I cannot imagine why I have never read this before, given my Mitford sisters mania, but it was, as I hoped, utterly fabulous. It has not only Decca's...moreI cannot imagine why I have never read this before, given my Mitford sisters mania, but it was, as I hoped, utterly fabulous. It has not only Decca's most famous pieces, but also her comments on how she wrote them and what the reaction to them was. Her turn of phrase is, as always, hilarious and pointed, and her investigations unflinching. I think I most enjoyed her takedown of Bennett Cerf's Famous Writers School (entitled "Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers"), but everything here is simply marvelous to read, essential for both Mitford fans and those interested in great muckraking journalism.(less)
Written in a charming and chatty style not unlike that of Nancy Mitford herself, Life in a Cold Climate analyzes Mitford's life, works, and relationsh...moreWritten in a charming and chatty style not unlike that of Nancy Mitford herself, Life in a Cold Climate analyzes Mitford's life, works, and relationships in an engaging and perceptive way. The book is clearly based on excellent research (including extensive interviews with the two sisters of Nancy still alive when the book was written, Lady Diana Mosley and Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire) and a deep knowledge of Nancy's writings. It's been long enough since I read Selina Hastings's biography of Nancy Mitford that I can't compare the two directly, but I certainly recommend Thompson's book highly to anyone who wants insight into the complex and controversial Nancy Mitford. (less)
I wish I could give this more stars, but I wasn't all that impressed by it. Brody seems to have done her homework and offers many quotations from Decc...moreI wish I could give this more stars, but I wasn't all that impressed by it. Brody seems to have done her homework and offers many quotations from Decca herself and from friends and families, but the book is all just narrative, offering little analysis of Decca's thoughts or actions: not what I look for in a biography. She tries for a clever, witty tone, appropriate to such a witty subject, but I found it self-conscious and annoying. This, for example:
"Suddenly, [Decca and her first husband, Esmond Romilly] were in a psychosexual crucible, with all the vino and cheap gin they could drink. He had a bitter edge. She had a wicked mouth. Finally, they were just kids."
Frankly, if you're looking for a biography of Decca, I'd stick with Peter Sussman's excellent edition of her letters, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford; Sussman provides sufficient biographical information to flesh out the letters, which speak hilariously for themselves. (less)
Nancy Mitford was the eldest of the famous Mitford sisters; while her sisters Diana, Unity, and Jessica are famous (or infamous) for their politics (J...moreNancy Mitford was the eldest of the famous Mitford sisters; while her sisters Diana, Unity, and Jessica are famous (or infamous) for their politics (Jessica was a Communist, while the other two were Nazi sympathizers and friends of Hitler), Nancy was celebrated as a leading member of the Bright Young Things and a brilliant writer. She wrote eight novels, several biographies, and various essays, all of which are a joy to read, but The Blessing is perhaps my favorite of her books.
Grace Allingham is an English beauty; when she meets Charles-Edouard de Valhubert, a French marquis, at the outbreak of World War II, they fall in love and are soon married. While Charles-Edouard is at war, their son, Sigismond, is born in England, and when the war is over, Charles-Edouard returns and whisks Grace and Sigi (and Sigi's terrifying Nanny) off to France, where Grace is in for an enormous culture shock when she finds out about Charles-Edouard's many love affairs. Mitford takes a satirical view of English and French society after WWII, with a few pokes at Americans along the way. The plot is cleverly constructed, and as always, the narrative and dialogue are deliciously witty.
