Rave Reviews by Jean E. Eustance

Some British families exercise an endless fascination over people.  Some families are subjects of books, especially tell-all books, that everyone wants to read. Some British families make it hard to look away from them. 

No, I am not talking about the Royal Family of the Windsors.  I am talking about the Mitford family with its daughters who were very prominent, especially in the 1930s.  There is a new book that came out in January 2023, which is a fictionized account and will undoubtedly be wildly popular. While you are waiting for your library copy to become available, look at what we already have on the shelves of the Pine Bush Area Public Library. Look in non-fiction for Laura Thompson’s history book, The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters. And wait your turn for the new The Mitford Affair by Marie Benedict.

Laura Thompson also wrote Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life and it ran some 400-plus pages.  This one, The Six, is only 385, counting the index. The Six refers to the six sisters, but does not entirely ignore their one brother, Tom.  He is cut from the photo on the cover, however.  It shows only Unity, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pamela. With two exceptions, they were a self-absorbed, egotistical bunch of brats.

If you care about what these people were up to, then you know that Unity was infatuated with Hitler, and she tried to kill herself after Britain declared war on Germany.  Deborah, the youngest Mitford sister, became Duchess of Devonshire and spent the rest of her life making sure that the stately home, Chatsworth, did not fall into wrack and ruin. Diana was apparently as beautiful as a goddess, and she left her perfect husband and children to run off with Oswald Mosley. He was a real rotter, and he started the British Union of Fascists, the Blackshirts. Jessica ran away from her family, married twice, and wrote The American Way of Death in 1963.  Pamela had a quiet life, compared to all the rest, and was known as the Countrywoman.  Nancy Mitford wrote about her family, in fictionized form, and got everyone angry at her.  In 1982 Masterpiece Theater came out with their version of Love in a Cold Climate, which got me interested in these awful people. They were terrible show-offs.

The Mitford Sisters attracted attention everywhere they went. They seemed to always be looking in mirrors, while simultaneously looking over their shoulders to make sure the world was paying attention to all that they did.  It’s nicely summed up in Laura Thompson’s introduction, “The Mitford Phenomenon.”  At the end of the book is “Afterwards,” telling what happened to Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Jessica, and Deborah. (Unity’s pathetic end is dealt with, earlier in the book.)

It’s a difficult book.  It’s fascinating in small bites, but it’s not something you would want to read all in one weekend. Reading The Six is like eating chocolate candies laced with salt and vinegar.  Read it in small doses, and then have a nice cup of tea, to help you recover.  You’ll need it.

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