chair laughing the first time I viewed that clip.



So the industry continues. In 1980, Diana published a book about the Duchess of Windsor: The Duchess of Windsor, who of course was the former Wallis Simpson, wife of the {former} King of England, Edward VIII, who later was created the Duke of Windsor after he abdicted his throne. Diana and Wallis were longtime friends; one of Diana's agendas in writing this biography was to attempt to rehabilitate the Duke & Duchess's image as Nazi sympathizers.
Deborah to Diana. I've got your book! I read a long bit out to Andrew, he was completely fascinated & thinks it terribly good....You are truly clever, because it runs along most wonderfully & isn't at all gossipy, it's Discretion Please all the way. Oh well done Honks. How did you do it with people coming & going all the time & Sir O {Diana's husband} wanting this & that.

36labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 9:06 am



In 1980, Diana and Deborah started discussing a biography about sister Nancy, Nancy Mitford, by Selina Hastings, that was eventually published in 1985.
Diana to Deborah: About the Nancy book, I don't think I could ever edit her letters. There are two things about them I abominate, onne is the falseness that one could be seeing her all the time, "smarmy as be damned" as Dooky wd say, & then she'd creep off & write like that, & the other is the sort of snobbish boastings she indulged in to Muv & others partly meant to annoy & partly to impress. I couldn't say this to anyone but you. I think I knew her just a bit too well & someone like Selina {Hastings} would sail on without really seeing it. Of course we know it was all part of her unhappy life & I don't blame at all only I don't want to be immersed in it. So you can cross me off the list. I think Selena wd be good in many ways. I also think a vol of letters will have to wait until everyone's dead, don't you, because of hurt feelings?
See also Post #47.

37labwriter
Editado: Mar 28, 2011, 6:26 pm



Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was a great friend of Nancy's. His letters, edited by Mark Amory, were published in 1980: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. Diana wrote to Deborah about Waugh's letter edition:
As to Evelyn's letters, there's a gem on every page & I am miserable to have finished the lovely great book. Far the best are to Naunce {Nancy} & Ann Fleming. The ones to Maimie aren't a bit amusing or even clever. Isn't it amazing how the person one's writing to influences one. Poor Evie at the end, deaf, toothless, bored & boring (unbelievable) at 63, it's too sad for any words & he must have welcomed death as few do. He dreaded twenty more years getting worse & worse. I am dreading poor old Dig reading things about her & Henry {York} & I'm afraid Jamie Hamilton's feelings will be lacerated. Both so easily hurt.
In 1997, Charlotte Mosely published a collection of the Nancy/Evelyn Waugh correspondence: The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. I have this book, and I'm really looking forward to getting to it if I ever finish this Sisters edition of letters, edited by the same Charlotte Mosley.

38LizzieD
Mar 28, 2011, 6:50 pm

Becky, I've read about the first 50 pages or so of the letters. I'm in the 30's and honestly had to put it down after Nancy's letter to Unity on which she drew a picture of Unity with the label, "hobnail boot to trample on Jews." I'm still shivering. I know it was early 30's but even so.

39labwriter
Editado: Mar 29, 2011, 12:25 am

>38 LizzieD:. Yes, I see the drawing on page 53. That was April 1935.

You're right, it's a horrible story, about both Diana and Unity. Had Unity not shot herself, I imagine if she had survived the war she would have been shot by the Brits as a traitor. Diana was imprisoned for most of the war and was known as "the most hated woman in Britain." I think a lot of what was going on with the memoirs and biogs by friends and friends of the family was done as a sort of rehabilitation of their collective reputations.

I don't know what else to say. I mean, you read the biog by Guinness, right? Nancy had a wicked, twisted sense of humor. If it makes you feel any better, Charlotte Mosley says in the essay that by 1935 or 1936, Nancy was tiring of Diana and Unity's extreme fanaticism, responding to them with "characteristic mockery." She published her novel, Wigs on the Green at the end of June, a book which mocked her fascist brother-in-law, Sir Oswald Mosley, lampooning what he stood for. And of course the book caused a serious rift between Diana and Nancy.

