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This biography tells the true story behind the gaiety and frivolity of the six Mitford daughters - and the facts are as sensational as a novel. There is Nancy, whose bright social existence masked a doomed obsessional love, which soured her success; Pam, a countrywoman maried to one of the best brains in Europe; Diana, an iconic beauty, who was already married when, at 22, This biography tells the true story behind the gaiety and frivolity of the six Mitford daughters - and the facts are as sensational as a novel. There is Nancy, whose bright social existence masked a doomed obsessional love, which soured her success; Pam, a countrywoman maried to one of the best brains in Europe; Diana, an iconic beauty, who was already married when, at 22, she fell in love with Oswald Moseley, leader of the British fascists; Unity, who, romantically in love with Hitler, became a member of his inner circle before shooting herself in the temple when World War II was declared; Jessica, the family rebel, who declared herself a Communist in the schoolroom; and the youngest sister, Debo, who became the Duchess of Devonshire. Their extraordinary lives are revealed by the author, who had exclusive access to the Mitford archives.


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This biography tells the true story behind the gaiety and frivolity of the six Mitford daughters - and the facts are as sensational as a novel. There is Nancy, whose bright social existence masked a doomed obsessional love, which soured her success; Pam, a countrywoman maried to one of the best brains in Europe; Diana, an iconic beauty, who was already married when, at 22, This biography tells the true story behind the gaiety and frivolity of the six Mitford daughters - and the facts are as sensational as a novel. There is Nancy, whose bright social existence masked a doomed obsessional love, which soured her success; Pam, a countrywoman maried to one of the best brains in Europe; Diana, an iconic beauty, who was already married when, at 22, she fell in love with Oswald Moseley, leader of the British fascists; Unity, who, romantically in love with Hitler, became a member of his inner circle before shooting herself in the temple when World War II was declared; Jessica, the family rebel, who declared herself a Communist in the schoolroom; and the youngest sister, Debo, who became the Duchess of Devonshire. Their extraordinary lives are revealed by the author, who had exclusive access to the Mitford archives.

30 review for The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dem

    The Sisters The saga of the Mitford Family What an eccentric and yet fascinating family the Mitford's were. I had a copy of this book in paperback on my bookshelf for quite a time and decided to also purchase it as an audio so as I could listen as well as read. BIG MISTAKE as the audio version is dreadful. I quickly switched back to my old reliable paperback and so glad I read this Biography as what a wonderful and absorbing read it was. I thought I knew a little of the history of the Mitford sis The Sisters The saga of the Mitford Family What an eccentric and yet fascinating family the Mitford's were. I had a copy of this book in paperback on my bookshelf for quite a time and decided to also purchase it as an audio so as I could listen as well as read. BIG MISTAKE as the audio version is dreadful. I quickly switched back to my old reliable paperback and so glad I read this Biography as what a wonderful and absorbing read it was. I thought I knew a little of the history of the Mitford sisters but this book certainly proved me wrong. The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family" tells the amazing story of the Mitford sisters, six beautiful and talented aristocratic young women who came of age before the Second World War and made quite a name for themselves( not always a good one) around the World. They had one brother Tom. The sisters were NANCY who wrote a series of bestselling novels, (The pursuit of Love and Love In A Cold Climite) PAMELA was the quiet one of the of the sisters, she married and divorced a scientist, and was content to live quietly in the country. DIANA married the heir to the Guinness brewing fortune when she was 18. She leads a very colourful life which includes meetings with Hitler and being improsinioned for a few years during the war. UNITY was a very controversial character, became obsessed with Nazism while in her teens. She managed to meet Hitler on over 100 occasions and become obsessed with him and proudly wore her Hitler-signed swastika badge everywhere. Jessica (known as Decca) eloped at age 18, was a committed communist and lived in America. DEBORAH (Debo) Debo married Andrew Cavendish, second son of the Duke of Devonshire. They inherited Cavendish, a large country estate. An extremely well written and well researched Biograpy that had me googling people, situations and places. The book includes a family tree and numerous photograph. It's quite a read but packed full of information. I dont read a lot of Biographys but this one really did engage me and I thououghly enjoyed the read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    Of course this is full of wonderful information about fascinating people -- but Lovell bends over backwards to vindicate Diana for her fascism and palling around with Nazis, while pilloring Jessica for every minor dido or appearance of hypocrisy (which, as an aristo communist, there was plenty of material). I didn't need long passages scolding someone for bad manners because she eloped at 19, followed by passages explaining how taking tea with Hitler was a perfectly normal and excusable social n Of course this is full of wonderful information about fascinating people -- but Lovell bends over backwards to vindicate Diana for her fascism and palling around with Nazis, while pilloring Jessica for every minor dido or appearance of hypocrisy (which, as an aristo communist, there was plenty of material). I didn't need long passages scolding someone for bad manners because she eloped at 19, followed by passages explaining how taking tea with Hitler was a perfectly normal and excusable social nicety for a young lady in the '30s. And equating membership in the Communist Party in California in the '30s with somehow being a Stalinist is simply historically ignorant. I can only assume that Lovell's personal fondness for the elderly Diana, who by all accounts was charming, warped her view of her behavior. The only other explanation is that Lovell herself thinks bolshieness is beyond the pale while fascism isn't really so bad if you don't actually go around personally murdering Jews, and I would hate to think that's the case. Still, a great resource for learning about the Mitfords, who were often enchanting, often appalling, but never dull.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melindam

