Posts Tagged ‘the mitfords’

The Duchess of Devonshire is the youngest of the Mitford siblings, the famous brood that includes the writers Nancy and Jessica. Like them, she has lived an unusually full and remarkable life, and like them she has an inimitable expressive gift. In Counting My Chickens, she has gathered extracts from her diaries and other writings to create a multifaceted portrait of her life at Chatsworth, the home of the Dukes of Devonshire, that is pithy, hilarious, wise, and always richly rewarding.

Deborah Devonshire – born in 1920 – was the youngest of the mad bad Mitford sisters. She married Andrew Cavendish who at the time wasn’t the heir – but upon his brother tragic death became the heir to the Devonshire Dukedom in Derbyshire. The duchess has worked tirelessly to make Chatsworth what it is today, work she has been passionate about, one wonders what might have happened to Chatsworth if not for Debo.
I have read a lot of books about the Mitford sisters or by one of the Mitford sisters. I am in fact a little bit addicted to The Mitfords. The fact that one of them is still alive in 2012 delights me. I have never been to Chatsworth though – and I have no idea why – when I read Deborah Devonshire’s book ‘Wait for Me” last year I remember thinking I must get to Chatsworth – and I still haven’t. Maybe this year will be the year I arrange a day out there.
‘Counting my Chickens’ is a charming little book full of Debo’s observations of life, her affectionate portraits of some old friends – such as Patrick Leigh Fermor and James Less-Milne, and descriptions of her life and work at Chatsworth. She is often scathing about such people as Mr Blair – and those against fox hunting or who don’t understand the ways of the countryside. The duchess though has a sharp wit and this brings some real personality to her writing. Towards the end of this slim little volume is a piece entitles Road from the isles – in which Debo describes a journey from Inchkenneth off the cost of Mull, to London in 1939, that she took accompanied by two dogs and a goat she had been given by her mother. Hilarious stuff – and only could it have been a Mitford that undertook such a journey.

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Nancy Mitford

Eugenia Malmains is one of the richest girls in England and an ardent supporter of Captain Jack and the Union Jackshirts; Noel and Jasper are both in search of an heiress (so much easier than trying to work for the money); Poppy and Marjorie are nursing lovelorn hearts; and the beautiful bourgeois Mrs Lace is on the prowl for someone to lighten the boredom of her life. They all congregate near Eugenia’s fabulous country home at Chalford, and much farce ensues.

Being rather a fan of The Mitfords, and having read several biographies and letter collections as well as some of Nancy’s later, better known novels, I was very curious when I heard Wigs on the Green was being re-issued. Having been out of print since not long after it first appeared, it is easy to why it caused such disquiet among her family. The introduction by Charoltte Moseley casts an interesting light upon this, and apparently Nancy took out 3 chapters which particularly mocked Sir Oswald Moseley. There is plenty of Nancy’s famous wit in evidence here, but this is really no scalding satire. The novel is light and frothy, funny and very tongue in cheek, and yet even now after all these years it is hard to see the humor in fascism. There is plenty of Wodehouse like jolly japes – a lovely country house, eccentric relatives and impoverished young men looking to marry money. All in all a 1930’s cosy read – albeit a slightly uncomfortable one politically.

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The classic memoir of one of the century's most extraordinary families.

It's quite surprising that I hadn't read this book before – as I have become a little addicted to reading about the mad bad Mitfords. This is a really well written, funny memoir from one of those infamous sisters. If anyone asked me who my favourite Mitford was it would be Nancy every time, the most fascinating was Diana, but the one I would have most likely liked in real life – would have been Jessica. Her warmth and likability come across strongly in this book, and she was able to poke gentle fun at herself, at the same time.
The early part of the book which recounts the so often told story of the Mitfords growing up at Swinbrook was my favourite part of the book. The stories are a little different however, because of course Jessica was quite a bit younger than Nancy, Pam, Tom and Diana, and so the stories involving her, Unity and Debo are not quite the ones we know and which were told so well by Nancy. In other books I have read about the Mitfords, I had never really got a feeling for Esmond Romilly, Decca's first husband, but here he is portrayed faithfully and of course with real affection. An excellent memoir, which I am immediately adding to mypermanent collection of books. 

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From Amazon
The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about.

I really don’t know where to begin in reviewing this stupendous work. I am fascinated by the Mitfords – and I have read several books about them or by them. These wonderful letters between the six sisters are a chronicle of a century – Nancy born 1904 and Diana died 2003. The letters chart the changing relationships between the sisters. The vast differences between them, and the things which united them. It is through their eyes and in their own peculiar Mitfordian language that we expierence: Diana’s imprisonment, Unity’s death, Pamela’s country life, Nancy’s cruel wit, Decca’s life in California and Debo’s life at Chatsworth. Many of the stories are familiar to us, but they are given an added poignancy for being in their own words. It is typical of all families I think that they should sometimes talk of one sister to another – sometimes with concern, often in complaint. In their company we meet so many famous names among them:: JFK, The Queen, Princess Di, Evelyn Waugh, as well as a host of reletives, friends and servants. There are a lot of wonderful photographs in this volume which I nearly wore out looking at them, trying to get a sense of that moment captured on film – my favourites are, for some reason – Decca in her 60’s playing Boggle with her second husband and Maya Angelou and one of Nancy standing on the steps of rue Monsieur in 1952.

