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The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  8,710 Ratings  ·  698 Reviews
This is the story of a close, loving family splintered by the violent ideologies of Europe between wars. Jessica was a Communist; Debo became Duchess of Devonshire; Nancy was a bestselling novelist of her day; the ethereally beautiful Diana was the most hated woman in England; & Unity Valkyrie, born in Swastika, Alaska, would become obsessed with Adolf Hitler.
Family Tr
Hardcover, 623 pages
Published January 11th 2002 by W.W. Norton & Company (NYC) (first published 2001)
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Richard Because she was neither a member of the German government nor the German military, and as far as we know was never personally responsible for any…moreBecause she was neither a member of the German government nor the German military, and as far as we know was never personally responsible for any violence or atrocities, I imagine, if she had been mentally capable of standing trial, she would have been tried for treason, not war crimes.(less)

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Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Sisters The saga of the Mitford Family

What an eccentric and yet fascinating family the Mitford's were.

I had a copy of this book in paperback on my bookshelf for quite a time and decided to also purchase it as an audio so as I could listen as well as read. BIG MISTAKE as the audio version is dreadful. I quickly switched back to my old reliable paperback and so glad I read this Biography as what a wonderful and absorbing read it was.

I thought I knew a little of the history of the Mitford sis
Of course this is full of wonderful information about fascinating people -- but Lovell bends over backwards to vindicate Diana for her fascism and palling around with Nazis, while pilloring Jessica for every minor dido or appearance of hypocrisy (which, as an aristo communist, there was plenty of material). I didn't need long passages scolding someone for bad manners because she eloped at 19, followed by passages explaining how taking tea with Hitler was a perfectly normal and excusable social n ...more
This book/audiobook proves that in fact a very good book can be destroyed by a terrible narrator. Annie Wauters does the narration. The ups and downs of voice inflection should tell you when a question is being posed or when a sentence is over. Wauter’s intonation was consistently wrong. She stops in the middle of a sentence, and it sounds like the sentence is over. Surprise, surprise! It isn’t! She continues with the last half of the sentence. Time and time again I was confused. Such reading ma ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lori B
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's so unreal, you almost think it was fiction; a writer couldn't come up with this.
The Mitford Sisters -- from oldest Nancy, renowned author, to youngest Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who married the next in line who became Duke upon the death of his brother, who was himself married to Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy. (Yes, related to and friends with the Kennedys.) Next youngest is Decca, who with first husband ran off to Spain fighting with the Communist brigade against Franco and then emigrating
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you read about other people's lives, you learn quickly that you are very lucky. The Mitfords, an upper class English family with a long history, have a crazy father, and a mother who seems to have lost control. The girls themselves run the political gamut from Nazi to Communist. One of the great things about this book for me is that it opened my eyes to a whole Fascistic side of England that I was completely unaware of. We learn all about Oswald Mosely, founder of the Black Shirts, who marr ...more
May 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Mitford sisters -- split between love affairs with fascists, with Hitler, with the Communist party, and with the written word (plus two spare sisters mainly concerned with home and garden, albeit on a rather grand scale) -- make for a fascinating read and Mary Lovell manages it all quite nicely with plenty of juicy details of Unity's close personal friendship with Hitler and subsequent suicide attempt when England declared war on Germany; Diana's three-year war-time internment along with her ...more
Sep 24, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A cracking read in parts, hence why I finished the thing, but seriously marred by obsequious apologia for the Fascist sympathies of most of the family and their peers -- all "how could they have known" and "yes, she laughed and laughed when she heard about Nazi atrocities, but she was also very charming" and "what else was she expecting than for the death of her infant daughter to be mocked, after all, her communist sympathies were very uncouth". What is the root of this tendency in biographers ...more
Sara M
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The subjects of the biography were certainly very interesting and it would have been really nice to read a book that is less defensive of anything Diana and Oswald Mosley did, and less dismissive of their racism.
I also can't understand why the author seemed so hostile towards Jessica.
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I kept reading because the material and the quotations from primary sources were so interesting, but the author is remarkably obtuse at times; likes to follow up any mentions of the Nazis with a footnote going BUT DON'T FORGET THE COMMUNISTS WERE BAD TOO, BECAUSE STALIN, which is a peculiarly adolescent approach to 20th century history; whiffs slightly of homophobia (after Pamela's marriage ends, she gets exactly one further mention in the narrative: when the author refuses to consider any evide ...more
Erik Graff
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mitford fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This is the biography of a family, an aristocratic family of influence, covering the period from World War I to the time of publication. The principals are David (1878-1958), Baron Redesdale, Winston Churchill's cousin, the father, and Sydney Bowles (1880-1963), his wife, and their seven children, six of them female. Of the girls, Nancy (1904-1973) became prominent as a novelist; Pamela (1907-1994) became the wife of millionaire physicist Derek Jackson; Diana (1910-2003) became the wife of Sir O ...more
Karen Powell
Before the Hilton sisters, before the Kardashians, the "It" sisters were 6 women of aristocratic English upbringing who each went very different ways, but still held on to the bonds of sisterhood. In the early twentieth century, these were the Mitfords.[return][return]This biography is very comprehensive and extensive, considering the number of characters that demand attention. Each sister is dynamic and given her due, even Pam, the Mitford sister of whom little is published because she was the ...more
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
The 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
Sep 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british, non-fiction
The Mitford Sisters From Best To Worst:

[Please note that this is the definitive and authoritative ranking of The Mitford Sisters, with the only flexibility allocated to the 2nd and the 3rd slots.]