    An openly biased and judgmental work, even if well-researched. Obviously, Lovell got access to loads of valuable material, courtesy of some of the sisters themselves. Whether this was what affected her attitude towards them (had she been more objective toward Diana and Unity, maybe this source would have been cut off) or whether her stance was warped from the beginning is hard to say (though I tend to think the latter), still this biography is flawed and deficient despite the heaps of info cramm An openly biased and judgmental work, even if well-researched. Obviously, Lovell got access to loads of valuable material, courtesy of some of the sisters themselves. Whether this was what affected her attitude towards them (had she been more objective toward Diana and Unity, maybe this source would have been cut off) or whether her stance was warped from the beginning is hard to say (though I tend to think the latter), still this biography is flawed and deficient despite the heaps of info crammed in. Nancy is hardly there, Pam almost nonexistent & Debo is also an afterthought. We are all humans, etcetera, but I, as a reader, expect much higher professionalism & a more detached attitude in biographies. This was an informative read and interesting for a while, but the inaccuracies and cracks were obvious from the beginning and grated more and more as I read on. IMHO, it's not a biographer's task to judge or to try and find extenuating circumstances for the pronounced moral or political foolishness and wrongdoings of some sisters, while laying the blame on and disapproving for much less of the others. (Unless, of course, a book is tailor-made upon special request of some "customer" or other.... I am trying to be less judgemental & more generous than Lovell herself, but most of the time this piece truly read like bespoke propaganda for Diana & Unity.) Lovell's strong and narrow-minded partiality towards Diana & Unity Mitford with their enthusiastic support for fascism & her trying to whitewash them was very disagreeable to say the least, especially as Jessica received quite a different treatment with her communist leanings. (Unity and Diana being bosom pals with Hitler were totally fine, while Jessica joining the communist party in California was treated like she was personally responsible for all of Stalin's horrible atrocities.) Despite Lovell's disparaging and obtusely condemnatory characterisation of Jessica, she was still the true Star of the Mitford show for me and the only decent girl of this lot besides Pam (on whom L. doesn't waste precious time, because there was so much apologising to do for Nazi and Hitler-fan Unity and Diana!) and maybe Nancy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    A cracking read in parts, hence why I finished the thing, but seriously marred by obsequious apologia for the Fascist sympathies of most of the family and their peers -- all "how could they have known" and "yes, she laughed and laughed when she heard about Nazi atrocities, but she was also very charming" and "what else was she expecting than for the death of her infant daughter to be mocked, after all, her communist sympathies were very uncouth". What is the root of this tendency in biographers A cracking read in parts, hence why I finished the thing, but seriously marred by obsequious apologia for the Fascist sympathies of most of the family and their peers -- all "how could they have known" and "yes, she laughed and laughed when she heard about Nazi atrocities, but she was also very charming" and "what else was she expecting than for the death of her infant daughter to be mocked, after all, her communist sympathies were very uncouth". What is the root of this tendency in biographers to defend their subjects in this way? I honestly do not care and I find it irritating even when the subject is one I have sympathy for. When it's unrepentant Fascists I get very cross indeed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This book/audiobook proves that in fact a very good book can be destroyed by a terrible narrator. Annie Wauters does the narration. The ups and downs of voice inflection should tell you when a question is being posed or when a sentence is over. Wauter’s intonation was consistently wrong. She stops in the middle of a sentence, and it sounds like the sentence is over. Surprise, surprise! It isn’t! She continues with the last half of the sentence. Time and time again I was confused. Such reading ma This book/audiobook proves that in fact a very good book can be destroyed by a terrible narrator. Annie Wauters does the narration. The ups and downs of voice inflection should tell you when a question is being posed or when a sentence is over. Wauter’s intonation was consistently wrong. She stops in the middle of a sentence, and it sounds like the sentence is over. Surprise, surprise! It isn’t! She continues with the last half of the sentence. Time and time again I was confused. Such reading makes it almost impossible to follow what is being said. Her speed is sometimes too rapid and other times too slow. Words are mumbled. No, not all words, but too many. And for the majority of the reading her tone is f-l-a-t. She drones on. I never expected that I would have such trouble understanding text simply due to bad narration. When I started the audiobook I was forewarned that the narration was bad, but I wanted to read this book so I figured I could manage. Yes, I managed and some parts are better than others, but honestly she destroyed the book for me. Just following the lines was such a challenge that all reading enjoyment totally evaporated. Do NOT choose the audiobook. Now to the written lines, which is what I base my rating on: The Mitford Family, the parents and their seven children, Nancy (author and teaser), Pamela (the one and only quiet sister), Tom (the only boy and the only one who could remain on speaking terms with all... until his death in the War), Diana (the beauty, married first into the Guinness family and then to the love of her life, beloved Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascist Party, hated in Britain and imprisoned for three and a half years), Unity (the girl who loved to shock, rats and snakes were so fun to take to a ball, and renown for her affair with Hitler), Jessica (or Decca, as he is nicknamed, the rebel communist who eloped with Churchill’s nephew, emigrated to the States and stood out as a rebel during the McCarthy Era and author too) and finally Deborah (Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest and an author too). Respective lovers, spouses and children are all included. All the houses and people have nicknames. Quotes and descriptions - so you understand each one’s character well. Everyone was constantly joking, bickering, having a fit or sulking. Each and every one is covered in a thorough, amusing, interesting and fair way. Each was a remarkable person in their own right, and what complex family relationships! Fights, arguments, clashes but support and love too. How did these girls end up so different? How were they similar? What dictates the path we follow? Is it nature or nurture or what? Does this interest you? The book moves forward chronologically over a span of the entire 20th Century. All is covered from their respective births to their deaths. The reader watches what they do and what they say and how they interact - as sisters and as individuals. Their choices are absolutely fascinating. There is so much here in terms of history and famous people and change in social norms! You get history, emotions, psychology, and remarkable people. If you don’t know about the Mitfords, you have to read this book. Read it. Do NOT listen to it narrated by Annie Wauters.

