When I first knew her she was already a widow, and widow’s weeds became her. To the end of her life she was swathed in black scarves and shawls and veils; in later years not exactly in mourning, because many of her clothes were dark brown, but the whole effect had something more Spanish than French about it. Once when she was slightly annoying my sister Nancy, who used the powder and lipstick universal among our generation, by saying: ‘Painters don’t admire makeup at all,’ Nancy retorted: ‘Oh well Mrs Ham you know it’s all very well for you, but we can’t all look like El Greco’s mistress.’ Mrs Hammersley gave her hollow, unwilling laugh.
Diana Mosley is of course even more fascinating, as we keep finding on the blog. Her politics were detestable: she was a friend of Hitler, and she was married to fascist leader Oswald Mosley and supported his political views totally. But once you get out of the way, there is still something left. She was a woman of principle and great loyalty, she found it easy to make and keep good friends despite everything (‘everything’ including imprisonment during the WW2 and the whiff – strongly denied - of potential treason). For someone claiming such strange views she had friends of all kinds – including many whom her husband’s desired political system would have condemned as degenerate, or Jewish, or both. There is a way in which she doesn’t add up…
Oswald Mosley was always the most outrageous philanderer, and doesn’t seem to have changed or adapted that at any point during his entire life: this was apparently a sorrow for his wives, but they both lived with it. Rather embarrassingly, Diana compared herself with her sister Nancy Mitford – who also had a great love who was incorrigibly unfaithful – and decided smugly that her Oswald (also known as Kit and Tom, to the confusion of keen readers of the letters) was not as awful as Nancy’s Colonel. Both men sound vile, but Gaston Palewski – the original of Nancy Mitford’s Fabrice in The Pursuit of Love – seems marginally more attractive, if you had to have one of them, and at least was not a fascist friend of Hitler.
Diana Mosley was stepmother to Nicholas Mosley, author of one of the blog’s best books of 2013: they had a very good relationship for many years, but ultimately she accused him of betraying the memory of his father (Nicholas wrote a 2-vol biog of Oswald), and so she refused to speak to him in the years leading up to her death in 2003.
She was simultaneously quite transparent and quite incomprehensible – those who knew her say she had great personal warmth and charm, but some of us (without the advantage of knowing her personally) wonder about the ice in her heart.
The photograph shows Mrs H with Jessica Mitford.
The portrait of her is by Duncan Grant and is in Southampton art gallery.
This week in the excellent #bookadayuk meme on Twitter I picked Diana Mitford as a controversial writer.