Thursday, 29 October 2015

Thursday List: More about the Mitfords




---- because you can never have too much



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1) New Book: Take Six Girls by Laura Thompson published 2015

‘Take six girls, all of them rampant individualists, and let them loose upon one of the most politically explosive periods in history. That is the story of the Mitfords. It is like a social experiment, the results of which would have staggered even the most imaginative scientist, and no small part of its fascination lies in the fact that the experiment can never be repeated. Never again will there be six such girls, raised in such a way, at such a time.’

Laura Thompson has a new book out about the Mitford sisters, and those are the opening lines. I will just about always read something about the family, and I also always enjoy Laura Thompson’s style.

She picks the best people to write about: her book on Agatha Christie is mentioned in blogposts here and here and here – and though it is speculative, and relies a lot on the Westmacott novels, I think it’s very good. This entry is partly about her book on Lord Lucan. I am quoted, very briefly and anonymously, in the Lucan book: not because of my great expertise, but giving a point of view about the public reaction to the case.

Thompson’s Mitford book is also excellent: she really understands her material, and she sets it out well – it’s a long complicated story, but I thought she covered it exceptionally well.

2) And of course Thompson has already written a biography of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate (mentioned in this Mitford list) – again, a decisive and opinionated work. I used rather to disapprove of biographies where the writer made their views clear – in Thompson’s case she actually says ‘oh, Nancy’ when her subject does something foolish. But now I feel – well I know all the facts about the Mitfords (it would be a rare book that revealed something new to me *) but I can be very interested in someone else’s interpretation of them. The new book doesn’t just rehash the Nancy book – she has a lot to say on all the sisters. Thompson has the huge advantage of having talked to Diana and Debo before they died.

* To this extent: one recent book (not Thompson’s) has Nancy M making friends with Marlon Brando in 1950s Venice. I venture to think this is wrong – NM had a friend called Count Brando Brandolini, and always referred to him in letters as Brando, and I wonder if the writer has misread that.

3) I did a comprehensive blog entry and list on the Mitfords just over a year ago, when the last of the sisters – Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – died. Surely someone is planning a biography of her, and perhaps one that dishes the dirt? As the last survivor she could maintain her own image nicely…

 
Mitfords 1

4) And that’s one thing that’s very obvious about the Mitfords, particularly obvious when you read the collection of the letters among them – they are very keen on their image, and on handling it and promoting it. Of course they never admit that – they all sigh, and wish it would all go away, and it’s so vulgar and common. But my how they love it. And of course they really want to control it: they are shocked! shocked! by how interested everyone is in matters that they consider to be private (their connections with Hitler) but really I have no patience with them. If they’d ever shown any reluctance about being in the public eye for nicer reasons, you might sympathize. But they loved the public eye when it meant books sold and money in the coffers.

5) All of them, apart from Jessica, seem to have had a massive sense of entitlement - any reading of their letters shows this. Jessica was the communist sister, in contrast to Diana the fascist and Unity the Nazi. Nancy claimed to be roughly left-wing, but really hovered somewhere in the middle. 

6) There have been two British TV versions of Nancy Mitford’s two great masterworks Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate (under the 2nd title) - aren’t we overdue another attempt at dramatizing the books…?

I should like to be consultant on such a venture.  For example, I would tell the makers that the first series made the mistake of making Fanny rather too dowdy – although she constantly tells us how dull and provincial she is, it’s no use making her too pudding-y, because then she is not at all believable as the good friend and confidante of the other characters. In the book she is sharp and witty and fun. The most recent version had the marvellous Rosamond Pike (since gone on to great stardom) play her – excellent choice.
 
And as I have said before – like a new production of Pride and Prejudice, the story of the Radletts of Alconleigh gives the young actresses of the UK the chance to play one of the sisters. And I have also suggested that Rupert Everett should play Lady Montdore.


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This blog entry – the original Mitford Sisters list – gives a brief introduction to each sister, and names some of their key books, & books about them. It also gives links to other Mitford blog posts, including the Guardian piece I did on Love in a Cold Climate, for a series on comfort reads, and a list of books-about-young-women, where Nancy's books (of course) feature. 
