  6. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    Decca* knew a thing or two about sisters. At about this time she was contacted by a friend of mine, Sunday Times journalist Brigid Keenan, who was writing a piece on Nancy and wanted Decca to comment on Nancy's statement that 'Sisters are a shield against life's cruel adversity.' Decca replied, 'But sisters ARE life's cruel adversity!' *Jessica Mitford A remarkably lively and fast paced, if somewhat breathlessly star-struck biography of the infamous set of siblings. (There was one brother, Tom. He Decca* knew a thing or two about sisters. At about this time she was contacted by a friend of mine, Sunday Times journalist Brigid Keenan, who was writing a piece on Nancy and wanted Decca to comment on Nancy's statement that 'Sisters are a shield against life's cruel adversity.' Decca replied, 'But sisters ARE life's cruel adversity!' *Jessica Mitford A remarkably lively and fast paced, if somewhat breathlessly star-struck biography of the infamous set of siblings. (There was one brother, Tom. He fell in the final year of WW2 in Burma. Before that he served in Italy and North Africa because he didn't want to fight against Germany.) Lovell makes every effort to be forgiving, and let's face it there's a deal to forgive. I suppose what sticks in the craw will depend on individual political leanings. Personally, I found a certain poetic justice in the fact that the Duke of Devonshire popped his clogs just a week before the five year period necessary between gifting his estate to his oldest son and his own demise had elapsed, thus leaving Andrew and Debo, the new Duke and Duchess, with a whopping inheritance tax debt. Poor things, they had to sell a 12,000 acre estate in Dumfriesshire, 42,000 acres in Derbyshire, woodlands and property in Sussex and a house in London. And imagine NINE of the most valuable paintings and art works, by Rubens, Holbein, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and all to 'save' Chatsworth, apparently out a deep sense of obligation towards the British public's desire to pay over the odds for tacky souvenirs, overpriced farm produce and cups of tea in the several cafés and restaurants. Other impecunious aristocrats were less fortunate: one newly inherited duke was reduced to living in a terraced house on the south coast - shock horror! All my sympathies (unsurprisingly) are with Jessica. Not just for her political activism but for her steeliness. In 1994 she stumbled on the hem of her long skirt as she was going out to dinner and suffered multiple fractures of her ankle. She was well aware that the clumsiness came from drink having been taken, and that a wrist fracture the previous year had been for the same reason. In her early seventies, realising that she had become too dependent on alcohol, she stopped. Her daughter, a professional nurse and health care manager, was aware that going cold turkey was not the easiest road to take. 'She is positively amazing. She's now 18 days without a drink. She fired the substance abuse psychiatrist after he droned on about residential treatment, group therapy, AA etc. She just looked at me with her blue, droopy eyes, and said, "I've decided to give it up , that's all."' (Note: she was less steely when it came to cigarettes. She would even leave the lectures she was giving on giving up smoking to go and have a clandestine puff in the ladies'. At least until she was caught.) Intriguing and slightly disturbing: What is it that makes these people continue to use pet names, nicknames, family joke names way into adulthood? What fifty year old would still want to be known as Dinky? They never stopped calling their parents Farve and Muv which meant that their own children would talk about Granny Muv. Lord preserve us.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    Before reading "The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family" by Mary S. Lovell, I had already read Hons and Rebels: The Classic Memoir of One of Last Century's Most Extraordinary Families by Jessica Mitford, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, and the first two novels by Nancy Mitford. Mary S. Lovell does an extraordinary job of condensing down the lives of the Mitford girls, their parents, their brother, and numerous partners, children, grandchildren, and various other notable Before reading "The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family" by Mary S. Lovell, I had already read Hons and Rebels: The Classic Memoir of One of Last Century's Most Extraordinary Families by Jessica Mitford, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, and the first two novels by Nancy Mitford. Mary S. Lovell does an extraordinary job of condensing down the lives of the Mitford girls, their parents, their brother, and numerous partners, children, grandchildren, and various other notable relatives, all of which takes place against some of the most momentous historical moments of the twentieth century. In a sense the family's story mirrors that of the century they lived in. The parents known to their children as Muv and Farve, aka Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney, represent the early twentieth century aristocracy. Both, to varying degrees are appalled by the changes wrought throughout the 1920s and the emergence of the post-WW1 generation of young people, dubbed Bright Young Things, who erupted into society determined to change the world for the better now "the war to end all wars" was over. Oldest daughter, Nancy, and her arty friends were anathema to her father. Three of the daughters were split across the two political ideologies that wreaked havoc on the twentieth century: Unity (who unbelievably was conceived in a Canadian town called Swastika) and Diana both being unapologetic fascists, and Jessica (aka Decca) a staunch communist. Not only were Unity and Diana fascists but both formed a close friendship with Hitler and other leading Nazis in pre-WW2 Germany, and Diana married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany Unity unsuccessfully tried to kill herself, and Decca ran away to help the Republican cause in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. These events, along with Nancy's success as a writer, are what make this book so fascinating for anyone interested in this era. I was slightly less interested in the early childhood years, and in the post-WW2 era. After the war, the book details how each life played out. This is all worth reading but of less interest than the extraordinary events detailed in the 1930s and 1940s. All told though, a very interesting biography, with plenty of conflict (both familial and global) to keep the story moving forward. 4/5

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lori B

    It's so unreal, you almost think it was fiction; a writer couldn't come up with this. The Mitford Sisters -- from oldest Nancy, renowned author, to youngest Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who married the next in line who became Duke upon the death of his brother, who was himself married to Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy. (Yes, related to and friends with the Kennedys.) Next youngest is Decca, who with first husband ran off to Spain fighting with the Communist brigade against Franco and then emigrating It's so unreal, you almost think it was fiction; a writer couldn't come up with this. The Mitford Sisters -- from oldest Nancy, renowned author, to youngest Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who married the next in line who became Duke upon the death of his brother, who was himself married to Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy. (Yes, related to and friends with the Kennedys.) Next youngest is Decca, who with first husband ran off to Spain fighting with the Communist brigade against Franco and then emigrating to America where she remarried (after being widowed quite young.) Also related to Churchill on their mother's side, which makes it all the more interesting that daughters 3 and 4, Diana and Unity were ardent Fascists during the war. Unity was rumored to have been close to an engagement with Hitler! And Diana, after marrying and divorcing the heir to the Guinness fortune, marries Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Fascist party. Both are jailed/detained during the war, regardless of their relationship with Churchill. There was also a brother who was killed during the war. Unbelievably fascinating. Beats any reality show you can come up with today. Unreal.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore

