Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Obsessed with the Mitford Sisters

I've been reading The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell, a biography of the six Mitford sisters - a set of remarkable, beautiful, perplexing women from an aristocratic eccentric British family who were friends with "all society" and got themselves embroiled in British politics in various ways and caused scandal after scandal as well as becoming famous writers. Their father famously said "I am normal, my wife is normal, but each of my daughters is more foolish than the last" (He actually was only half right - he and his wife weren't particularly normal either).

It is pure soap opera, and if you don't know about them, it's well worth a read. The eldest, Nancy, perhaps became most well-known, as she wrote a series of funny "anti-romance" novels which were loosely based on her own family. I'd read these books a few years ago, but the antics that Nancy's characters get up to are tame compared to their real lives. Nancy was a terrible tease by all accounts and was always upsetting people, although her level of annoyance was nothing compared to some of her other sisters.

Diana, for example, was the most beautiful Mitford sister. Having left her first husband (in itself a scandal in repressed inter-war Britain) she then married Oswald Mosley - chief facist of Britain. At the outset of WWII, Nancy - outraged by her sister's facism, wrote to the government warning that the pair were a security risk, and that they ought to be imprisoned. Subsequently, Diana and Mosley were arrested and spent most of the war locked up in squalid conditions.

Unity - the Hitler groupie

Another sister, Unity, was perhaps the most extreme of all - born in the American town of Swastika and with a middle name of Valkerie, it was perhaps fate that she became obsessed with Hitler and travelled to Germany before WWII where she spent months stalking him until he eventually befriended her. She was the perhaps the only person in the world who was on good terms with Churchill and Hitler at the same time - and what happened to her is absolutely shocking (there have even been rumours that she gave birth to Hitler's baby). The equivalent today would have been if someone like Jade Goody had married Saddam Hussein.

Diana and Unity - scandlous!

Not all of the sisters were into left-wing politics though. One of the younger sisters, Jessica (known as Decca) became a card-carrying Communist and eloped off to America with her rabble-rousing beau, who was a nephew of Churchill. She then got involved in the American civil rights movement. I ended up feeling a bit sorry for Pam - who was relatively normal in comparison to the others, who made fun of her, calling her "Woman" because she was fairly domesticated. There was a brother too, Tom, who had the famous Mitford good looks and bad luck. In his later years he was sought after by women, although at public school he was popular with some of boys, causing all the sisters to burst out laughing when mother asked him if he minded sharing a bed with his school friend who was visiting for the holidays.

The sisters have all died (except Deborah I think), but there must be something about their family. Diana's son Max Mosley has recently been in the papers over claims (refuted) about a story involving prostitutes and what the tabloids labelled a "sick Nazi orgy". It's a shame Nancy isn't still around - there's definitely material for another one of her books there.

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