1. Nancy
2. Decca*
3. Pam*
4. Debo
5. Unity Valkyrie
6. Diana

*Decca is great, and a communist. Pam is also great and was super into Barnyard animals, you get to pick whoever is your type for #2 Mitford Sister.

If you know someone whose personal rankings deviate from this list, they're crazy. Run. Save yoursel
Mar 30, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was amazed while reading this book that I'd never heard of this family before- yet their lives unfolded almost as a mirror to reflect what was happening/important in history at that time- politically and culturally (ie- WWII, Nazism, Facism, Communism, Kennedys, etc.) I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very detailed and well-written. I especially enjoyed the first half of their lives growing up and around WWII.

This story is basically about 6 sisters who had a privileged, though in m
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This "Saga of the Mitford Family" was better than a good novel. You couldn't make this up. An eccentric, aristocratic English family (father was in the House of Lords) with six daughters who grew up to be so different from each other. They were related to the Churchills and Winston helped them out more than once. They were also connected to the Kennedy's by marriage. Two of the daughters became famous as fascists, one a communist, one Duchess, one famous novelist and just one who kept a low prof ...more
so, the author was basically an apologist for diana mosley, which bugged. it seems diana was quite a useful source for the book, and possibly her charm worked on lovell. i felt every time that the politics of the Mosleys came up, the author had some kind of excuse ready. & yes, communism was bad mmkay, but as the author points out herself, jessica was much more prepared to acknowledge its evils than diana ever was those of the nazis. lovell's also a little defensive about the father of the s ...more
Sydney O (Сидней О)
Este es una historia de las hermanas de Mitford familia. (Si, la familia con mucho popularidad en las 1900s). Diana es "La Hermana", mientras las otras hermanas son despues ella. Este familia es popularidad con "Alta Sociedad", pero ellos tiene no mas dinero - solo conecciones con rico gente. Me gusta la historia, pero me no siento sympatica para las hermanas. Ellas eran adultas, y quieran vivir sus vidas por emotion y excitacion. Yo encontro ellas interesante, pero nada muy especial.... Este es ...more
A well researched and well written biography of the six fascinating Mitford sisters, spanning not only their individual lives but also one of the most eventful periods in European history, from the 20s to the 60s and beyond.

Why only three stars? At first I had a hard time putting my finger on why I didn't enjoy this more, but I guess it comes down to two things:

- I expected a lighter read. The only thing I knew about the Mitfords was what I gathered from Nancy's semi-autobiographical novel The P
The Mitford girls are utterly fascinating, and anyone who's even a little bit interested in the history of ideas in 20th century Europe, or the English aristocracy between the wars, will probably find something to like in this book: Lovell writes their story well. However, couple of things about the book did annoy me a bit. Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love and Love in Cold Climate are novels, they're fiction. No matter how much she borrowed from reality, she used her imagination and skill as a wr ...more
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographical, 2002
This is how these things happen in my world: when I read Kendall Haley's book, The Day I Became an Autodidact I became intrigued by her favorite author, Nancy Mitford. This is the story of the whole wacked-out bloomin' family--Lord and Lady Redesdale, Nancy the writer, Pam the country woman, beautiful Diana (the fascist's mistress), Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire, Decca the muckraking journalist and Communist, Tom the brother and Unity, Hitler's girlfriend. And you thought your family was s ...more
Dec 03, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author is a coward and an apologist. The only sister she takes a disapproving tone about is Jessica, the only decent one.
I plowed through the book somehow, hoping to read that Unity and Diana suffered.
It made me sick to read about that Hitler loving Unity being cruel to an elderly Jewish woman trying to find a train station in Germany. Perhaps when Unity was disabled (her own doing)and trying to use the train, someone was horrid to her....
Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Mostanában tök sok non-fictiont olvasok. Nem tudom megmondani miért, de nem is fontos. Meséltem ugye, hogy tök véletlenül kattantam rá a Mitford nővérekre, mert két könyvben is szembejöttek velem és hát hogy az istenbe' ne lenne érdekes 6 lánytestvér a XX. század elejéről, akik között volt fasiszta meg kommunista meg írónő és az összes arisztrokrata volt.