    I first heard of the Mitfords after ‘discovering’ Nancy Mitford’s books in a book group I became part of on Shelfari. Having read almost all of her novels (not the bios yet), I became vaguely aware of the family, and the rather divergent viewpoints the sisters held but knew next to nothing about them. This bio seemed a great place to remedy that, and it did in an excellent way. Mary S Lovell takes us through the lives of this truly extraordinary family. The six Mitford sisters, Nancy, Pam, Diana I first heard of the Mitfords after ‘discovering’ Nancy Mitford’s books in a book group I became part of on Shelfari. Having read almost all of her novels (not the bios yet), I became vaguely aware of the family, and the rather divergent viewpoints the sisters held but knew next to nothing about them. This bio seemed a great place to remedy that, and it did in an excellent way. Mary S Lovell takes us through the lives of this truly extraordinary family. The six Mitford sisters, Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Decca, and Debo, and their brother Tom were children of Lord Redesdale, and his wife Sydney. They had little education (which they held against their mother, but this was true for Agatha Christie too and makes me begin to think that perhaps, this isn’t such a bad thing after all), and normal (ish) childhoods, but once they grew older, Diana, Decca, and Unity in particular developed very strong political views, Decca towards communism, and Unity and Diana towards Fascism, which led to clashes and even rifts which between some of the sisters (Decca and Diana, particularly) remained unresolved till the end. Pam who took to farming, and Debo the youngest who went on to become the Duchess of Devonshire were perhaps the most ‘normal’. All the sisters, more or less wrote, Nancy being known for her novels and bios, Decca for Hons and Rebels (both sisters caricaturing their family and friends in some way or other; Decca also wrote many other books and articles for instance on the funeral industry in America); even Diana and Debo have a handful of books to their credit. Their relationships with each other weren’t always easy largely because of the politics but also because of their nature, and not all of them found happiness in their personal lives. Still, they led rather interesting lives to say the least, with friends and acquaintances ranging from Hitler to JFK, Evelyn Waugh to Maya Angelou. I thought Lovell did a fairly good job trying to be neutral when telling the sisters’ stories, leaving it to the reader to make up their minds, but I don’t know whether she entirely manages to do that. But all the same, book was a fascinating and enjoyable read about a very interesting family.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    The Mitford sisters -- split between love affairs with fascists, with Hitler, with the Communist party, and with the written word (plus two spare sisters mainly concerned with home and garden, albeit on a rather grand scale) -- make for a fascinating read and Mary Lovell manages it all quite nicely with plenty of juicy details of Unity's close personal friendship with Hitler and subsequent suicide attempt when England declared war on Germany; Diana's three-year war-time internment along with her The Mitford sisters -- split between love affairs with fascists, with Hitler, with the Communist party, and with the written word (plus two spare sisters mainly concerned with home and garden, albeit on a rather grand scale) -- make for a fascinating read and Mary Lovell manages it all quite nicely with plenty of juicy details of Unity's close personal friendship with Hitler and subsequent suicide attempt when England declared war on Germany; Diana's three-year war-time internment along with her fascist husband; Jessica's defection from the whole lot of them, to California, where she established herself as a figure in far-left circles(she was quarry in the McCarthy witch-hunts) and as a writer of journalistic investigation; and Nancy's opportunistic chronicling of all of it for her own authorial profit. Unfortunately, Lovell's lushly romantic prose can be nightmarishly apologetic for the wrong causes: no need to blame Unity for fashioning her own Nazi uniforms to wear all about Berlin-- all sorts of aristocrats were blinkered by Hitler. No need to question the sisters' collective sense of victimization when their estates were taxed to the hilt after the war -- the working classes' sacrifices during and after World War II -- they never even trouble the horizon of the book. Overall, a fascinating read that nonetheless leaves you feeling somewhat slimy and complicit by the end.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sara M

    The subjects of the biography were certainly very interesting and it would have been really nice to read a book that is less defensive of anything Diana and Oswald Mosley did, and less dismissive of their racism. I also can't understand why the author seemed so hostile towards Jessica.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    When you read about other people's lives, you learn quickly that you are very lucky. The Mitfords, an upper class English family with a long history, have a crazy father, and a mother who seems to have lost control. The girls themselves run the political gamut from Nazi to Communist. One of the great things about this book for me is that it opened my eyes to a whole Fascistic side of England that I was completely unaware of. We learn all about Oswald Mosely, founder of the Black Shirts, who marr When you read about other people's lives, you learn quickly that you are very lucky. The Mitfords, an upper class English family with a long history, have a crazy father, and a mother who seems to have lost control. The girls themselves run the political gamut from Nazi to Communist. One of the great things about this book for me is that it opened my eyes to a whole Fascistic side of England that I was completely unaware of. We learn all about Oswald Mosely, founder of the Black Shirts, who marries one of the Mitfords. The most moving part of the book is when Mrs. Mosely goes to jail. Her dignity while in this situation is something to behold. A great look at a seldom-discussed part of English history. Highly recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I kept reading because the material and the quotations from primary sources were so interesting, but the author is remarkably obtuse at times; likes to follow up any mentions of the Nazis with a footnote going BUT DON'T FORGET THE COMMUNISTS WERE BAD TOO, BECAUSE STALIN, which is a peculiarly adolescent approach to 20th century history; whiffs slightly of homophobia (after Pamela's marriage ends, she gets exactly one further mention in the narrative: when the author refuses to consider any evide I kept reading because the material and the quotations from primary sources were so interesting, but the author is remarkably obtuse at times; likes to follow up any mentions of the Nazis with a footnote going BUT DON'T FORGET THE COMMUNISTS WERE BAD TOO, BECAUSE STALIN, which is a peculiarly adolescent approach to 20th century history; whiffs slightly of homophobia (after Pamela's marriage ends, she gets exactly one further mention in the narrative: when the author refuses to consider any evidence for her having had a sexual relationship with the woman she lived with); and furthermore, likes dangling participles. A lot.