Review: The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley

I haven’t finished The Mitfords yet. I know it will take me many a month to complete it and as I can’t review the book I read this week (as it’s for book club) it felt fitting to discuss this tome today.

The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters is a collection of letters spanning decades. Having read Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford these letters put Jessica’s (Decca) childhood account into perspective. However, only Diana’s and Nancy’s feelings on Hons and Rebels are really reflected. Mosley spent the better part of a year gathering and organising letters before then compiling them for this book – not all letters are included, many private letters have been specifically excluded.

“The great wits and beauties of their age, the Mitford sisters were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people, counting among their diverse friends Adolf Hitler and Queen Elizabeth II, Cecil Beaton and President Kennedy, Evelyn Waugh and Givenchy. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontës have the members of a single family written so much about themselves, or have been so written about.

The Mitfords offers an unparalleled look at these privileged sisters: Nancy, the scalding wit who transformed her family life into bestselling novels; Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life; Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during World War II; Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home; Jessica, the runaway Communist and fighter for social change; and Deborah, the genial socialite who found herself Duchess of Devonshire.

Spanning the twentieth century, the magically vivid letters of the legendary Mitford sisters constitute not just a superb social and historical chronicle; they also provide an intimate portrait of the stormy but enduring relationships between six beautiful, gifted and radically different women who wrote to one another to confide, commiserate, tease, rage and gossip — and above all, to amuse.” Synopsis from GoodReads.

I am only about 40% into the book (I’ve reached the sixties). I think my struggle to continue may be a difficulty to connect with women not only older than myself, but with vastly different cultural values. Their attitudes, even Decca’s, can grate on the nerves. Their youthful ignorance was charming, but once these attitudes extend into adulthood it became clear that my interest was more firmly planted in the adventures of the 20s and 30s. The latter years, that I have read, are not quite as interesting. This is purely a reflection of my reading particularities than the quality of the letters.

The Mitfords give you a wonderful ability to love Diana and Unity – Nazi fascists – who I thought I would dislike immensely. Mosley does a fabulous job of showing letters that would not throw bias on any of the sisters. Oddly left-wing Decca is the sister I have started to, not dislike, but feel less warmth to than her siblings. Decca, second youngest, secretly eloped with her second cousin – communist Esmond Romilly. A shock that reverberated through her family. Perhaps it is my over familiarity with her story, that leaves me wondering more about her siblings. Aside from their abhorrent political beliefs and disastrous taste in men, Diana and Unity are remarkably affectionate individuals – to their sisters at least.

Another ten years of letters and I will reach the death of Nancy and only four sisters will remain. As each dies you feel a loss of character and cohesion. These sisters lived as much in their own world as they did in the real world, and that is more evident than ever in their letters.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley

  1. I’ve been meaning to read my biography of the Mitford sisters for ages. The letters sound even more fun possibly — I cannot resist reading other people’s letters! And it’s good to know that I won’t hate Diana and Unity despite their being, yeah, fascists.


    1. They are lovely and horrid at the same time, if that makes sense. I still need to read my MItford biog too, it’ll be interesting to read them from a more neutral perspective.


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