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‘We’ve had nothing to eat since you saw us, nothing whatsoever. Course upon course of nasty greasy stuff smelling of garlic – a month’s ration of meat, yes, but quite raw you know – shame, really – I wasn’t going to touch it, let alone give it to Sigi, poor little mite.’ ‘Nanny says the cheese was matured in manure,’ Sigi chipped in, eyes like saucers. It isn’t just Nanny who finds it difficult in France when Grace and her young son Sigi are finally able to join her dashing aristocratic husband Charles-Edouard after the war. For Grace is out of her depth among the fashionably dressed and immaculately coiffured French women, and shocked by their relentless gossiping and bedhopping. When she discovers her husband’s tendency to lust after every pretty girl he sees, it looks like trouble. And things get even more complicated when little Sigi steps in . . . The Blessing is a hilarious tale of love, fidelity, and the English abroad, tailored as brilliantly as a New Look Dior suit.

In Sigi I think we have one of the funniest and most irritating child characters ever. The Blessing is not in my opinion as brilliant as: In the Pursuit of Love, and Love in a cold Climate, but it is certainly hugely entertaining, written with Nancy Mitfords characteristic sharp wit.  There are a good deal of English/French jokes, and a good deal of gossipy snobbishness which is really quite delightful, and very Mitford. Nancy Mitfords observations of various sections of English and French society are  extremely acute, and must have delighted readers who enjoyed a little tounge in cheek satire, when the book was originally published in 1951. 


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This book offers a fascinating and controversial life of the ‘Mitford girl’ who ran away with the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and was a close friend of Adolf Hitler. Diana Mosley was one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of recent times. For some, she was a cult; for many, anathema. Born in 1910, Diana was the most beautiful and the cleverest of the six Mitford sisters. She was eighteen when she married Bryan Guinness, of the brewing dynasty, by whom she had two sons. After four years, she left him for the fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, and set herself up as Mosley’s mistress – a course of action that horrified her family and scandalised society. In 1933, she took her sister Unity to Germany; soon both had met the new German leader, Adolf Hitler. Diana became so close to him that when she and Mosley married in 1936 the ceremony took place in the Goebbels drawing room and Hitler was guest of honour. She continued to visit Hitler until a month before the outbreak of war; and afterwards, for many, years, refused to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. This gripping book is a portrait of both an extraordinary individual and the strange, terrible world of political extremism in the 1930s.

I have been fascinated by the Mitfords for some time, although the more I read about them, the more I am reminded that I would have hated most of them in person. Diana particularly has always been for very many people a hugely controversial figure.  However controversial she was, she was also fascinating.  As a Mitford alone she would be  fascinating, but add in 1930’s extremism, Hitler the drama of war, imprisonment, and a 45 year marriage to an infamous politician such as Oswald Mosley, and you get a biography that is really compelling. Many Mitford expoits in this books were familiar to me as I had read about them in other books, not that I minded reading about them again.   This was the first time I had read so much about Diana, her obsession with Hitler and his policies, her marriage to Mosley, and their imprisonment during the war, under a new hastily written amendment to the emergency powers Bill, was fantastically readable and hard to put down at times.

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In my Uncon NSS from dirtydancer – and now resting in my PC.


This brilliantly funny novel revisits some of the characters from Nancy Mitford's earlier stories including Fanny, who is married to bumbling, absent-minded Oxford don, Alfred. Fanny is content in her role as a tweedy housewife with ‘ghastly’ clothes, but her life changes overnight when Alfred is appointed English Ambassador to Paris. Suddenly she is mixing with royalty and Rothschilds, hosting cocktail parties and having details of her every move and outfit printed in the papers. As if that wasn't all more than enough to contend with, she also finds herself dealing with an aristocratic squatter, organising her friends’ love lives and keeping track of her maverick sons. All she needs now is a diplomatic crisis

I love Nancy Mitford and I loved this novel. It may not quite have the comic punch that The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold climate do – but it is often very funny, and best of all reunites us with some of those beloved characters from her other books. Fanny is now middleaged, the mother of four boys, two grown up, and causing their parents to despair, and two still at Eton, who during the course of this novel run away and have a few adventures, causing a few more anxieties. When Alfred is made Ambassador to Paris, Fanny's cosy Oxford life changes to one of diplomacy, receptions, cocktail parties, and dodging the gutter press. She hires a cousin of hers Northey as her social secretary – an hilarious (and typical Mitford) character and definitely the best part of the book. She is flighty, prone to tears – especially over animals – she adopts a badger and rescues some crabs that were destined for table, and has half of Paris falling at her feet.

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