Imádtam ezt a könyvet. Bár nem regény formátumú, hanem dokumentum jellegű írás, rettentően élvezetes volt. Lovell narrációja kellemes, mesélős
Kristi Connell
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an exhaustively researched, compelling read about a family blessed (cursed?) with no shortage of drama. Like other reviewers, I found myself growing a little frustrated with Mary Lovell's condescension toward Jessica alongside her minimization of Diana and Unity's behaviors. I can only assume that the fact that Diana was still living when this book was completed led Lovell to paint Diana in a more flattering light, but it is hard to stomach excusing Diana's support of Fascism in light of ...more
If you're wondering who the Mitford sisters are, you're not alone. The author (a Brit) confirms in the intro that anyone under age 50 looked at her cluelessly when she said she was writing their biography. They were huge celebrities in England in the 30s-60s, but I would guess even older American readers wouldn't know who they were.
In my opinion, knowing nothing about them made the book even better. This was a hardcore example of truth being stranger than fiction. I don't want to ruin any surpri
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved, loved, LOVED it! This is a really fascinating biography of the "Mitford Sisters" - 6 sisters who were born into a minor aristocratic British family in the early 1900s and went on to become quite well known for their very unique and individual lives. I'd always heard references to "the Mitford girls" but never really knew exactly who they were so I decided to find out. I had previously really enjoyed Lovell's biography of Bess of Hardwick so I thought this would be a good one to start with ...more
Dec 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book was insane, but also one of the most enlightening books I've read in a long time. It was embarrassing to realize how little I know (or remember) about the years that led up to WWII (I'm going to blame it on a science-focused preliminary education), and the motif that really impressed me was the massive, terrible, tidal wave of momentum that led up to the second "great" war.

The Sisters makes you think a lot about human nature and how ethics begin with the smallest actions. I once inter
Nick Black
Dec 31, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nick by: Elise White
guess i'm not giving this one back anymore.
Elise insists I read this "rivetingly intense history lesson." Rivetingly intense! I say, old chap, here comes Lord Smartingford of Braintonshire! Shall we dine upon a nice cup of tea, then? We can discuss the economy, and the global situ-AYYY-tion, and ever so many other matters! I am so very versed in such matters, reading as do I The Economist, just as soon as the postman delivers it by the estate, don't you know. I find that only the right crack
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
The history, the glamour, the glitz, the history, the girls, the silliness, the history, who they met,and knew....the history.... this explains it all....did I mention the history?

I enjoyed this book very much and it's details,and now I am interested in reading Nancy's novels......
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read for those with English roots such as myself. Shocking in that these 3 aristocratic young ladies of the 30s and 40s in England did the things they did. Well put together and gives a totally different view of nazism, fascism and communism during that time.

I read some other reviews. It seems amazing that Unity and Diana never ' saw' the horrors Hitler performed. Did they just ignore reality? Or was he so magnetic that they were fooled and just enjoyed his attention. When I see
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters
  • Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel
  • Hons and Rebels
  • Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
  • Wait for Me!
  • Nancy Mitford: A Biography
  • The House of Mitford
  • Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana
  • Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832
  • Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford
  • The Bolter: Edwardian Heartbreak and High Society Scandal in Kenya
  • The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain, 1918-39
  • Love from Nancy
  • Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940
  • A Life of Contrasts: An Autobiography
  • Zelda
  • Nancy Mitford
Mary was an accountant and company director for 20 years before becoming a writer. She wrote her first book in 1981 at the age of 40, while recovering from a broken back which was the result of a riding accident. She returned to accountancy but during the following 5 years she also published two further non-fiction books that were written in her spare time.

She lives in the New Forest in Hampshire,
More about Mary S. Lovell...
“So why did Sydney – a pretty girl, whose greatest enjoyments in life were sailing, visiting France and ice-skating, and who loved the parties and dancing she attended as a débutante – marry David, who was a countryman at heart, actively disliked meeting new people and regarded ‘abroad’ with suspicion and horror? There can be no other reason but that she fell in love with him. He was a kind man and he was very funny. He made her laugh and unquestionably loved her. Many successful marriages have been founded on less.” 0 likes
“David was one of nine children, and Sydney was one of four. Their respective siblings produced, between 1910 and 1927, twenty-one children with the surnames Mitford, Farrer, Kearsey, Bowyer, Bowles and Bailey, and many of these first cousins were to play major parts in the lives of the Mitford children as they grew up and visited each other’s homes. But the network of kinsmen who were to people the lives of the Mitford children were rooted further back in the family tree. Both of David’s parents – ‘Bertie’ Mitford (Bertram, 1st Lord Redesdale) and Lady Clementine Ogilvy – came from large families, and he remained close to many of them and to their numerous offspring.*
In addressing this question, one of Clementine Churchill’s daughters stated that her mother never learned the identity of her natural father though she knew he was not Henry Hozier.14 Bertie Mitford is the most likely suspect, even though the poet and writer Wilfred Scawen Blunt claimed that Natty confessed to him that her two elder daughters were fathered by Captain George ‘Bay’ Middleton, known by his foxhunting contemporaries as ‘the bravest of the brave’, and to history as the dashing lover of the sporting Empress, Elizabeth of Austria.15 This, however, must be set against the fact that Natty told a close friend, just before the birth of Clementine, that the child she was carrying was ‘Lord Redesdale’s’.”
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