If you look at YouTube clips of Sir Oswald Mosley during WWII, I guarantee that the person he will most remind you of will be Hitler. It's creepy--he's creepy. I'm not a mindless Mitford groupie. But I do think their story is quite fascinating, particularly when you consider the crazies on both the far right and the far left of the political spectrum who are acting out these days. It's a mistake to think that we're above the kinds of things that went on in the 1930s. I'm thinking particularly of the crazies who did millions of dollars worth of damage to the Wisconsin state capitol recently--barely even reported by the mainstream press. That sort of stuff makes me {{shiver}}--seriously. The 1930s could happen again.

40labwriter
Editado: Mar 29, 2011, 10:04 am

One of the aspects of the Letters edition that's fun, if you like this sort of thing (and if you don't, then for heaven's sake don't waste your time on any of it), is the gossipy nature in the letters about some of the people they knew--and the sisters knew a lot of people.



In 1981, a biography of Lady Diana Cooper was published: Diana Cooper: A Biography, by Philip Ziegler.

Here's Diana commenting to Deborah about the biog in June 1981:
Selina lent me a proof copy {Selina Hastings, writing a biog of Nancy} of the book about Diana Cooper & I know Colonel {he was the person Nancy was infatuated with for 30 years} will rush for it & he's referred to as "my grinning spotty friend," awful. Duff is quoted as calling Kit a "sniveling bolshevist"--I think those were the words--in the twenties. But then Kit was having a wild affair with her so I don't suppose he was v. popular with Duff {Duff was Diana Cooper's husband}. The Coopers sound much more ghoul in this book than they were in real life, I think.


41LizzieD
Mar 29, 2011, 11:18 am

Oh yeah. I don't want to repeat those mistakes at all! I've read on a bit and will be happy to get out of this section of the book. It was just a surprise to see Nancy joining in, and I am beginning to see what a snarky person she was.

42labwriter
Editado: Mar 29, 2011, 8:23 pm



Diana's stepson, Nicholas Mosley, was working on the first volume of his biography, Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley. This was in 1981, the year that Diana was ill with what was at first thought to be a stroke but then was diagnosed as a brain tumor. She was writing to Diana to say that it might have been better if she had just been allowed to "fade away" in the hospital, although one reason she found for living was to "possibly (not certainly) influence Nicky in his Memoir a bit," she wrote to Diana. "One has to remember that fond as we are of each other we do NOT see eye to eye politically."

At this point, it might be good to remember that Diana had already HUGELY "influenced" any memoir that might have been written of her fascist husband, if we consider her reference in one of the letters to three bonfires of her husband's papers that she had made while "cleaning them up." Heh.

43Fourpawz2
Mar 29, 2011, 12:11 pm

I am fascinated by the idea of this thread and desperately want to read it, but don't dare to read any of it as I have a couple of non-fiction books about the Mitfords yet to read. Am starring the thread though so that I can come back later.

44labwriter
Mar 29, 2011, 12:42 pm

Fourpawz2: Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy this thread and find it useful/entertaining when you're ready for it!

45labwriter
Editado: Mar 29, 2011, 11:30 pm



In 1982, Diana was working on chapters of a book that became Loved Ones, published in 1985. What I find remarkable about this, the fact that she was working on a book, is that she was still desperately sad (her words) about the death of her husband in December of 1980. She was also recovering from the removal of a brain tumor, so while she was getting better at this point, she had been very ill, probably not expected to live. She was also hugely upset about the first volume of the biography of her husband by Nicholas Mosley that was published in 1981.

The book was a series of pen portraits about people who had been important to her in her life--loved ones. Actually, it was probably therapeutic for her to be working on a project like this one. I don't really like Diana, for a lot of reasons, but she really did have remarkable courage, I think.

