The Sisters: The Mitford Family
Who were the Mitford Sisters?
Public opinion is, and always was, divided about the sisters. Some see them as a weird bunch of people and there are those who see them - particularly in the cases of Unity and Diana - as being positively evil. Others, just a little kinder, portrayed them as brainless, upper class society girls. So where does the truth really lie?
Other see them as an amusing, attractive and talented group of girls who weren't afraid of speaking out about their convictions and beliefs. I'm inclined to be in that group.
I've read quite a few books about them over the years and most have been politically charged. I'm not in the least bit interested in politics - I wanted to know about the sisters themselves as people. Who were the sisters? How did they come to have their diverse beliefs? Was it the influences of their parents or society?
This book was recommended to me as being the most honest portrayal of the family and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The sisters were the daughters of a rather eccentric British peer of the realm and his equally eccentric wife but were brought up in a relatively spartan way. All the family had a great sense of fun.
Potted histories of the Mitford sisters
In order of age:
- Nancy was born in 1904 and spent several years in a boring marriage. After divorcing her husband, she moved to Paris where she fell in love (unrequited) with a philandering French politician. She was the first of the sisters to become a writer and was known for her wit - which was often tinged with cruelty.Often her targets were her sisters
- Pamela, born three years later, also had an unsuccessful marriage to a brilliant physicist who was also millionaire and, like the love of Nancy's life, a womanizer. Pamela was his first wife - he went on to have five more. Pamela then became a lesbian or, as her sisters referred to it, a you-know-what-bian. An unconventional girl
- Diana, born in 1910, socialised with Adolf Hitler before the war. She married early, had two children and left her husband for a married man. This was scandalous enough but even more so because the man in question was Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. She was imprisoned during the war but helped by Winston Churchill, a close friend
- Unity (born in 1914) also socialised with Hitler but was much more besotted by him. She was thought to be his mistress and there were rumours that she had his illegitimate child. On the day that war was declared, she shot herself in the head. She survived, with Hitler paying all her medical expenses. This is a strange story indeed
- Jessica was born in 1917 and eloped to Spain with her cousin (who was rumoured to be Winston Churchill's illegitimate son) during the Spanish Civil War. Both were still in their teens. When her husband was killed in the Second World War, she became devotedly communist and married an American Jew; also a member of the communist party
- Deborah, the youngest, was born in 1920. She married into a wealthy and titled member of the British aristocracy. Her husband too was a womaniser with the added problem of alcohol abuse. But she stayed with him until he died.
You couldn't make that up
With such diversity, can you imagine what this biography is like? I strongly recommend it - it's fascinating and enormous fun. There comes a time when the Mitford sisters and their highly unusual lives become more and more addictive - the more you discover, the more you want to know about them.
This is THE definitive book about the Mitford sisters. It also contains photographs that I'd never seen before.
It's truly comprehensive and very addictive.I read and refer to my copy often.
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