Author Topic: The Mitfords  (Read 24001 times)

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Offline RichC

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The Mitfords
« on: April 08, 2007, 07:15:35 PM »
They aren't royal, but I thought it would be worthwhile to start a thread about the Mitford family, one of the UK's most interesting aristocratic families.  Which one of the six Mitford sisters is your favorite and why?  The Communist (Jessica) or the Fascists (Unity and Diana), or maybe Nancy (the novelist), or perhaps Deborah (Britain's Martha Stewart).   Oh, and I forgot Pam, who everyone else seems to have forgotten too (she doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry.)  And what is it with British aristocrats embracing wacky or discredited political theories anyway?

Comments?

Offline TampaBay

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2007, 05:35:56 AM »
There is a great book out on them, It  came out about a yeat ago.  I saw it a Barnes and Noble and read about 20 pages.  It covers the periods from Edward VII to eary QEII-Society, Politics and Royals.  I should have bought it but I had so many hard to fine books that I left it on the shelf thinking I qould have no trouble finding it later.

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Offline bell_the_cat

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2007, 07:04:42 AM »
I can't think of much good to say about Diana and Unity. Diana was on "Desert Island Discs" a few years ago and was totally unrepentant about her support for Hitler.....

The Duchess of Devonshire. I'm not sure she's exactly Britain's Martha Stewart (unlike Diana she has never seen the inside of a prison), however, she did publish a cookery book. It contained helpful tips for preparing game ("get the gamekeeper to fetch a brace of fine pheasants...). There was also a fascinating book on gardening at Chatsworth.

Jessica Mitford had an interesting life, fighting with the Republicans in Spain during the Civil War. She and her husband had to fill in their occupations before joining up. So they wrote down "Labrador" because that was her favourite kind of dog. Luckily it was the right answer. She was a memeber of the Communist Party in the US.

I enjoyed Nancy Mitfords books, especially "Love in a Cold Climate", with it's array of appalling characters, worst of which must surely be the abominable Lady Mountdore. Talking about her time as Vicereine of India:

"Well, actually they (the Indians) worshipped us.... and we deserved it too. I can honestly say we put India on the map. Before we went there none of our friends had even heard of it!"

Nancy's humour has a bitter (and snobbish) edge to it though.

So maybe Pam was the best of the bunch (I think there was a brother too).
Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow. (Mark Twain)

Offline CountessKate

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2007, 09:00:04 AM »
I don't know that Pam was the best of the bunch - she was the quietest and had the least personality, but I've just been reading Jessica's letters where it's clear she joined in one of those pointless family squabbles (this time between Jessica and Debo, Jessica accused of stealing an album of photos from Debo, letters back and forward demonstrating no Jessica didn't, album found in Debo's possession after all) as she poured little drops of vitriol into the affair in an unassuming, vague way which helped to keep the animosity afloat. 

Tom, the only boy, was I think rather an adherent of his brother-in-law, Mosely, and like him a bit of a womaniser, but when the war came he did the proper thing and joined up and was killed in Burma, I believe, just before the war ended.  He very sensibly kept his head down around all the girls and seemed to be liked by all of them.

Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2007, 12:33:06 PM »
I can't like Diana or Unity at all.  :P They all had interesting lives, though.

The brother, Tom, was reported to have had a relationship with James Lee-Milne, the diarist. I haven't read his diaries but perhaps there's something of the family in there?

Nancy's father-in-law, Lord Rennell, was reported to have had a relationship with Oscar Wilde. Her relationship with Col.  Gaston Palewski (an aide to Charles de Gaulle and later a prominent statesman) lasted on-and-off until he married Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duchess of Sagan, daughter of one of the 'Dollar Princesses', Anna Gould.

Debo's sister-in-law was Kathleen Kennedy (sister of President Kennedy). She married William Cavendish (and suffered a break with her mother over the religious differences that never healed) and would've become the Duchess of Devonshire had 'Billy' not been killed in the war. Debo's granddaughter is one of those ridiculously skinny models, Stella Tennant. Further, Debo's father-in-law, died of a heart attack while under the care of the suspected serial murderer John Bodkin Adams. The coroner should have been notified since the duke had not seen a doctor in the 14 days prior to his death, however, Adams, though present at death, could sign the death certificate to state that the Duke died naturally.The Duke's brother-in-law, Harold MacMillan, the Prime Minister, wanted Adams's case to go away (he was under investigation for another death shortly before the Duke's) apparently so that MacMillan's wife's own affair wouldn't come out during the intense publicity.

