Letters between Six Sisters

Letters between six sisters contains nearly 80 years of correspondence between the Mitford sisters (as seen above with their brother Tom, who died in 1945) - Nancy, the writer, Pamela, the cook, Diana, the society beauty who married the Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, Unity, who loved Hitler, Jessica, the communist, and Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

Born into high society, the Mitfords were at the centre of political and society life in the mid-twentieth century. They were either related to, or knew, just about anyone who was anyone. They were related (by marriage) to both Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy (Deborah attended both his inauguration and funeral), knew Cecil Beaton and Oscar de la Renta, Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman. They also notoriously were close (in the case of Unity) to Hitler, and visited Berchtesgaden as a guest.

The correspondence could really be nothing less than fascinating. The letters from the 1930s make uncomfortable reading, especially Unity's gloating comments about Hitler - every word that falls from his lips is treated as a precious jewel. And there are some most extraordinary moments - Unity pities a Nazi official who discovers that he is half-Jewish, and muses that it might be a good idea for him to shoot himself - she later did this herself when war was declared between Britain and Germany. Uncomfortable though it may be, it's quite an insight into the insidiousness and attraction of evil.

Much of the book is spent bemoaning Nancy and Jessica, the two "outsiders" of the group. As an outsider, I found Nancy and Jessica (along with Deborah) two of the most attractive characters. The letters have been heavily (I suspect) and silently edited by Diana's daughter-in-law Charlotte Mosley. One problem with this is that some of the correspondence has been weighted, not unnaturally, towards Mosley sympathies and allegiances. And because it's silently edited I had the feeling that the editor was re-telling the Mitford story in the light of her own sympathies and experiences, in effect sometimes re-writing, or at least re-slanting history. One person who came out surprisingly well from the correspondence was Diana Mosley, although her husband's actions may be unforgiveable, she came across as a knowledgeable and generally kindly woman, with a surprisingly good knowledge of working class life in Britain.

It's a fascinating read. Highly instructive for anyone interested in life in Britain (all be it a very select slice of life) in the mid-twentieth century. At times wildly funny with moments of pathos and even repulsion, it's well worth reading. Love them or hate them, the Mitford sisters remain unforgettable.


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