This is about the book, part of a letter from Diana to Deborah, Nov. 1982.
I've finished Mrs. Ham {Violet Hammersley, a life-long friend of her mother's}, wish you were here to give an opinion. Don't know who to be at now.
She also wrote about friends and neighbors Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, former neighbors and friends, the writer Evelyn Waugh, and of course her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley.

46labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 12:10 am



I thought this letter was hilarious, Diana trying to be a grandmother and commenting to Deborah on her grandchild. I thought of my own mother-in-law when I read this letter, who was never much the grandmother type.

August, 1984. Letter from Diana to Deborah. Alexander (Diana's son) and Charlotte Mosley's 18-month-old son Louis was visiting Diana. This is sort of extra hilarious because it's Charlotte Mosley who is the letters editor. Then of course what she says about her time in prison is really quite sad.
I loved having the baby, he is so incredibly sweet now. The fly in the ointment is his keeper. The dreaded plastic toys are simply everywhere--drawing room, both sitting-rooms, porch, garden, even orchard. His & her shoes here & there. Pram of course (hideous). Cushions awry. The whole place a slum. One daren't look in her room (your room) awash with clothes & unmade bed. Bathroom with plastic toys to the ceiling. It's just bad luck, people of her generation are born untidy. His books are so terrible with pictures of squinting moronic children supposed (probably) to be amusing. Cha {Charlotte} came back & Al came & the joy of the baby was wonderful. But it made me sad because it confirms what I always suspected, that Al did miss us terribly in 1940 when he was just the age Louis is now.
Diana is referring to the time when she and her husband were in prison during WWII--their children were just babies; in fact, when she was first put in prison, one of her sons was only seven weeks old.

47labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 9:07 am

The "Nancy" biography was published in 1985. {See post #36.} It should be remembered that Selina Hastings, the biographer, was actually Lady Selina Hastings (b. 1945). I don't know whether or not she called this an "authorized" biography, but she certainly had the help and approval of the sisters, at least Pamela, Diana, and Deborah. Not that being authorized makes it a bad biography; however, the point of view should at least be kept in mind.

This is from a letter from Diana to Pamela, May 1985.
I read Selina's book all through again & cried all over again, & I think if she will point out--as people are so dense--that Naunce was never truthful in letters, above all about Muv, it really is a very good book, as well as a very sad one.

I only wish Naunce's descriptions of Paris weather were true. They used to make me laugh, one heard her saying to English people "Oh, it's been lovely & hot here," when really it had been bitter & cold.
Here's Diana's letter about the biography to her sister Deborah.
I do so agree with Decca about Selina not using her manifold interviews with friends, plus press notices of Naunce's books etc. {Ed. note: Jessica felt that Selina Hastings' life of Nancy was poorly written and relied too heavily on previously published books, but she acknowledged that its account of Nancy's illness and death had moved her to tears.}....It really boils down to a book about a very successful writer with talen for being extremely comic, who has two desperately unhappy love affairs. All of which could have been done by anyone who had the letters even if they'd seen nobody. Selina was so wonderful at not leaving stones unturned & then makes nothing much of it.
I found a New York Times (paper of recordTM) review of Nancy's biography. Oh my, the dear old rag certainly didn't think too much of this Brit--but the feeling was mutual. Really, it's a must-read. Screaming, as the sisters would say.

48labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 10:06 am



Another authorized biog, published in 1985, that the sisters were reading was one by Hugo Vickers: Cecil Beaton: The Authorized Biography. {You don't know all these people?--keep up! Haha.} Diana wrote to Deborah:
Hugo's Cecil is a gossip column. It amuses me but, of course, except the actors & actresses, I knew the characters. It is sumptuous & worth its dread price for the photograph from My Royal Past.
Beaton {his dates: 1904-1980}, obviously a contemporary of the sisters, was a photographer {his photos appeared in Vogue and he was well-known for his fashion photography in Hollywood}. He was thought to have taken some of the best photos of the "Bright Young People" of Nancy's set in the 1920s and 1930s. He also designed book jackets, and it seems that I remember Nancy commenting rather snarkily about a jacket design for one of her books. He took many photos of the sisters as well--they mention him quite casually in their letters as being around, particularly in the 1930s. Probably many of the beautiful pictures of these sisters, dressed for their London seasons, were taken by Beaton.