Diana's 2nd husband, Oswald Mosley, was first married to Cynthia, one of the daughters of the former Viceroy to Indian, Lord Curzon--another interesting set of sisters (with their own book, The Viceroy's Daughters) and daughters of another Dollar Princess, Mary Leiter. Cynthia had been elected a Labour MP in 1929. While Diana left her husband for Oswald, he wouldn't leave his wife. He was grief-stricken upon her death but didn't turn to Diana, but rather launched an affair with his sister-in-law 'Baba' Metcalfe, wife of 'Fruity' Metcalfe, best man to the Duke of Windsor at his wedding. Cynthia and Baba's stepmother, Grace (subject of John Singer Sargen's last oil portrait), also became a mistress to Oswald. To complete the set, the eldest of the 3 sisters, Mary Irene, had had an affair with him before he married. :P Eventually, Oswald and Diana married at Joseph Goebbel's house with he and Hitler as witnesses. They were forced to quietly remarry after the war since Hitler had held the marriage license and it wasn't found after the war ended. MI5 had files on the couple and it was their opinion that Diana was 'said to be far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband and will stick at nothing to achieve her ambitions. She is wildly ambitious." They settled in Paris where they were neighbors and (surprise) friends with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I'm sure this friendship, with the Mosley's unrepentant feeling for the Nazis and continued vocal support of Fascist causes endeared the Windsors to their family.  ::)
« Last Edit: April 09, 2007, 01:03:55 PM by grandduchessella »
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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2007, 01:17:09 PM »
Nancy Mitford





Diana & Unity at the Nuremberg Rally in 1937



Diana & Hitler

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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2007, 01:23:30 PM »
Diana



Unity



Unity & Jessica



Deb



Photos courtesy of sheilaomalley.com. She writes some on the family and sums them up pretty well--stunningly gorgeous but with something fundamentally 'off' about them.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2007, 01:25:03 PM by grandduchessella »
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Offline bell_the_cat

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2007, 02:00:03 PM »
Thanks, GD Ella for all the photos. I particularly like the last one of the duchess! I agree they were all a bit awful really. There are a lot of very amusing stories about them though. I was laughing recently at an account by Jessica of their schooldays. They didn't go to school, of course, but were educated by a succession of governesses. One of the less successful choices took the girls up to London for the day and taught them how to shoplift!  :)
Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow. (Mark Twain)

Offline Michael II

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2007, 02:33:58 PM »
Didn't one of the Mitford sisters Jessica I think??? write a book called The American way of Death?  In it she stated that when she died she wanted one of those wonderful American embalming jobs done on her.  Alas instead she was cremated and her ashes scattered to the four winds. :'(

Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2007, 02:35:22 PM »
Yes, that was a book Jessica wrote.
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2007, 02:36:53 PM »
I just finished Decca's letters, and "shrieked" throughout (to put it in Mitfordian terms). I know that several of them were ghastly --- Unity measuring for curtains while the Jews she was dispossessing to get their apartment in Nazi Germany silently watched is the most egregious --- but when they were funny, they were hilarious. Nancy was the most perceptive about the family, I think, when she described Hons and Rebels to E. Waugh as Decca's view of the family as filtered through Nancy's novels. Even Decca admitted as much later on, and that Nancy's work shaped the public and private images of the family members.

Read Decca's very shirty answer to Jonathan Guiness's request for an interview for his own family history. This is a family that really, really knows how to carry a grudge.
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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2007, 02:38:33 PM »


I think this shows Nancy, Unity, Jessica and Diana.

From a review of the book of Jessica's letters:

"If Decca has forgiven her mother her one-time Hitler sympathies, has nothing but tenderness for the deluded and disabled Unity, is cautiously affectionate with Nancy and warm though prickly with Deborah, she is unbending about Diana’s steely and unrepentant Fascist history. Visiting London with her son, Benjamin Treuhaft, who is half Jewish, she notes Diana’s offer of a meeting: “I thought better not, as I didn’t want Benj turned into a lampshade.”
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Offline Alexander1917

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2007, 02:40:17 PM »
The book Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy (bought on the home-way-flight) is a very interessting biography with nice pictures of her family and homes.
A very interessting life.

Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2007, 02:54:33 PM »
From some of the comments at the sheilaomalley site:

"The Mitfords literally embodied the internal war in Britain leading up to World War II. The pacifist fear of conflict - the blossoming love affair with fascism - the growing power of Communism - Each sister represents one of these trends. I mean ... I'm trying to imagine a dinner party with all of them. Scary! Decca - the Communist - had grown up closest to Unity - and was really torn apart by Unity's choices. They shared a room for a while - and they both would scratch stuff into the windows: swastikas and hammer and sickles. Battling ideologies."

"I loved the craziness of the dad ... how, when he got angry with someone or whatever, would write their name on a piece of paper, fold it up into a tiny square, and put it away in a drawer somewhere? Like, this hilarious little gesture that had no impact but was enormously meaningful to him, a huge statement...Do you remember, in that bio, the episode where she (Decca) and her husband were dining in some Communist country, and thinking about how great it all was, and then at some point their waitress said something to them -- maybe begged them to help her get out, or something like that. And they both had this shared moment of terror, like, "Are we completely wrong about this?" And then (in my memory of how this was described in the book) they kind of decided to ignore it and not think of it again. Chilling."

Also, the fact that Unity shot herself in the head over Hitler--and survived. Bizarre.  :o

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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: The Mitfords
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2007, 03:00:50 PM »
Nancy





Diana



all the sisters

They also serve who only stand and wait--John Milton
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