If you read The Blessing and like it (and if you long to know what became of Grace, Charles-Edouard, and Sigi), you should also read The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, and Don't Tell Alfred, which are essentially part of the same series as The Blessing and feature many of the same characters throughout. The Pursuit of Love was Mitford's fifth novel and the one that catapulted her to fame as a writer; it tells the story of the Radlett family (a thinly veiled, though exaggerated, portrait of Nancy's own family) and Linda Radlett's search for romantic love and is narrated by Fanny, a cousin of the Radletts, who is also the narrator of Love in a Cold Climate and Don't Tell Alfred. (less)
A Fine Old Conflict is the second of Mitford's lively and witty autobiographies; Daughters and Rebels covered her childhood as the fifth of the Mitfor...moreA Fine Old Conflict is the second of Mitford's lively and witty autobiographies; Daughters and Rebels covered her childhood as the fifth of the Mitford sisters and her elopement with and marriage to Esmond Romilly, and A Fine Old Conflict picks up the story just before Romilly's death in action in World War II.
In an astonishing contrast to her fascist and Nazi-sympathizing sisters, Diana and Unity, Jessica was a committed Communist (causing a lasting rift in the family), and this book is largely about her experiences in the American Communist Party, as well as her marriage to American attorney Bob Treuhaft and the publication of their famous muckraking book about the American undertaking industry, The American Way of Death. (less)
The Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and Debora...moreThe Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and Deborah, the less famous sisters, and although they're necessarily less in the spotlight than Nancy, Diana, Unity, and Jessica, I still felt as though I'd learned far more about them than I'd gathered from any other source.
Lovell states up front in the introduction that she was trying "to explore the richness of the personalities, not to judge them"; in this she has succeeded, presenting a balanced picture and allowing the reader to form her own opinions. Occasionally Lovell stumbles in weaving the threads of the six lives together to form a logical and coherent progression, but that would be difficult with any group biography and particularly with one of such widely varying people as this. Well-written and thoroughly researched, this is a valuable addition to the Mitford canon. (less)
Oh, how I shrieked over these! Besides the eternal Mitford fascination, I loved reading about Decca's muckraking career, which isn't really covered in...moreOh, how I shrieked over these! Besides the eternal Mitford fascination, I loved reading about Decca's muckraking career, which isn't really covered in either of her two autobiographies (Hons and Rebels and A Fine Old Conflict), and about the things she left out of the autobiographies, most notably her reaction to the death of her son, Nicholas, at the age of ten in a car-bike accident (which is barely mentioned in A Fine Old Conflict).
Now I would like someone to do a collection of the Duchess of Devonshire's letters, please, though I imagine that won't happen until after her death; I would like to see her side of some of the exchanges with Decca.
Oh, and I thought Sussman's editing was very good -- just the right number of explanatory notes and excellent, witty introductions to each chapter. It's a long book, but I'd have read twice as many letters gladly and only wished it was longer. (less)
This is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of i...moreThis is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of it is devoted to the life of Elizabeth Ponsonby, whom Taylor puts forth as a typical "Bright Young Person", but there isn't quite enough of her life for me to really feel that it was a well-rounded account of it. Simultaneously, there's enough of it that not enough time is devoted to other Bright Young People, and the whole book feels rather shallow as a result. It's entertaining, don't get me wrong, and I'll probably keep it as a general reference and jumping-off point for further reading, but it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be.
(Also, I don't think Taylor gets Nancy Mitford terribly well, and I object to his referring to her as "Nancy", when he refers to male writers like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell by their surnames. And someone should have gone through the book and deleted every use of the word "alternatively", a verbal tic which irritated me enormously by the end.)(less)
I've finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green, by far the most difficult to obtain of her eight novels. It conta...moreI've finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green, by far the most difficult to obtain of her eight novels. It contains a thinly disguised portrait of Nancy's sister Unity (a passionate Nazi sympathizer) and of the British Union of Fascists, which was headed up by her sister Diana's husband Sir Oswald Mosley; the publication in the book caused a rift in the family, particularly after Unity's attempted suicide when Germany and Great Britain went to war, and Nancy chose not to have it reprinted in her lifetime. My copy was published a couple of years after she died, oddly packaged in a double edition with her earlier novel, Highland Fling, and marketed (according to the front cover) as two of her "most wickedly witty and enchantingly romantic novels".
