The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – ed. Charlotte Mosley

The thing about book blogging is it can open up a whole new world and my purse into books that must be read, or looked at, bought, to admire on shelves in fact almost everything. This was the case with this book. I saw it reviewed in three parts on Katrina’s blog. I was captivated by it and wanted to read it. I know Simon of Savidge Reads is a fan, having read this and some Mitford novels as well. Well I knew that I must be on to a good thing….

What do I know about the Mitford’s well until I started reading this huge book (not one to whip out on a train journey!)I knew one was an author (Nancy) that one was married to Oswald Mosley (Diana) and that one was the Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah) and there were six of them in total (Unity, Jessica & Pamela making up the other three). That was about the extent of my knowledge, with a brief remembrance of Hitler, and France somewhere. Not very much, so I was going to learn from this book.

I have had this book out on loan from the library since August and as you can see we are into December now and it still remains unfinished. And that is how it is going to remain, I am giving up but not giving up. Let me explain myself more clearly because as I read this book and the sections, I went and made notes about what I had read and that is what is forming the basis of my review of the book. However I really struggled with the letters – it was not the language, it was the nicknames, I was forever flicking backwards and forwards to the beginning where all the possible nicknames were written down.

I eventually lost momentum with it, and with all the footnotes I lost the flow, but needed to refer to them because I did not know who they were talking about. However I have not lost interest in the book and the subject. I enjoyed the explanatory passages from Charlotte Mosley at the beginning of each section, this helped immensely with some of the explanation and I have read all of those for the book and just flicked at the letters from about 1949 onwards.

I am fascinated by the letters and the relationship the sisters had. How can six people grow up so differently and have such vast opposing views when brought up by the same parents, who themselves had opposing views which kept them together and forced them apart. The Mitfords come in different forms, authors, socialites, Nazi  fascists, communists, farmers and interestingly enough crossing over on more than one occasion.

As I do not have any siblings and nor does my mother I cannot relate in any way to what they experienced as sisters. Their obvious love for each other was wonderful but the way they also seemed to have no qualms in informing on each other either and breaking all ties. Their mother must have felt very much in the middle at times. Nancy was quite clear to the authorities that Diana was ‘an extremely dangerous person’ and that it was her ‘patriotic duty’ to inform. Diana did not know that this had happened until after Nancy had died. How awful to have gone through life believing one thing about your sister and finding out the polar opposite and never having the chance to ask the question – why?

Jessica did not speak to Diana again once she had moved to the US, again politics affecting a familial relationship. The one who stood between them all as the link was the youngest sister Deborah. The ‘deb’ who has witnessed many things and met many people, here I can name drop with The Kennedy’s, related to Harold MacMillan and then there is Adele Astaire, to just name a few.

This book is rich in social history and I was fascinated by Diana being interned during the war and the life of a débutante  for all of them. As well as the infatuation that Unity had with Hitler. The lack of love that their parents showed them obviously is how they were drawn together and it is great to see such correspondence surviving for many others to enjoy.

So the book will be returned to the library. Maybe one day I will have more time to sit and read it or perhaps I need to read something else about the Mitfords before going back and tackling this. The nicknames may not be so much of a challenge then and the footnotes I might not need. Here I refer you to a quote from the witty man himself Noel Coward (also known to the Mitfords – of course) “Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love”. I do love his turn of phrase!