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    so, the author was basically an apologist for diana mosley, which bugged. it seems diana was quite a useful source for the book, and possibly her charm worked on lovell. i felt every time that the politics of the Mosleys came up, the author had some kind of excuse ready. & yes, communism was bad mmkay, but as the author points out herself, jessica was much more prepared to acknowledge its evils than diana ever was those of the nazis. lovell's also a little defensive about the father of the siste so, the author was basically an apologist for diana mosley, which bugged. it seems diana was quite a useful source for the book, and possibly her charm worked on lovell. i felt every time that the politics of the Mosleys came up, the author had some kind of excuse ready. & yes, communism was bad mmkay, but as the author points out herself, jessica was much more prepared to acknowledge its evils than diana ever was those of the nazis. lovell's also a little defensive about the father of the sisters, even though events show him to be a bit of a shit. she also totally dismissed the possibility that pamela was in a lesbian relationship, even though jessica mitford thought this was the case. why did i give it three stars? it's absorbing. she doesn't hold back in depicting unity's adoration of the nazis, which is grimly fascinating. it's comprehensive and well-researched. plus, having read this book, i feel inspired to read jessica mitford's books, so that's good.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I was amazed while reading this book that I'd never heard of this family before- yet their lives unfolded almost as a mirror to reflect what was happening/important in history at that time- politically and culturally (ie- WWII, Nazism, Facism, Communism, Kennedys, etc.) I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very detailed and well-written. I especially enjoyed the first half of their lives growing up and around WWII. This story is basically about 6 sisters who had a privileged, though in m I was amazed while reading this book that I'd never heard of this family before- yet their lives unfolded almost as a mirror to reflect what was happening/important in history at that time- politically and culturally (ie- WWII, Nazism, Facism, Communism, Kennedys, etc.) I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very detailed and well-written. I especially enjoyed the first half of their lives growing up and around WWII. This story is basically about 6 sisters who had a privileged, though in my estimation, low key childhood. The story of their lives gives good details of British aristocracy, pre-WWII life, WWII, Communism, etc. As I said, their lives unfold around major historic events and periods of cultural growth. All become well-known for various reasons and live rich, complicated lives. I thought the author did a good job building up each sister's story and laying the foundation for what was to come later. I think what fascinated me most was that for a relatively unassuming family (yeah, I know they were aristocracy, but they weren't princesses or anything- the parents were pretty average for that time) yet they each lived such extraordinary lives, and in such different directions. As I said, the author does a good job detailing their lives, but I don't think it's even possible to come to an understanding how each sister came to have such polar opposite beliefs and lives. Having said that, there were a couple of negatives- the book is a bit long and, I think the author may have had her favorites.She doesn't seem to be as harsh on Diana as some of the others, but maybe that was just me. My other complaint doesn't really reflect on the book itself, but by the end of it I really disliked all of the sisters (Nancy was just "meh.") I thought that fundamentally they were all selfish, self-righteous and basically extremists at various levels (one being almost mentally ill.) While maybe in some cases, such extreme passion can be commendable, I think these sisters stories are good examples of why extreme, hard-line fundamentalist thinking doesn't work (ie- Nazism, Communism, Fascism, etc.) Taking such hard lines blinds you to the truth that is right in front of your eyes until it becomes intertwined with your own identity. By the end of this book, I was ready to be done, mainly because of my dislike for the sisters. Having said all this, however, I really enjoyed it for its historical setting, and for an intriguing look into an unusual family; I have recommended it to others. The dislike on my part is more of a personal thing (I'm a moderate person and nothing annoys me like extremism on any side of the equation.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This is the biography of a family, an aristocratic family of influence, covering the period from World War I to the time of publication. The principals are David (1878-1958), Baron Redesdale, Winston Churchill's cousin, the father, and Sydney Bowles (1880-1963), his wife, and their seven children, six of them female. Of the girls, Nancy (1904-1973) became prominent as a novelist; Pamela (1907-1994) became the wife of millionaire physicist Derek Jackson; Diana (1910-2003) became the wife of Sir O This is the biography of a family, an aristocratic family of influence, covering the period from World War I to the time of publication. The principals are David (1878-1958), Baron Redesdale, Winston Churchill's cousin, the father, and Sydney Bowles (1880-1963), his wife, and their seven children, six of them female. Of the girls, Nancy (1904-1973) became prominent as a novelist; Pamela (1907-1994) became the wife of millionaire physicist Derek Jackson; Diana (1910-2003) became the wife of Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the British fascist movement; Unity Valkyrie (1914-1948) became one of Adolf Hitler's closest friends; Jessica (1917-1996) became a communist and prominent writer and teacher; and Deborah (1920- ) became duchess of Devonshire. Their aristocratic relatives included the Earl of Airlie and Lord Moyne. They were, to say the least, "connected" and, before the second world war at least, several of them--David, Sydney, Diana, Unity and even brother Tom (1909-1945)--were vocal supporters of Mussolini and/or Hitler. This was not unusual for the British upper class at the time to whom the choices often appeared to be either communism or fascism. What was unusual is that some remained fascists after the war started, those being Sydney, Diana and Unity. Jessica alone broke with her family and her class. What makes this biography different than most is that its emphasis is on the family and their relations with one another, not on their social background or on the period in which they lived. While WWII was a major event in their lives, the actual ending of the war is never mentioned. While Adolf Hitler was a friend of both Diana and Unity, his death is never mentioned. Only those events which can be documented to have directly touched the lives of the principals are discussed. A consequence of this approach is to minimize their ideological differences and to maximize their personal interrelationships. Thus, on the one hand, Jessica's detestation of the racism of Sydney, Diana and Unity is underplayed, making her decades-long rejection of her family seem juvenile and petty. Yet, on the other hand, the author's emphasis of the personal over the public does perhaps offer a salutory corrective to those who would give primacy to ideologies and other abstractions from experience. This approach made me reflect, even get teary-eyed about the misfortunes of persons I'd normally have a knee-jerk aversion to.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    The author is a coward and an apologist. The only sister she takes a disapproving tone about is Jessica, the only decent one. I plowed through the book somehow, hoping to read that Unity and Diana suffered. It made me sick to read about that Hitler loving Unity being cruel to an elderly Jewish woman trying to find a train station in Germany. Perhaps when Unity was disabled (her own doing)and trying to use the train, someone was horrid to her....

