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Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Admirers and detractors use the same words to describe Jessica Mitford: subversive, muckraker, mischief-maker. But those who knew her best simply called her Decca. Born into one of Britain’s most famous aristocratic families, at the age of nineteen she ran away with Winston Churchill’s nephew. Their elopement severed ties with her privilege, a rupture only exacerbated by t ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Counterpoint (first published January 1st 2010)
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Richard Derus
Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Admirers and detractors use the same words to describe Jessica Mitford: subversive, mischief-maker, muckraker. J.K. Rowling calls her her “most influential writer.” Those who knew her best simply called her Decca. Born into one of Britain’s most famous aristocratic families, she eloped with Winston Churchill’s nephew as a teenager. Their marriage severed ties with her privilege, a rupture exacerbated by the life she lead for seventy-eight years.

After arrivin
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
In a high school journalism class, I read some excerpts from Jessica Mitford's amazing book The American Way of Death, an expose and exploration of the American funeral business (her book was said to have influenced Robert F. Kennedy's coffin choice for his brother). It was much later that I learned this Mitford was related to that other Mitford I knew, Nancy.

Born in 1917, Jessica was the sixth of seven children born to an English baron and his wife. Jessica's childhood was influenced by the pri
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 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, Esmo
Amy Lignor
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jessica Mitford (called "Decca" by family and friends) was the sixth of seven children born to David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron of Redesdale and wife Sydney. She grew up a very privileged child in a series of country houses in England. She didn't have much of a formal education as her mother did not believe in sending girls off to school but, Decca was a dedicated reader. Two of her sisters, Unity and Diana were well known English supporters of Adolf Hitler and her father and mother claimed to b ...more
I received this book through the giveaway program here at Good Reads. I especially appreciate this program because it introduced me to a wonderful book about a woman that I knew very little about.

I was aware that Jessica Mitford was a writer, whose book, The American Way of Death, had caused a great deal of fuss when it was published. I also knew that Jessica Mitford was somehow related to Nancy Mitford and they had several other famous or infamous relatives. My sense of history is not too well
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-read
A Mitford book, how could I resist? This isn't a very satisfactory one, however. No sparkle, no insight, workmanlike prose, and sufficient errors of the type that cast doubt on the quality of the research (just as an example, the author thinks Evelyn Waugh converted later in life; he was 27). Still, it fills out the picture of Decca's later years; however, I'd go to the source rather than read this. ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I think Jessica has taken Nancy's place as my favorite Mitford sister. This biography reads like a novel, with the heroine of the story being so much more colorful and interesting than I could have imagined. I loved reading about her adventures and was so happy to know she took such a leading role in certain events that have changed the course of history in this country. ...more
Oct 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A welcome book, long overdue. Besides her own memoirs, which are limited in scope, we could only catch glimpses of Jessica in earlier books that are more about her sisters. Jessica is fascinating, a droll gadfly and jester who used her wits and endless energy to promote civil rights, uncover corruption and generally help the downtrodden, but even into adulthood latent communist sentiments meant she didn’t mind stealing—jiggery pokery she called it—from people or institutions she felt had more th ...more
Richard Thomas
Aug 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
I was a little disappointed by the book. It covers the ground well and describes what was by any account a fascinating life and perhaps this is where my reservations lie. The book describes but does not really analyse or explain how and why someone brought up in privilege grew to resist and resent this. There is much to understand for example in how and why a childish stance of resistance to what an older sister did and believed developed into a genuine and thorough going radicalism.
Best suited for hardcore fans of the Mitford sisters
Annie Booker
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
excellent book about a fascinating woman.
Fran Johnson
Jessica Mitford, born into a British aristocracy, ran away to the Spanish Civil War with Winston Churchill's nephew. She had two sisters who were close friends of Hitler, one who unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide when Germany and Britain went to war in WWII. Another sister became the Duchess of Devonshire, another became a famous author, and her husband and only brother died during WWII. Her parents were odd and interesting people. She became a member of the American Communist party, a civi ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
For those fascinated by anything Mitford, this will be a rewarding read. Mary Lovell’s biography of the sisters is excellent but since it covers all six of them, it can’t be as comprehensive as this one. I was aware of Jessica Mitford as a writer of exposés and knew she was an active member of the Communist party but I hadn’t realized her complete dedication to liberal causes. Reading about all the issues into which she fearlessly dove was like hearing the news stories that played through my lat ...more
Charles Kerns
A lightweight, sympathetic, admiring bio. Easy to read. Easy to digest. Not much in the way of complications, ambiguities, and confusions of real life. But an easy entry into the life on the left in the UK in the 30s, in the US in the 40/5os/60s... A taste of peerage life. With walk-ins by all the right people. Vignettes of Oakland under the racist leadership of the Trib, Guerneville when it was a politcal hangout, and SF in the war years. And of course, some family dynamics--what else could you ...more
Laura McGee
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve been obsessed with the Mitford sisters since I first learned of them in college. Hilarious, fascinating, involved personally in the most interesting stories of the 20th century- I just can’t get enough!
This was the first book I’ve ever read exclusively on Decca (Jessica) and I learned a ton about her time in America. I knew she had written a book on funerals in America and that was about it, but she was involved in EVERYTHING!
That said, this book does not gloss over her alcoholism, occasion
Dec 19, 2011 rated it liked it
I am as devoted to the Mitfords as anyone, but I found this biography a little boring. As much as I agree with Jessica Mitford's politics more than any of her sisters (and certainly more than Unity, who was friends with Hitler, or Diana, who married the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley), Decca in this telling also comes off as pretty insufferable at times. Of course one does not have to like the subject of a biography in order to like the biography, but this account of Mitford's life is alm ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I waited to finish reading The Sisters about all the Mitford daughters before I completed this biogrphy of Jessica, who was certainly my favorite of the clan. Despite an aristocratic English upbringing, she ran away to join the International Brigade to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War with the man who was to be her first husband; after his death in WW II joined the Communist Party, became an American citizen and married a Harvard-educated lawyer(his was the law firm that gave Hillary ...more
Kat Warren
Oct 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites

Yesterday I slurped up Leslie Brody's "Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford." Splendid, superb, brilliant.

There's much that can go wrong with biography: too much detail, not enough detail, inability to detect unappealing attributes in the subject, tendency to over-focus on subject's unappealing attributes; lack of professional notes and sourcing and more. Brody is just right: not too much, not too little, well balanced, impeccably sourced notes, and most important: she's a delici
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinated by the Mitford family--they're all such strong personalities, and Jessica definitely was one of the strongest. I read this last year, along with their book of letters--that's one I'll definitely read again and again. Their relationships are so complex, none more so than those between Jessica and her sisters. She was definitely a rebel--left home to elope with her cousin and ended up living in America the majority of her adult life. I would have loved knowing her--Irrepressible is ...more
Dana Burgess
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Confession time - before I was introduced to this book, I had no idea who Jessica Mitford was. Having read the book, I am sad I have spent so long without knowing her. What an interesting, energetic and involved character she was! Leslie Brody has done an amazing job of capturing Jessica (or Decca, as she was called). There is nothing dry or boring about either the woman or the book. This biography is well written, easy to follow and read, and interesting. There are also pictures. I happen to lo ...more
Nancy Spiller
Oct 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
For me, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s and 70s, Jessica Mitford was a goddess of smart, scathingly funny yet solid journalism, daring to illuminate the foolishness and hypocrisy to be found in the conventions of American life. Her expose of the funeral industry and her collection titled "Poison Penmanship" have been a lifelong inspiration to me as a journalist and author. That she is hardly known today is criminal. That Leslie Brody wrote this wonderful biography of her is a ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book lives up to its subject! Mitford was a muckraker, a raconteur (raconteuse?), and a total party-girl of the party. There will doubtless be scholarly biographies galore within the next few years that will turn her into some kind of mouthpiece for something or other, but this one accesses the essence of a woman who lived in the moment. Mitford was great good company, and so is this book.
Maureen Flatley
Nov 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been fascinated by the Mitford sisters for years. This is a great biography about Jessica, who wrote the ground breaking expose of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death, a book that created the genre of exposes and literally changed the landscape of American public policy and consumer protection in America. ...more
Very interesting biography of Jessica Mitford. I have read several books about the Mitfords but Jessica is usually covered in just a few paragraphs: she ran away to fight in the Spanish Civil War, she was a communist and moved to America. While all of that is correct, there is a lot more to her story.
Cynthia Kane
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book - the Mitford sisters are fascinating and I have been drawn to Jessica Mitford, her politics and her pluck for a long time. But as a resident now of the Bay Area and in particular Oakland, her story and that of husband, Bob Treuhaft and her children resonated highly.
It's a quick and energetic read and I thank the author greatly for this insightful and delightful biography.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating woman from a fascinating family. Decca is my favorite Mitford girl, and this very readable biography does an excellent job of revealing this recovered aristocrat, communist activist, writer, and mother as an independed individual rather than yet another cog in the Mitford Empire. ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it liked it
As a newly minted Mitford fan, this biography was badly written and underwhelming until getting to the settled part of Decca's life, where she and her husband were politically active as Communists and social rights activists. The writing smoothed out and was much less awkward at this point, and the sheer amount of living Decca did took over the narrative. I enjoyed the second half very much. ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jessica Mitford is my personal hero, and I'm pretty indulgent of anyone else who feels the same (as this author clearly does). I loved gleaning more details of Jessica's life from this breezy, chatty biography, and I'll happily give it a pass on its somewhat book-report-ish tone and the spottiness of the later chapters. ...more
This biography is well written and interesting. Despite these attributed, however, my attention waned. I'd had no previous knowledge of Jessica Mitford and I didn't feel the need to plow through to learn more. I gave it a whirl based on a positive review of the book. ...more
Sigrid Ellis
An engaging biography of Jessica "Decca" Mitford's life. Since her life was incredibly interesting, there's a lot that goes by quickly. Much as, I suspect, Decca would have experienced it herself. ...more
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Born in the Bronx, New York, Leslie Brody left home at the age of 17 to become an underground press reporter for the Berkeley Tribe. A year later, she set off to travel around Europe. From 1971-1976, Brody lived in London and Amsterdam, sampling various hippie occupations. She returned to California in the late 70s and worked as a librarian both at the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science, an ...more

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