I thought I knew a fair bit about the Mitfords, could fair well if they happened to come up on a pub quiz say, well now I think I’m Mastermind level! (Don’t hold me to that, I’m in the mood for some gross exaggeration) With ‘The Mitford Girls; The Biography of an Extraordinary Family’, by Mary S. Lovell, I found acres of new stories to flit about in, and it has led on to me wanting more, to follow up with other writing about these fascinating women and more of the work they produced themselves. This is not to say that ‘The Mitford Girls’ does not give us a complete history, it is a satisfyingly in-depth look into the family tale at a chunky 529 pages long (excluding source notes) but these stubborn, contrary, bright, forces of nature seem somewhat impossible to pin down on the page so I just want to keep finding more of them. When you read more about these complex characters I imagine you’ll agree my search to understand them wholly will likely prove elusive.
This titled, well off and well connected family certainly caused a storm wherever they went, with difficult relationships within their home to follow on with difficult relationships played out in the public sphere, the two most obvious names linked being Hitler and Oswald Mosley. Politics caused huge rifts between the sisters, damaging not only their relationships with each other but also proving life altering to their own persons. With one sister heading off to befriend Hitler while another journeys to Spain to join the Communist party, it is not difficult to see why theirs was a life filled with the kind of events that leave a reader open mouthed when these are recounted.
This volume really does focus on the sisters, mother, father (Lord and Lady Resdale) and brother Tom do appear throughout but the spotlight is never fully on them, as the title of the book suggests we know who the stars of the show were. The only slight problem I had with this biography of the girls is that I feel is does tread quite gently when it comes to Unity and Diana’s involvement with the Nazis and the right wing, not completely letting them off the hook but not really seeming to want to fully charge them with their offences either, a little like the author is always trying to find the reason that they were good girls really and somehow it was all a bit of a misunderstanding/mistake. Oswald Mosley certainly comes out of it in a rosier fashion than I’m ever happy to see him in.
First published in 2001 you can see I’m bang up to date with my reading here, and numerous other books have been published about this family both prior and since this one, but when the Mitfords are discussed it always seems to appear as a reliable source, so I thought it was a good one to go for.
The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell £12.99 (Abacus)
I do have further reading lined up at home already, one book focusing solely on letters between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, I’ve dipped in and out of this and it is GLORIOUS, the art of being bitchy and writing an utterly fabulous letter darling is displayed on every page within. My other tome is the complete letters between the sisters themselves, which has a handy family tree at the front representing each sister as a symbol, so of course we get a swastika and a hammer and sickle. Nancy gets a quill, Debo a crown, I may now have to make a cuppa and sit wondering what symbol I’d be handily reduced to if so needed in the future.
The Letters Of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh Edited by Charlotte Mosley £14.99 (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters Edited by Charlotte Mosley £16.99 (4th Estate)
Let me know if you’ve read about The Mitfords or are tempted to, maybe you know a fascinating titbit about them! And what would your symbol be by your name in the family tree?!
As always comment below, and new readers can email dogearedreads1@gmail with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line to receive a notification whenever a new post appears.
Until next time,