Thursday, 8 December 2011

Modern Mitfords

One of the more satisfying aspects of reading biographies instead of novels (though I do like them, too) is that the story sometimes continues after the book is finished.  Also, depending upon how accurately the biography is written and how famous the person, one can sometimes see how their life has fitted into and perhaps contributed to history, that is, what led to now.

Unity and Pamela

Sadly, four of the seven Mitfords - Pamela, Unity, Tom and Nancy - died without issue, as they say.  Nevertheless, it's not all just history, the Mitfords. One of the Mitford sisters, Diana - the fascist one - was first married to Bryan Guinness, of Irish brewery fame (and titles I can't be bothered to look up). One of her grand-daughters, titled socialite Daphne Guinness is regularly in the press here. Has anyone not heard of Lulu Guinness, the handbag designer? She's married to one of Diana's grandsons.

Deborah and Nancy

Diana's second marriage to Oswald Mosley (also titled) put her in the political spotlight, not to mention prison. If anyone were a fan of Formula One race car driving, they might be interested to know that Diana's son Max Mosley is a former president of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile).  Charlotte Mosley, who edits many of the books compiled of Mitford family letters (which I'm in the process of collecting), is married to Diana's other son with Mosley, (Oswald) Alexander Mosley.  

Then there was Jessica Mitford, the communist sister who went to Spain during their civil war with a cousin whom she married (he'd given up his titles).  Strangely enough she eventually settled in America.  Turns out Jessica was more influential than I'd realised.  I'm going to have to read some of her work soon, given the really clever snippets I've found just recently.  In particular I need to put my hands on Hons and Rebels [Note: Hons is short for Honourable, an aristocratic title).  Even the study questions for this book make me curious about it.   J. K. Rowling [Do I need to tell you she wrote the Harry Potter series?] is quoted as saying that Jessica Mitford's writing was highly influential for her; so much so that Rowling named her own daughter Jessica.  Jessica Mitford's daughter, Constantine, is recognisably a Mitford; look at her photo and tell me the words spit and image don't come to mind.  

Deborah Mitford, the youngest child, married into the Cavendish family and when her husband's elder brother was killed in WWII, she became the Duchess of Devonshire, her husband being the 11th Duke of Devonshire.   Debo, now the Dowager Duchess, is still living and has worked with her niece-in-law, Charlotte Mosley, to identify the myriad of personalities of decades past whose names are dropped and sullied or shined in the scribbles of the sisters. 

Jessica and Diana

The Mitford looks are pretty much legendary.  They just don't seem to make ugly babies in that family.  Present day Mitfords include Jasmine Guiness and Tom Guinness, models.  Also a model, Stella Tennant (Deborah Cavendish's grand-daughter)  looks remarkably like her great-uncle, Stephen Tennant, a notable Bright Young Thing.  [I tried to add David Tennant to this family but, pretty as he is and in spite of the fact that he starred in Stephen Fry's movie Bright Young Things, he's actually a McDonald not a Tennant.  There is a David Pax Tennant, but that's another post...]

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Mitford family changed history, other than perhaps in the revelations of Jessica Mitford's investigative journalism.  What I do believe is that these fascinating women keep alive the interest in the interwar period and the political changes that were happening in their day.  I think this is a good thing.  

In a recent interview, Charlotte Mosley said she found that most people who knew about the Mitfords tended to be over 50, but I don't believe that's true anymore.  Bill's daughter, Helen, and son-in-law Martin came for lunch today.  Helen is nowhere near 50 and she knew exactly who the Mitfords were.

NB:  These drawings were done by William Acton, brother of Harold Acton.  Lovely Lucinda, shows us how some of the Mitford 'girls' looked in 1985.   At 91, the Duchess of Devonshire was recently on the cover of the WI (Women's Institute Magazine) and she's still looking pretty good, I think.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

They were a truly fascinating family! One of my favourite books ever is "the Mitford Girls" by Mary S Lovell. Could hardly put it down!