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Lovell certainly comes across as more of a starstruck fangirl than an unbiased and dispassionate biographer. This biography is far more defensive than it is informative and hardly ever objective. Lovell goes to great lengths to vindicate Diana the unrepentant Fascist (How was she to know?) - but interestingly does not make similar efforts with Unity; just one example of disparity within the biography. Lovell goes about this not only by sanctifying Diana (her sex appeal, primarily), but via a spec Lovell certainly comes across as more of a starstruck fangirl than an unbiased and dispassionate biographer. This biography is far more defensive than it is informative and hardly ever objective. Lovell goes to great lengths to vindicate Diana the unrepentant Fascist (How was she to know?) - but interestingly does not make similar efforts with Unity; just one example of disparity within the biography. Lovell goes about this not only by sanctifying Diana (her sex appeal, primarily), but via a specious comparison to the ‘greater’ perils of Communism and condemning Decca. She paints a less than flattering portrait of Pam (hang on, who?) and never champions Debo’s achievements… apart from the fact that she was the only sister who managed to marry into money, of course. Lovell certainly didn’t entirely convince me of the Mitfords’ ‘extraordinariness’. There are healthy doses of exposition where Lovell assures the reader that the sisters were ‘excellent company’ and had ‘vibrant personalities’, and yet all that was ever truly credited to them was their political and aristocratic connections, the odd radical and their searing sex appeal ethereal beauty. Overall, I found this tediously dull. Although evidently well-researched, I thought the information was relayed in a dry and less than inspiring manner which made this a real slog. However, I did enjoy the fun anecdotes about their childhood as well as the connections to Chatsworth and Inch Kenneth, two of my favourite places in the world. If anyone can recommend a more enjoyable biography, please let me know.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    The Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and Deborah, the less famous sisters, and although they're necessarily less in the spotlight than Nancy, Diana, Unity, and Jessica, I still felt as though I'd learned far more about them than I'd gathered from any other source. Lovell states up front in the introduction that she was trying "to explore the richness of the personalities, not to judge them"; in The Sisters is a group biography of the famous Mitford sisters. I was particularly interested in more information about the lives of Pamela and Deborah, the less famous sisters, and although they're necessarily less in the spotlight than Nancy, Diana, Unity, and Jessica, I still felt as though I'd learned far more about them than I'd gathered from any other source. Lovell states up front in the introduction that she was trying "to explore the richness of the personalities, not to judge them"; in this she has succeeded, presenting a balanced picture and allowing the reader to form her own opinions. Occasionally Lovell stumbles in weaving the threads of the six lives together to form a logical and coherent progression, but that would be difficult with any group biography and particularly with one of such widely varying people as this. Well-written and thoroughly researched, this is a valuable addition to the Mitford canon.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura Edwards

    Over the years I've seen the Mitford name pop up, but I knew nothing about the sisters aside from the fact one wrote a few novels. So I started reading without any preconceived notions, just a basic curiosity. Instead of a nuanced portrayal of ALL SIX sisters, the focus stays on 2 or 3 throughout, relegating the others to the background. Heck, the parents were more deeply explored than Pam or Debo. Or even Nancy, to a degree. And a cloud of bias covers this book like a shroud, the main reason for Over the years I've seen the Mitford name pop up, but I knew nothing about the sisters aside from the fact one wrote a few novels. So I started reading without any preconceived notions, just a basic curiosity. Instead of a nuanced portrayal of ALL SIX sisters, the focus stays on 2 or 3 throughout, relegating the others to the background. Heck, the parents were more deeply explored than Pam or Debo. Or even Nancy, to a degree. And a cloud of bias covers this book like a shroud, the main reason for the low rating. At one point early on, the author mentions "the sophisticated and free manner" in which the girls talked to their parents. I actually beg to differ, given some of the examples, and would say they border on disrespect. Perhaps that's why most of the girls were so rebellious and/or made very poor moral choices (Unity and Diana). When first introduced to Diana's lover, Oswald Mosley, Mary Lovell consistently remarks on what a brilliant politician he is while at the same time pointing out all of his missteps. Uh, not so brilliant, if you ask me. More like arrogant and over-confident. Lovell really seems over-enamored with Diana, painting her as brave for stealing another woman's husband and causing real pain while living openly as his mistress. I'm not sure why the author felt a need to excuse Unity's fanatical facism as naivety, yet treats Decca's communistic leanings in an entirely opposite way despite the fact Decca is three years younger and more naïve in the ways of the world at the time. A bit irritating. And why does there need to be a "defense" of Decca for falling for Esmond? The author makes no such disparaging insinuations when covering Diana and Unity falling for facists. The only supposition I can make is that Mary Lovell is a rabid anti-communist. Is the last good or bad? Actually, I don't care. I simply want a balanced account of the sisters' lives. I'm hardly being given a fair or unbiased view and, by this point, my enthusiasm for the book is on the wane. And while the author seems to project some sympathy for Diana's difficult beginning with Mosley, she takes a completely opposite stance in regards to Decca and Esmond, placing all blame for any discord on their shoulders. Sorry, I, for one, admire Decca for grabbing her freedom with both hands. Other evidence of the author's bias is the way she implies or refers to Diana, Unity and Leni Riefenstahl as "remarkable women", while Decca is categorized as bitter, ungrateful and unscrupulous. I think I'd like to seek out some autobiographies on the sisters. Sure, an autobiography will prove biased to a degree, but that's to be expected. What isn't expected is such a skewed picture by an "objective" outsider. Case in point, page 267 relays a scene where Unity made Hitler giggle. Aww, wasn't she sweet for bringing some laughter into his life (that is sarcasm). I've no doubt the incident is true, but the author is determined to portray Unity in a sympathetic light and Decca exactly the opposite. I also find it despicable that