Additionally, Beaton was a well-known diarist. In his lifetime six volumes of diaries were published, spanning the years 1922–1974. Recently a number of unexpurgated diaries have been published which are said to "differ immensely" from Beaton's original published diaries. He was a gossipy old thing, so it stands to reason that the Vickers biog would be a "gossip column" as Diana called it.

If this period and place and these people interest you, then you will love the Vickers biog of Beaton. It's worthwhile to get for the pictures alone. Judging from the jacket photo, Vickers was a young man when he wrote the biog. I always take that into consideration when I read a biography, since I think it's very often difficult for a young person to really "get" their subject as they get up there in years.

Beaton's diaries are also wonderful. I have Self Portrait with Friends: The Selected Diaries of Cecil Beaton 1926-1974. I also have a couple of volumes of the unexpurgated diaries; these were also done by Vickers: The Unexpurgated Beaton Diaries and Beaton in the Sixties.

49cushlareads
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 10:10 am

My husband bought me Poison Penmanship last year, published by New york Review Books. It's a collection of some of Jessica's articles:



I haven't read it yet but really enjoyed The Sisters under its New Zealand title, The Mitford Girls, a few years ago.

50labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 10:21 am

>49 cushlareads:. Hi Cushla. {You have the best profile pic on LT, by the way--ha!}

I just got that book in the mail yesterday, coincidentally. The used copy I received was published by Quartet books under the title, The Making of a Muckraker. I like the "Poison Penmanship" title better. It looks like a wonderful read.

51cushlareads
Mar 30, 2011, 11:18 am

Becky, it is so ugly!! I was going to change it soon. It's been a year since I did that crazy ride.

If you start reading it soon, tell me - I am shocking at reading the books my husband gives me, even though he finds really good ones.

52LizzieD
Mar 30, 2011, 1:06 pm

Becky, you are making this thread a real treasure house for Mitford seekers. Thank you!
Cushla, I just visited your thread and I agree with Becky 100%! That picture is STUPENDOUS!!!!!! Leave it alone!!!!!!!

53labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 1:32 pm

>51 cushlareads:. Oh Cushla, I think it's wonderful, not ugly!

Anywho, I ran across yet another book in this Mitford Industry. Good grief, I honestly had no idea these women were churning out these books like a factory.



Jessica was working on this book, The American Way of Birth, in 1989 (eventually published in 1994), and she wrote the following in a letter to Deborah, which I find fairly hilarious.

An aside: I was a Labor & Delivery nurse in a high-risk hospital (which means we got everything--every single high-risk patient came our way as well as all the rest) from 1977 to about 1989. This book was not even on my radar screen--I have absolutely no memory of it, although I guess it was a bit after my time; I'm quite sure that by 1994 I would have had exactly minus-zero interest in the subject. During my 20+ years in L&D, we went from about 2% of the patients using epidurals for labor to about 98% using that form of anesthesia. I was convinced (and remain convinced) that the increasing epidural rate was a direct cause of the also-increasing C-section rate--not the only cause, mind you, but certainly a big one. "Don't mess with mother nature" was my motto as a nurse in L&D. We all (patients, nurses, doctors) would have had such a much better time of it if there had been much less intervention.

I don't agree with Jessica, that most C-sections were done for the "convenience and profit" of the doctors. Profit, I think never--that never crossed my mind that drs would do C-sections because they would earn more money. I think totally untrue. Convenience, yes, sometimes. But as many times as "doctor convenience" was the case, I would say that more often "patient whining to 'do something'" was at least one cause--a patient asking (and the doc stupidly agreeing) to induce her labor. I HATED inductions, since so many of them were done for stupid, selfish reasons (my mother-in-law is in town, I want this done on the weekend when my husband is off work); so many of them became C-sections that would have been unnecessary if left to "mother nature."

