‘Sisters are a shield against life’s cruel adversity."
"But sisters are life’s cruel adversity!"
Read about the fascinating Mitford sisters in Mary S. Lovell's The Mitford Girls, The Biography of an Extraordinary Family.
Image Credit: Wait for Me! The Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister
“The behaviour of poultry is like human behaviour and it is just as predictable. They fight, they resent newcomers, they hate wind and rain. Some are bold and forage far from home and some hardly bother to go out of doors.”
Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, Counting My Chickens
A copy of Counting My Chickens signed by the Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire is available (and currently on sale) via the Nick Harvill Libraries store.
“Further on cause and effect, I do remember being fascinated by the Kinsey Report on the sexual habits of the American male, in which we learned that one out of every eight American men has had intercourse with animals. At any large party, I couldn’t help glancing around to try and guess which of the men had done it—with whom?”
Jessica Mitford, The Letters of Jessica Mitford
It is correct that Americans do not always understand the ways and customs of the British, but the opposite can be equally true. Consider the negative description of Katharine Graham in The House of Mitford, written by Diana Mitford's son and granddaughter, Jonathan and Catherine Guinness. They erroneously consider Graham to be of the far left, writing that her newspaper, the Washington Post, "played a vital part in preparing the American public for the abandonment of Indochina to Communism as well as exploiting the Watergate burglary to hound President Nixon out of office.”
As most Americans have long been aware, Graham was hardly a revolutionary. She was mainstream, albeit swimming nearer to the left bank of the stream. It is true when she published the Pentagon Papers, she played a pivotal role in alerting the American public what the military command had long known: the Vietnam War was un-winnable. However, it speaks volumes that in deciding to publish the Pentagon Papers, she had to go against one of her closest friends, Robert S. McNamara. He, as Secretary of Defense, was the very person directing American military involvement in Vietnam. Yet, he forgave her and, several decades hence, was a pallbearer at her funeral. The truth was that she socialized with and was held in high regard by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
A case in point was Graham's warm relationship with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their friendship began long before the Reagans moved to Washington, D.C. It originated when he was governor of California when a friend of Graham's visited Mrs. Reagan in Sacramento and realized she and Graham would get along quite well. Who was this friend?
The answer is after the JUMP.
Who is the man in the photograph with President John F. Kennedy and why did JFK refer to him as uncle?
HINT: They carried on a special relationship.
The answer is after the JUMP.
“My sisters, discussing face lifts: Debo: ‘I’m afraid I’m not vain enough to have mine done.’ ‘Diana: I’m afraid I’m too vain to have mine done’—meaning she’s eternally beautiful enough already.”
--Jessica Mitford, Decca, The Letters of Jessica Mitford
Jessica Mitford had almost no contact with her sister Diana in the post-World War II era. She is surely summarizing information she learned from her sister Deborah. The gist of which is slightly different in this 1966 letter from Diana to Deborah (via The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters):
"Bettina [Bergery] has had her face lifted just a bit, it seems a great success if it lasts, all the sort of pouches gone if you know what I mean. The Lady [Nancy Mitford] & I discussed doing ditto & decided we were not vain enough to make it worthwhile. (Or perhaps SO vain that think think people will love us with our wrinkles.)"
Image Credit: The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters
“About twenty years ago, I thought it was ridiculous that I'd never read Ulysses and I thought I never would read it if I just went on leading the ordinary life one does. Not enough leisure. I promised myself I would take a cargo boat across the Atlantic and take Ulysses and nothing else. I took this cargo boat from Boston to Southampton. It took about three weeks and I read Ulysses with delight. It's one of the nicest trips I ever did. On this very comfortable boat—there was practically nobody on board at all—I had a cabin like a cathedral, played bad bridge with a Spanish purser in the evening, and I'd taken a case of vodka with me, because you aren't allowed to buy liquor, and that endeared me to the Captain. I had a lovely time lying on a deck chair in the sun reading Ulysses.”
--Alan Pryce-Jones, as Recorded by Kurt Thometz in 1991
Kurt Thometz recorded the above passage when he was organizing Alan Pryce-Jones's treasure-filled library. Within the masses of disorganized books, he discovered presentation copies from the Sitwells, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, and Brian Howard.
Pryce-Jones was one of London's Bright Young Things. He later became editor of the Times Literary Supplement (1948 to 1959). His son David Pryce-Jones wrote a biography of Unity Mitford. The controversial book, done without access to Unity's papers (which were under the control of her nephew Jonathan Guinness), created difficulties between Jessica Mitford and her surviving sisters (see The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters).
Note: Though the Pryce-Jones voyage sounds divine, one need not go to such extremes. Marilyn Monroe read Ulysses in a park—if press photos can be believed (which they cannot).
Image Credit: Horst Portraits: Paris, London, New York
“No one had ever explained to me that you had to pay for electricity; and lights, electric heaters, stoves blazed away night and day . . . When the enormous bill first arrived we thought briefly about contesting it in court on the grounds that electricity is an Act of God--an element like fire, earth and air; but legal friends assured us this would get us no where.”
--Jessica Mitford, on Newlywed Life in 1930s London, Hons and Rebels
Image Credit: The Mitford Family Album
“History is lived forwards but is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.”
The events of the past seem so obvious, so easily predictable when reviewed from the vantage point of the present. To take from the past all the lessons it has to offer, however, means forgetting for a moment its eventual outcome. Retrospective histories do not permit this. One book that avoids this paradox is The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters. This collection of correspondence of the six lively and intelligent Mitford sisters begins in 1925 and does not conclude until the first decade of the 21st Century. All six were gifted writers with distinct points of view. Moreover, they were on intimate terms with Churchill, Kennedy, and a great many others who gave form to the 20th Century. Their letters reveal history as it occurs, in real time, and offer extraordinary perspective on how we might better live our lives today.
I visited Chatsworth House, home of Deborah Mitford (who became the Duchess of Devonshire), in the fall of 2008, when she was still living and remained a powerful presence at the Devonshire family seat. There were a stack of copies of Letters Between Six Sisters in the gift shop, all signed by the then-Dowager Duchess, Deborah Mitford. Having read the book and understanding its significance to the 20th Century, I bought every copy. It is heavy (three pounds), and a dozen of them were more than I could comfortably carry with me on the thirty minute walk back through Chatsworth Park. My arms were aching as I raced to back in time to catch the bus to my hotel in Buxton. Of course, now I am glad I did. One of the few remaining copies from that cache is available for purchase here.
Image Credit: The Mitford Family Album