During my stay in the UK I ran across a couple of icons that fascinated me, but none more so than the Mitford sisters.
Unity, Diana, Jessica, Nancy, Pamela and Deborah Mitford, not to mention their beloved parents “Muv” and “Farve” and brother Thomas, rocked the 20th century with their perfect British gentry eccentricities. I’ll go through them one at a time at first, but you have to consider them as a package, a family, to grasp the full magnificence.
Nancy Mitford– The novelist:
Nancy was the eldest of the six sisters and the one who best cultivated the “Mitford Industry” with her novels, newspaper articles, letters and essays. She also wrote many well-recieved biographies that won her fame and recognition. While Nancy’s sisters rushed to political extremes she remained a fairly uninterested moderate socialist, remaining on good terms with her sisters only through her wit, which mitigated political issues so that they were bearable in a family environment.
Though successful in her professional life, Nancy struggled in her personal life. After an unsatisfying romantic relationship with the homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St Clair-Erskine, she married the Honorable Peter Murray Rennell Rodd. This marriage didn’t really go that well, with both parties indulging in varied dalliances, the most interesting of which was Nancy’s affair with the French politician and Chief-of-Staff Colonel Gaston Palewski, who inspired the character of Fabrice de Sauveterre in ‘Love in a Cold Climate.’
I have read ‘Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ and I thought they were very witty and well-written representations of upper class Great Britain and France.
Also, she was classically gorgeous and has a look that I draw upon for inspiration:
If you want to read more about her, check out her website, nancymitford.com.
Pamela Mitford– Pamela was the least well-known and the most domestic of the bunch.
She appears apolitical, like Nancy, and was less of a public figure than her sisters. She was married to the scientist Derek Jackson, who helped her run a poultry farm. Her nicknames included “mother”, her childhood name created by her sisters, and “The Rural Mitford”, dubbed by a man that was enamored with her for at least a little while, John Betjeman. Eventually she divorced Derek Jackson and spent most of her time in the company of the Italian horsewoman Giuditta Tommasi, still running her farm.
Diana Mitford– The Venus-like Fascist:
(Taken from a portrait by William Acton)
Diana was a writer and auto-biographer, though not as well-known as her sister Nancy. She is much better recognized for her political activities. She was a dedicated Nazi from the very first Nuremberg rally, which she attended with her sister, Unity, who subsequently introduced her to Hitler.
At age 18, Diana was engaged to Bryan Walter Guinness, Irish writer, aristocrat and brewery heir. The young couple lived the high life with estates in Dublin and London, often hosting meetings of the “Bright Young People,” a society of which Nancy was a part. Their marriage was foiled when Diana fell irrevocably for the dashing Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Fascist Party. Mosley refused to leave his wife, though Diana left Guinness, and when Mosley’s wife died he started delayed their marriage further with an affair with his former wife’s younger sister.
When Mosley and Diana finally did get married, they did so in the parlor of Joseph Goebbels, overseen by Adolf Hitler himself. After the war Diana and Mosley were put in prison for three years for being Nazi sympathizers. After jail, the couple lived in various estates all over Europe and Diana lived to the ripe old age of 93.
Unity Mitford– Unity loved Hitler, which never ends well.
When Diana went home after the Nuremberg rally, Unity refused and was determined to meet Adolf Hitler. She did meet him and was a member of his inner circle for more than five years. She was so enamored with Hitler that when Britain declared war against Germany she shot herself in the head, causing permanent brain damage. Afterwards she lived with her mother at Asthall Manor and eventually she died from complications with the head-wound.
Jessica “Decca” Mitford– The red sheep of the family:
At age 19, Decca married the Spanish civil war fighter Esmond Romilly, a nephew of Winston Churchill and her second cousin. The couple moved between Spain and London (the East End) while Muv and Farve got used to the idea of their marriage. In 1939 Decca and Esmond moved to the United States. Esmond joined the Canadian Royal Airforce and died in combat in World War Two.
Decca threw herself into her work as a civil rights lawyer and investigative journalist. She was a member of the U.S. Communist Party at this time. She met her second husband, American civil rights lawyer Robert Treuhaft, in 1943. The couple moved to Oakland, California (where all good American Communists lived) and Decca became an American citizen in 1944. She continued to fight for civil rights in the U.S. throughout her lifetime and died from lung cancer in 1996.
Deborah Mitford– The Duchess.
Deborah was the baby of the family and is the last of the Mitford sisters still alive. She married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941 and became the Duchess of Cavendish in 1950. She is best known for her ownership and restoration of Chatsworth, the most amazing house I have ever seen. They used it for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice:
These sisters provide endless fodder for musings on tragedy, family, politics, British class issues, media, happiness, and the endless variability of siblings.
I hope you are having a great time at Cape Cod and meeting loads of new friends! I am going back to Austin tomorrow- I can’t wait to start school!
Hugs and kisses,