This is what Jessica said in her letter to Debo:
I'm starting on a new book, motivated largely I must confess by HUGE advance, more than 10 times what I've ever got before (which was max about $35,000). $500,000 or half a million, said to be closer to $1 mill. with paperback.

Book is The American Way of Birth. Point of it, the cruelty & avarice of drs. Here--25 per cent of all births are caesarean, for convenience & profit of drs. Counterpoint is growing vogue for home birth attended by midwives (who, I hasten to add, do shove the patient to hosp. at any sign of real trouble). So obviously mine's pro-midwife--but oh Hen the awful drivel one has to choke down from that sisterly group. Titles like Spiritual Midwifery, and Hearts and Hands. These go into orbit describing the ineffable pleasure & glorious feeling of last stages of labor. Muv, asked by Nancy what it feels like, answered "like an orange being stuffed up yr nostril"--more like it? Anyway, I'm madly at it.
Oh jeeze--I laughed so hard at "Muv's" report of birth, I fell off my chair. I myself was one of those "natural childbirth" people (my son born in 1980; I didn't take so much as an aspirin), and yes--I can attest, that's an excellent description! Haha.

Oh, and P.S. In my 20 years of working in L&D, I personally attended two maternal deaths--and neither patient was high risk. Either one of them would have been perfect candidates for a home delivery. The thing is with obstetrical emergencies, things go bad so fast, you simply have no idea if you've never been around it. Yes, we saved a lot of women who might have died if they hadn't been in our hospital, but those two deaths still haunt me. I am not a fan of home births, obviously.

54labwriter
Mar 30, 2011, 1:30 pm

Peggy, I think we cross-posted. Thanks for your kind words.

55labwriter
Mar 30, 2011, 1:57 pm

Oh have mercy, I just fell off my chair laughing again. In another letter from Jessica to Deborah about the "Way of Birth" book:
Words in my book: You won't be finding "birthing" or "parenting" or above all "bonding," means mother must BOND with newborn if they are going to be fond of each other in later life. You've NO IDEA the amount of bosh one has to sort through. Oh dear.

56brenzi
Mar 30, 2011, 2:30 pm

Enjoying this thread immensely Becky. I still don't know when I'll get to the one Mitford book I own The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family but you're certainly whetting my appetite.

57labwriter
Editado: Mar 30, 2011, 2:36 pm

Hi Bonnie, thanks for your kind post. I'm to the point, after spending the MONTH OF MARCH on these letters, that I'm ready, more than ready, for something else. But I just can't leave these women until I've finished. I'm at 728/804, so there's not too much left. I know I'll be sad when I finish--floods, as the sisters would say.

58phebj
Mar 30, 2011, 3:17 pm

I agree with Peggy--this thread is a treasure trove. I had no idea there was so much out there about the Mitfords nor that they were so entertaining. I'm thinking of reading mostly Mitford in May!

59elkiedee
Mar 30, 2011, 3:41 pm

Wow, I didn't know JM had written a book on birth (I have the death one). I must get back to reading some Mitford books.

60labwriter
Editado: Mar 31, 2011, 10:25 am



Charlotte Mosley, Diana's daughter-in-law, brought out the Letters of Nancy Mitford in 1993. All the sisters were reading advance copies and commenting on the book and Nancy in letters to each other. Nancy was a flash-point for all the sisters, so they had a lot to say.

Jessica wrote to Deborah: My corrections minuscule. Point is, though, that reading the letters memories come flooding back--more like ghosts in fact. Comments on yr comments: Fully agree abt snobbishness....I wasn't too surprised, always thought she veered in that direction. But it comes in undistilled double dosage via the letters.

Diana to Pamela. I quite agree N's letters do make one feel sad. In Nancy's case she really sounds as if she hated Muv & Farve….As to Tom, N's letter to Decca is not just rubbish but so spiteful. Ed note--Nancy had said in 1968 that Tom Mitford had hated Mosley. I don't mind, it's all so long ago, & poor Naunce suffered most from her own spite because the result was she never knew a happy love....There are some very funny letters, the best are to Heywood, but I do agree it's sad, & somehow hurtful to Muv & Farve. But I at any rate look back to a happy childhood....Don't we all sound horrible in the book! Perhaps we are, but we do at least all love each other.