the author tries to rationalize the spiteful remarks people made after Decca and Esmond's baby died with the caveat that Esmond's youthful pranks were hurtful, too. Cripes, lady, have a heart. Lovell, is obviously unkindly disposed toward Decca (for whatever reason) and paints her in a much more unfavorable light than her two Nazi/Facist sisters. Mind boggling. Consider. At the time of Decca's elopement she is nineteen, still a teenager while Diana and Unity are 26 and 22 respectively. While Decca is skewered remorselessly for making poor choices, the other two are treated with kid gloves by the author despite the fact they are adults who've been on their own for a while. Even though I can understand the author's fascination with Diana and Unity, as I stated before, I chose to read this book because I wanted to learn about all of the sisters. I'd have appreciated a more equitable biography. Lovell seems to take exception to Decca's justifiable anger at Diana after Esmond's death, as if Diana were the wronged party. I think Decca's reaction is perfectly natural and expected given the circumstances, especially since Diana never seemed contrite about her facist dealings and even played music associated with the Nazis while in prison. There's a saying: Forgiveness is a two-way street. You can't truly forgive someone who is unrepentant. After Unity's attempted suicide and return home, Lovell takes umbrage with the general public's demand for Unity to be thrown in jail alongside Diana, yet when Decca shows restraint and concern for Unity, the author can't seem to understand her attitude. Two probable reasons come to mind. First, Decca shared a much closer relationship with Unity than Diana while growing up. Second, and most importantly, Decca understands the recent decline in Unity's mental and physical capabilities better than the general public as a result of letters from her family members. Lovell should give Decca deserved credit instead of disparaging her at every opportunity. And once again the author attempts to paint Decca in a negative light on the occasion of David's death. Sydney was the one who urged Decca not to visit him on the trip to London. And Decca's feeling towards the relationship with her father seem to be borne out as correct once the contents of the will is revealed. Not to mention, she isn't upset about the pointed exclusion. Instead, she makes a kind gesture and buys the island for Sydney to live on. Very biased view. According to the author's insinuations, all troubles between the sisters are Decca's fault and nobody else's, no matter the fact they accused her of stealing. Then when the photo album in question turns up at Debo's house much later, not one of Decca's sisters apologizes for the false and hurtful accusations. Of all the sisters, I found Decca to be the most interesting and successful, the one who actually helped other people in her life. I'd really like to read a biography focused on her. Too bad Pam is an afterthought in this book. Debo, too, really. And how many times must the reader hear the phrase "Diana was at the height of her beauty"? Give it a rest. According to this book, Diana was "at the height of her beauty" for approximately 15-20 years! Oh my gosh, Mary Lovell is obsessed with Diana's looks. More examples of why this book is a fail (if you need more). (Page 508) The author seems to have a problem with Decca stating that Tom "was probably a facist whenever with Diana", although Mary Lovell makes the exact same claim earlier in the book. Apparently, the insinuation only bothers Lovell when Decca says it. *eye roll* Also, Lovell has the audacity to blame Decca for being upset by a very rude letter written by Diana's son to his daughter, Catherine. What, Decca should be happy to help after she and her husband were insulted? Not to mention, Decca's second husband is a Jew and Hitler murdered 6 million Jews for no other reason than their being Jews. Why can't the author concede there may be a valid reason behind Decca's bitterness toward Diana and Mosley? It also bothers me whenever Mary Lovell is dismissive concerning Decca's claim of an unhappy childhood (Lovell makes this point several times). Knowing how badly Decca wanted to go to school definitely could have been a source for unhappiness. Plus, some people "put on a happy face" to deal with an inner pain, especially if they don't wish for others to be alerted to their unhappiness. And it's certainly a tactic a child might consciously or subconsciously employ in order not to upset or disappoint their parents. All in all, the book seemed overly biased against one sister and far too favorable toward others. By the end of the book, I realized the author really seemed to write with a snobbish vibe. No wonder she denigrates Decca's beliefs and accomplishments in comparison to Diana and, say, Debo. Sorry to rant for so long, but the whole vibe of this book just ticked me off.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Karen Powell

    Before the Hilton sisters, before the Kardashians, the "It" sisters were 6 women of aristocratic English upbringing who each went very different ways, but still held on to the bonds of sisterhood. In the early twentieth century, these were the Mitfords.[return][return]This biography is very comprehensive and extensive, considering the number of characters that demand attention. Each sister is dynamic and given her due, even Pam, the Mitford sister of whom little is published because she was the Before the Hilton sisters, before the Kardashians, the "It" sisters were 6 women of aristocratic English upbringing who each went very different ways, but still held on to the bonds of sisterhood. In the early twentieth century, these were the Mitfords.[return][return]This biography is very comprehensive and extensive, considering the number of characters that demand attention. Each sister is dynamic and given her due, even Pam, the Mitford sister of whom little is published because she was the least scandalous. Each sister is depicted in all their layers: Nancy, the acerbic writer who poked fun at her class, yet embraced its snobbery; Pam, the "rural one" who was the maternal center of the sisters; Diana, the beauty who left her first husband for Oswald Moseley and was an unrepentant fascist; Unity, the one so besotted by Hitler that she attempted suicide after hearing that England and Germany had declared war; Decca, the one who ran away from home to become a communist and became an immigrant writer in America; and Deborah, the one who became a Duchess and held the family together through their many tiffs.[return][return]Each sister is handled fairly, which is difficult concerning some of their troubling politics. It is their bond that means most to them, and nowhere is this most evident in the strong affection between Unity and Decca. The two were on opposite sides politically: the room they shared as children was full of swastikas and hammer and sickles on their respective sides. Still, the two girls had unending affection for each other. Decca had no such forgiveness for her other fascist sister, Diana, whom she treated as a fallen idol. This is just one of the many "warts and all" revelations of the sisters' personalities.