16 comments:

  1. This is really interesting, Moira! And I think you hit on something important about biographies and other writing about real historical figures: how much of the author's particular agenda/opinion should be there? To some extent, we all have biases and opinions, and that includes authors. On the other hand, I'm with you in generally preferring to make up my own mind about the subject of a biography. And speaking in broader terms, your list is a great reminder of how really interesting these sisters were. Fascinating!

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    1. Thanks Margot. I think my view of biography keeps changing - or at least, I don't have a definitive view. I suppose it can depend on how well you know the subject already.

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  2. I do think Lady Montdore is one of the great characters of fiction - and having her played by a man is an inspired idea. Not sure about Rupert Everett though. She is really solid and mannish, isn't she?

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    1. Yes, but did you see Rupert Everett playing the headmistress in St Trinians? (Only the highest culture round my way y'know). He did such a great job, it's what makes me sure he could play the monstrous Lady M!

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  3. I'd really like to read about Jessica Mitford, but haven't had the time. The Nazis, not so much, and I'm not sure how the different between a Nazi and a fascist is determined.

    From what I've read, the sisters were brought up in a right-wing family, so those who split from that environment are the rebels. Jessica did make a contribution in the U.S. with her muckraking writings on the death industry and other issues.

    Even though there are not lords, ladies, earls or duchesses over here, there are dynasties, and some are right-wingers. But no one went to jail for supporting the Nazis over here or promoting fascism and treason.

    That, I'm afraid, is unique to England and other European countries.

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    1. Fascism is a more general term describing a philosophy, a set of beliefs. Nazism was the specific part in Germany. I would say the political situation, and the war situation, was completely different in the USA from Europe. And

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  4. Part of your comment fell off unfortunately, as I'd like to read it.

    Over here, people use the terms more loosely, i.e., someone with fascist beliefs may be called a neo-Nazi these days, as the ultra-right here. They aren't Germans and they don't have to belong to a Nazi party, but could be in a right-wing paramilitary group or militia or spout fascist ideas or goals or both.

    Yes, of course, the war situation was different here than in Europe. First of all, no fighting happened here. There weren't Nazi armies and invasions or countries or partisans fighting them. It's not comparable at all.

    However, there were very rich industrialists who supported Germany and didn't want the U.S. to enter the war and anti-Semitism was part of it, too.

    Either way, I wouldn't want to read about a right-wing Mitford, although I have friends who are fascinated by the whole family, but I keep meaning to read about Jessica and perhaps Nancy.

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    1. Don't know what happened to the rest of that sentence! I think the serious threat of invasion makes people examine others' politics very closely - basic security means you have to think about what might happen if the invasion was successful, who would help the victors. You never had to face that in the USA. yes, I understand there were a lot of Americans who felt that Europe should sort it out for themselves...
      I think you would like Jessica if you read more about her - definitely stick to her and not to the Right Wing ones! I know what you mean, I like reading about people whom I consider to have impeccable views. But I like to dip into the opposition now and again! I know that you don't feel the same....

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  5. ....because you can never have too much......oh yes you can!

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    1. That line was really a tease just for you - I almost said 'a Col special'...

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    2. Yes. The only way to stop the madness is to read them. All.

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  6. Well, the opposition is on TV over here all the time! Donald Trump and all the Republican "candidates." Even the so-called progressive TV shows overdo it as they are fascinated by this train wreck and they want ratings. So, I have to turn off these programs as I have had enough! How many times can I hear them deplore our (very limited compared to Europe) government health care, call for cutting Social Security, want even more military actions, espouse racism, attack women's rights, oppose income taxes, limits on toxic emissions, etc.

    I mean, they don't even want substantive questions in debates!

    And then we have to deal with the Confederate flag, violence at Black churches, etc.

    So, no, for my enjoyment and education, I do not want to get aggravated! All I have to do is turn on the news for that.

    Plus I love reading about strong women. Gloria Steinem also has a new book out, can't wait.

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    1. With all that going on you definitely want soothing, sympathetic reading. I love Gloria Steinem, I remember reading a collection of her pieces in the 1980s, I bought a hardback which was a big, expensive deal for me. I look forward to the new book too.

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  7. You really have gotten me interested in the Mitfords, not just in this post but also previous ones. But when I will ever have the time to fit them into my reading I do not know, so it is good that you keep me supplied with information.

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    1. One day. But if you carry on reading all my posts on them you'll be as well-informed as someone who read a biography!

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