Here's a photo of the sisters at the party for the book launch: Jessica, Debroah, and Pamela. Charlotte is the young woman in the back. Diana didn't attend the party because she said it would spoil the event for Jessica if she were there.

61labwriter
Editado: Mar 31, 2011, 1:45 pm

Pamela died the next year, 1994. She had been out to dinner with friends and evidently had a drink with dinner. She broke her leg when she fell down some steep stairs. The surgery went perfectly, she had two days of feeling wonderful in the hospital, and then she very suddenly died. She was 87 years old. What a way to go!

Her obituary is here.

Jessica's comments to Deborah:
Obviously there'll be the usual canned obits (always at the ready in the newspaper files, ready to spring when the Grim Reaper does)....How v. excellent that Emma {Deborah's daughter} is to have the house & contents. I know she adored Tante Femme as she called Woman. Ages ago, Em told me how at age 14 she was for the 1st time together with all the sisters (except me: Nancy, Pam, Diana, & you), & how appalled she was at how all of you teased Woman--worse ragging than any seen since school, she said! So in a way, I think Em saw herself as a Woman champion or protectress. Actually, Woman rather thrived on all that teasing, don't you agree?
The conclusion of Emma's obituary for Pamela is found in a note in the letters: "In old age she radiated serenity and goodness. Her huge blue eyes were as innocent as a child's. Indeed, innocence along with courage, honesty and cheerfulness was one of her remarkable qualities."

62labwriter
Editado: Mar 31, 2011, 10:13 pm



A biography of Nancy's great friend Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was published in 1995, written by Nancy's biographer, Selena Hastings: Evelyn Waugh: A Biography.
March, 1995. Jessica to Deborah. On the lit front, have you read Selina Hasting's book about E. Waugh? To my annoyance I note that it's had marvelous reviews, just when I was thinking what a hopeless idea--yet another book on a well-worn subject.
This is from a review: "As a man he was quintessentially English - stubborn, class-obsessed, despairing, honourable, detached and at the same time unfathomably strange. Selina Hastings has drawn a remarkable portrait of a remarkable figure." I haven't seen the book myself, nor do I know very much about Waugh.

63labwriter
Editado: Abr 1, 2011, 8:19 am

1995. Charlotte Mosley is back again with another letters book: The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. I have this book in my collection, but I haven't read it yet. Charlotte is a born letter editor.



If you want to get some idea of the essays that Charlotte writes at the beginnings of her chapters, here is one for this book that I found posted at The NYT Books.

Here is Diana's comment on the letters ms to Deborah in 1995:
The letters end so sadly somehow. Evelyn was miserable for years & his books lost all their wonderful hilariousness. I read Love Among the Ruins & it is boring & disgusting (the heroine's beard). Poor Naunce no more Colonel, no more hero in other words, but her books got better & better. I think after the wretched U-book (Noblesse Oblige, published in 1956) the friendship was never again the least bit loving. I think she felt he'd made a fool of her. There's a lot that is rather painful but I don't think anyone would see it much who didn't know them both. I'm longing to hear your impressions.

64labwriter
Editado: Abr 1, 2011, 1:02 pm



Jessica died in July of 1996 after a short illness. She was evidently a chain smoker all her life, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer. By the time it was diagnosed, it had already metastasized to her brain and bones.

Here's an obituary from The Independent.

Deborah to Diana.
The obits were unbelievably inaccurate. To be expected I suppose. Not one got it right (facts I mean)....Reading the obits of Decca, the Mitford Girls are described, variously, as Famous Notorious Talented Glamorous Turbulent Unpredictable Celebrated Infamous Rebellious Colourful & Idiosycratic. So, take your choice.

