Before reading "The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family" by Mary S. Lovell, I had already read Hons and Rebels: The Classic Memoir of One of Last Century's Most Extraordinary Families by Jessica Mitford, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, and the first two novels by Nancy Mitford.
Mary S. Lovell does an extraordinary job of condensing down the lives of the Mitford girls, their parents, their brother, and numerous partners, children, grandchildren, and various other notable relatives, all of which takes place against some of the most momentous historical moments of the twentieth century. In a sense the family's story mirrors that of the century they lived in.
The parents known to their children as Muv and Farve, aka Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney, represent the early twentieth century aristocracy. Both, to varying degrees are appalled by the changes wrought throughout the 1920s and the emergence of the post-WW1 generation of young people, dubbed Bright Young Things, who erupted into society determined to change the world for the better now once the war to end all wars was over. Oldest daughter, Nancy, and her arty friends were an anathema to her father.
Three of the daughters were split across the two political ideologies that wreaked havoc on the twentieth century: Unity (who unbelievably was conceived in a Canadian town called Swastika) and Diana both being unapologetic fascists, and Jessica (aka Decca) a staunch communist. Not only were Unity and Diana fascists but both formed a close friendship with Hitler and other leading Nazis in pre-WW2 Germany, and Diana married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany Unity unsuccessfully tried to kill herself, and Decca ran away to help the Republican cause in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. These events, along with Nancy's success as a writer, are what make this book so fascinating for anyone interested in this era.
I was slightly less interested in the early childhood years, and in the post-WW2 era. After the war, the book details how each life played out. This is all worth reading but of less interest to me than the extraordinary events detailed in the 1930s and 1940s.
All told though, a very interesting biography, with plenty of conflict (both familial and global) to keep the story moving forward. 4/5
Like many, I am fascinated by the Mitford sisters. Books-wise, so far, I have only read "Hons and Rebels" by Jessica Mitford. Having read "Hons and Rebels" I was interested to find out more about her. Perhaps a 700 page plus book of her letters, and that covers her entire life, was a bit too ambitious. I cannot pretend to have read every letter contained in the book however I managed to read plenty, and I came away from the book even more impressed by Jessica (aka Decca) than I had expected.
Despite far more than her fair share of tragedy and upheaval, what emerges is a woman who faced life with courage, humour, conviction and honesty. From a very early age she rebelled against her aristocratic background, running away to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then America, where she married radical lawyer, Robert Treuhaft, having joined the Communist Party during the McCarthy era, which also signalled decades of civil rights activism.
The letters in this book cover her very early years up to her death. I was most interested in the letters she exchanged with her mother and sisters, and realised as I worked through this book that I might have been better off reading a biography about the family. Indeed I think this book would be most suitable for someone who has already got a good understanding of Jessica's own story and that of her family. That said, Peter Y. Sussman who edited this book, provides detailed a helpful introduction to each section, in addition to numerous useful explanatory footnotes - it must have taken him ages!
This book contains many wonderful letters which are well worth reading if you are interested in Jessica Mitford, and it is probably most suitable for readers who have already read her other works and want to dig deeper.
| "Louisa said to me, her eyes as big as saucers: 'He rushes into her room before tea and lives with her.' Louisa always describes the act of love as living with. 'Before tea, Fanny, can you imagine it?'"
I have meant to read The Pursuit of Love for so very long. Ever since I read The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell which kept me hooked on the antics of Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo for the entirety of the Christmas break. The whole family, quite frankly, rock my socks. I'm still toying with the idea of writing my dissertation on the novels of Nancy Mitfordand Jane Austen, but we will see. I am glad to report that this novel was entirely heavenly. Uncle Matthew (thinly masquerading as Mitford's father Lord Redesdale) is a joy: 'This violent, uncontrolled man, like his children, knew no middle course, he either loved or he hated, and generally, it must be said, he hated.' Probably my favourite character in the book to be honest. Although I am glad that I only met this particular tyrant in the pages of a book; I fear I would have been denounced as a 'sewer' and roundly loathed. The sanity of the narrator, Fanny, perfectly acts as a conduit for the madness of the Radlett family and our heroine Linda. Being a terribly awkward being myself, I could not help but marvel at the carefree, self-assured confidence of Linda. Unfortunately I felt the ending was a little rushed. Or perhaps I was more disappointed with the unexpectedly sad conclusion from an otherwise sparkling read. Certainly more bittter-sweet than I had anticipated, but no less enjoyable.