It’s a good thing I decided to buy this at the bookstore, though I was completely clueless of the content – because I’d be headed back out to go buy it right now if I hadn’t.
Who were the Mitford sisters and what is their place in history? I had never heard of these women who were the subject of many a gossip-fest worldwide in the periods before and after the second world war, but immediately upon delving in I couldn’t put it down. It is hard to believe that each of these women were from the same family, and placed as they were at crucial points in history. They each took the restraining leash on women of their time and snapped it to suit their own personalities. What follows is a quick run-down of four of the sisters paths. The rest as they say, is history.
The six Mitford girls (and one brother, woe to the only boy with all those girls!) were born into high society at a time when England and most of Europe was closing the door to WWI and partying like it had never happened.
None of them guessed that WWII was close and the golden era would be gone, those distinct social classes of Europe changed forever.
Born to a Peer of the Realm on the edge of the political tempest of the 40s through 60s; these amazingly diverse, stubborn, intelligent sisters made the world sit up and take notice. Growing up tight-knit without much outside influence under the realm of a temperamental eccentric father, they were denied any outside education which caused nearly all of them to rebel in her own way as the years passed.
Despite opposite-spectrum political fervor and many miles and years between them, the Mitford sisters held onto the love of each other as they held onto the bucking saddle of change.
The youngest sister, who incidentally could be mistaken for a movie star, is the current Duchess of Devonshire: Deborah Cavendish.
Deborah grew up in the shadow of her famous sisters, and was the only one to see up close and personal the pain and division that crept into their parents lives, as the family fragmented.
When ‘Debo’ married her husband Andrew they did not expect to inherit as he had an older brother called William. William’s wife was a Kennedy (sister of JFK and Robert no less) of staunch Catholic roots who risked, and gave up everything to marry William, only for her husband to die four months later in the war.
Deborah and Andrew spent their life fighting not to lose the Cavendish legacy to government taxes and changing times. Having sold everything but the house itself, it is now a fully functioning estate open to the public.
Nancy was known for her clever wit and larger than life stories. She became a bestselling author who lived in Paris and was one of the lost generation of ‘Bright Young People’ that moved in the highest social and literary circles of the time. As the oldest sister who mercilessly teased and bullied her family not only in her youth, she was always the one with the sharpest tongue. Her mother said of her: “In each of Nancy’s letters there is concealed a small knife.” It sounds like the mother was clever as well!
Perhaps the most infamous of the sisters was Unity Valkyrie Mitford. Little is known of her personality because of later shocking events; but she was much loved by her family who could not bring themselves to denounce her for her personal relationship with Adolph Hitler. At one time in fact, the public scuttlebutt in Germany was that the Fuhrer would marry Unity. A fanatic Nazi follower and deeply in love with Hitler who showed a curious side of himself to her, Unity followed her heart into tragedy.
Diana Mitford also followed her heart to social ruin. At first married to Bryan Guinness, (yes of that famous American name and fortune); she soon fell in love with and married the infamous Sir Walter Mosley, who would in the next decade become the most hated man in Britain as the enigmatic but frightening leader of the British fascist party.
Diana spent three years in horrible conditions in prison for her connections not only to her husband, but suspicion lay upon her personal visits to Germany where she spent a considerable amount of visits with Hitler; remarking well upon his friendliness, intelligence and genial manners.
A curious personality was one of the younger sisters, Jessica ‘Decca’ Mitford. A fiery Communist she eloped to America where she was involved in the early American Communist party in San Francisco.
She later becoming a best-selling author like Nancy, on the funeral system/scam in America of all things.
Decca would pounce on anything controversial with glee and great feeling. In the early fifties Decca learned of the struggles of race relations in the South and went there herself to attend a black church, causing a riot where the KKK burned the church down. She was exceedingly vocal in her complaint of the treatment of minorities or workers.
Maya Angelo the famous poet became her closest friend and was there at her deathbed. Decca’s first husband, tragically lost at sea in the war, was the nephew of Winston Churchill whom all the sisters knew personally.
The author extensively and carefully put together what seems a mountainous task into a biography that reads much easier than it should. She took especial care to correct rumors and lies about several sisters while remaining unbiased and objective which cannot be easy, and gives as much information on each sisters life as she had access to leaving the reader to make up their own opinion of each. Nancy S. Lovell has created a masterpiece in this book, and all my sentences are very clipped and long at the same time! Read this book, it’s fascinating!