In the book, the BUF becomes the Union Jack Movement, and its supporters, the Blackshirts, become the Union Jackshirts, wearing shirts made out of Britain's flag in order to emphasize their brand of national socialism. Eugenia Malmains (a thinly veiled Unity) is a passionate supporter of the Union Jackshirts and their leader ("the Captain", who never appears in the book but is clearly meant to be Mosley, who was called "the Leader"), and the climax of the book is a pageant put on by Eugenia and her friends in support of the party, which degenerates into a brawl between the Union Jackshirts and the Pacifists of the local village.
Mitford's satire is pointed, skewering the BUF and its supporters at every opportunity. Along with the satire, though, she provides a more pleasing plot and characters than in her earlier novels, which tended to suffer from a lack of sympathetic characters and a lack of overarching story. She hadn't yet gained the polished style and engaging characters of the novels that followed after Wigs on the Green (beginning with The Pursuit of Love, one of my all-time favorite books), but you can see that she was getting there. It's a shame that Wigs on the Green isn't more available, as it provides both an interesting social document of its time and a vital piece of Mitford's development as a writer. (less)
Harold Acton's memoir of Nancy Mitford is a wonderfully personal remembrance of Mitford by one of her oldest friends. Acton worked from scads of her d...moreHarold Acton's memoir of Nancy Mitford is a wonderfully personal remembrance of Mitford by one of her oldest friends. Acton worked from scads of her delightfully chatty letters and quotes liberally from them, so that it's as if Nancy herself wrote the memoir (which may have been partially Acton's aim, as she died before she could complete her autobiography). It's not nearly as complete a biography as those by Selina Hastings or Laura Thompson, but the quotations and personal anecdotes make it essential reading for Mitford fans.(less)
I read Farthing when it came out and thought it was brilliant. On rereading it, I still think so, and Ha'penny is just as good. Farthing's plot was a...moreI read Farthing when it came out and thought it was brilliant. On rereading it, I still think so, and Ha'penny is just as good. Farthing's plot was a country-house mystery; I would call Ha'penny more of a suspense thriller, and full of suspense it is, right up to the explosive ending.
It follows on quite shortly after Farthing: Inspector Carmichael has just come off the Farthing case and has been assigned to a bombing which killed leading actress Lauria Gilmore. Viola Lark has been chosen to act Hamlet in a gender-switching production of the play, in which Gilmore had also been cast until her untimely death. As Carmichael investigates the bombing and ponders retirement from the police force, Viola is drawn into a plot to kill Hitler at the opening night of the play, along with Prime Minister Mark Normanby, the lead figure in the increasingly fascistic government.
As in Farthing, Walton alternates voices chapter by chapter, between Viola's first person and Carmichael's third, and both are equally absorbing; I especially liked the reflections of Viola's mental state in her role as Hamlet, as she wavers about her involvement in the plot and treads the edge of sanity. As England slides further and further into fascism, Walton's alternate history, always convincing, becomes more and more frightening. I can hardly wait until Half a Crown to see how she resolves it.
(Also, as someone very interested in the Mitford sisters, I really liked Walton's use of them as a basis for Viola and her sisters. They're not exact analogues by any means, but there are clear parallels. Also also, now I really want to see this production of Hamlet.) (less)
I'd been waiting for this for what seems like forever and then had to keep myself from devouring it once I got it. It's a fat hardback and generally b...moreI'd been waiting for this for what seems like forever and then had to keep myself from devouring it once I got it. It's a fat hardback and generally blissful, and fascinating to see how each sister interacted with each other sister, the various closenesses and rivalries and alliances and infighting.
Of course I've read many of Nancy's and Decca's letters, but I really loved reading Deborah's (the youngest sister and eventual keeper of the family archives). I find I still do not get on with Diana, in spite of her intelligence and wit, because her political views and devotion to the loathsome Mosley are really indefensible, but I rather expected this reaction from myself after reading her autobiography several months ago.(less)