65labwriter
Editado: Abr 1, 2011, 4:45 pm

Not much time for reading today, but I sat down with The Sisters for a few minutes and found something I must share. It seems Deborah had a "thing" for Elivs Presley. At age 77 in 1997, she visited Graceland for the first time.



Here's from her letter to Diana, 18 Jan 1997.
Met by one of those clever vans which holds 7 people. The first sight of the Mansion was a thrill {remember, this was the woman who lived at Chatsworth all her adult life--calling Elvis's place a "mansion"--how droll--although I'm sure she was sincerely thrilled, for reasons known only to herself, but thank goodness we aren't required to explain our fetishes} & the gates with the music notes on. Drive round to the back door. Very few "public," a dead time of year I suppose. Went in through the kitchen where we picked up the audio things for the tour. A sweet but hopeless...girl in a woolly hat was our guide but the audios made her not necessary. They were perfect, Priscilla Presley talking & sometimes Elvis plus music, allowed one the right amount of time in each room. The furniture was too lovely, white "custom made" sofas all along a wall, down 3 steps & a white piano on a shag carpet so deep it went 1/2 way up its legs.

The Jungle Room had outsize chairs whose arms were carved crocodiles' heads, enormous, & a vast round one which no one could sit in because of its depth. Green carpet 2 inches long (thick) & the same on the ceiling. Do admit. Alas no upstairs, stairs carpet & ceilinged. The dining room was very gracious & we were told that they all made jokes there & Elvis used to eat with one eye on the television.

Out of doors, bitter cold bright sun, to see some horses in a paddock which, a notice said, wore plastic eye shades to protect from injury, what could that mean?....Our guide, who unbelievably was called Morticia, told us that {teddy bears & flower offerings for the family graves} arrive every day....By {the end of the tour} we were about whacked & only got to one shop & the idiotic Morticia never told us there were 2 more so we missed the sequin tee shirts & such like, maddening.
No, you can't make this stuff up.

66labwriter
Abr 1, 2011, 5:54 pm



Diana's biography was published in 1999, Diana Mosley, A Life, by Jan Dalley. In May 1999, Diana wrote this to Deborah:
I come out of the book a monster, can't be helped but what I'm trying to get changed is the part about Muv, lifted of course from Nancy's letters to Mrs. Ham. Nancy's lies are almost worse than Decca's. Both stem from unhappiness (Decca's tragedies, Nancy's operation in 1941) but nobody realizes that except us.

67-Cee-
Editado: Abr 1, 2011, 6:07 pm

"...this thread is a treasure trove..."

"...this thread a real treasure house for Mitford seekers..."

What Pat and Peggy said. :D

Becky I am loving all this info. It's an in-depth course in Mitford lit - prettied up with pictures!

Still reading The Sisters: Saga of Mitford Family. Trying to keep all the sisters in order... your efforts here are helping a lot.

Thanks so much for doing all this work. I appreciate it!

68labwriter
Editado: Abr 1, 2011, 6:38 pm

Thanks, Claudia. Oh, the thread is just for fun. These women were so amazing--a case of the whole more than the sum of its parts. I'm pretty sure that any group of six sisters, given a particular time--and these girls/women did live in interesting times--would be fascinating to figure out, their relationships, who was talking or not talking to whom, etc.

I'm very close to the end of The Mitfords Letters Between Six Sisters, at long last, and there's a feeling of deep pathos for the two who are left, and you the reader know that soon it will be just one. It's very fortunate that Deborah was the one who was left, since she of all of them had the personality and grit to stand up to being the last survivor. I love the title of her memoir, Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister.

I'll be back later to tie it up.

69labwriter
Abr 2, 2011, 3:40 pm

Well, truth be told, there is no wrapping up the Mitford Sisters Industry--it just goes on and on. The next one that looks interesting to me is the book of correspondence between Nancy Mitford and her great friend Evelyn Waugh. For now, though, I'm taking a Mitford break. This thread remains for anyone who would like to add their thoughts about anything Mitford. Happy reading!