[return][return]The biography truly brings the sisters to life with their letters and many nicknames, any woman with a sister can recognize the heartfelt affection in the Mitfords. Many past biographies and news reports delight in reporting the evilness of Unity and Diana's politics, and the muckraking of Decca, but overlook the fact that these women were human and meant something to their family. (Understandably, though, that point may be too sentimental for newspapers.) When a biography of Unity is published soon after her death, the sisters rally to defend her memory. This move was criticized, but the sisters made it clear that whether or not they agreed with each others' politics, the main thing was to remain loyal to the family. Whereas the girls' upbringing was often depicted as frivolous and indulgent, this biography expands on their early life and helps explain how and why they each chose their paths in life. It makes for an engrossing, fascinating read.[return][return]In addition to the sisters' lives, the book is also interesting for the depicition of Hitler as a gentleman whose charm was so strong that many of the Mitfords (and other British citizens) who met him refused to believe he was wrong. Showing this side of Hitler is not an attempt to make him look like a good guy, but to warn us how the devil can come to us smiling, dressed well, and offering kindness to deceive us. What a contrast from the man who paid all of Unity's medical bills after her attempted suicide and sent her home safely to her parents in England after the war started, to the man who ordered the extermination of Jews, homosexuals, and anyone not specifically "Aryan." To the sheltered, upper-class Mitfords, Hitler's attention to Unity meant more than the yet-untold horror unfolding across the Channel. It's a complicated portrayal of how strong family ties are that Lady Redesdale (the girls' mother) and Diana still support Hitler during the war (and after). They associate the man with the memory of Unity at her most vibrant. It still doesn't make their politics any more palatable, but at least we can see why they remained so stubborn and steadfast to their beliefs.[return][return]The book is only outdated in that, when written, Diana was alive. She has since passed after reaching a ripe old age, leaving Deborah as the only surviving Mitford sister.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This book was insane, but also one of the most enlightening books I've read in a long time. It was embarrassing to realize how little I know (or remember) about the years that led up to WWII (I'm going to blame it on a science-focused preliminary education), and the motif that really impressed me was the massive, terrible, tidal wave of momentum that led up to the second "great" war. The Sisters makes you think a lot about human nature and how ethics begin with the smallest actions. I once inter This book was insane, but also one of the most enlightening books I've read in a long time. It was embarrassing to realize how little I know (or remember) about the years that led up to WWII (I'm going to blame it on a science-focused preliminary education), and the motif that really impressed me was the massive, terrible, tidal wave of momentum that led up to the second "great" war. The Sisters makes you think a lot about human nature and how ethics begin with the smallest actions. I once interviewed the dean of religious life at Stanford and he told me that the hardest ethical decisions are the little ones. "Everyone knows that killing is wrong, but those little decisions you make when no one is looking--those are the real tests." There was an abundance of willful ignorance and laziness in Europe at that time. It's scary. I hope those mistakes are never repeated. I'm not quite sure why a book about six sisters who had a penchant for dictators, communist activists and titled people made me think about this so much, but I think it was a fresh way way for me to learn about the war through the eyes of women who were sitting in on influential dinners, tea parties, the season, etc. Sometimes you learn more about the heart of a situation through the circumstantial.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dierregi

    The Mitford sisters are basically unknown outside the Anglo-Saxon world. I learnt about their existence after having watched an old interview of Jessica Mitford with Christopher Hitchens and I decided to dig up their story. They were six sisters born into minor aristocracy and all achieved notoriety (except one) during the 30's and 40's. They also had a brother, but he died young and nobody ever mentions the "Mitford boy". Perhaps this was not the best source about the Mitford, because Mary Lovell The Mitford sisters are basically unknown outside the Anglo-Saxon world. I learnt about their existence after having watched an old interview of Jessica Mitford with Christopher Hitchens and I decided to dig up their story. They were six sisters born into minor aristocracy and all achieved notoriety (except one) during the 30's and 40's. They also had a brother, but he died young and nobody ever mentions the "Mitford boy". Perhaps this was not the best source about the Mitford, because Mary Lovell is anything but objective about them. According to her, they can be described as follows: - Nancy, pathetically unlucky in love; - Pam, who?; - Unity, an embarrassment to her family; - Jessica, an embarrassment to her country (short of a traitor); - Deborah, goody two shoes, slightly boring, and - superstar Diana, the beautiful fascist. Nancy the eldest born in 1904, was a rather famous writer, who ended up her life in Paris where she moved for love, to follow an unreliable French man. Pam lead un unremarkable country life in England. Her best shot to notoriety was getting divorced and ending her life with a female companion. Whatever Pam did not do was amply made up by the wild behavior of Unity, the nutcase of the family. Infatuated with Hitler, she moved to Munich to meet him and entertained an ambiguous friendship with him. The day war between England and Germany was declared, Unity who was in Munich, shot herself in the head, but did not die - she missed her brain, probably because it was pea-size. She was repatriated to England, where she lived another 8 years. Some say with limited mental functions, but they were probably already quite limited, considering her crush for Hitler. Unity was supported heartily by beautiful Diana, herself a fervent nazi supporter. Diana was a married mother of two when she fell for British fascist leader Mosley in 1932. She dropped everything to be his mistress for years and then married him, at Goebbels' house, having Hitler as guest of honor. Unity, Diana and Mosley attended nazi rallies in Nuremberg, but this is considered by Lovell as a misdemeanor. Lovell is also outraged by the fact that Diana was briefly incarcerated in England. You can almost hear her screaming: "How could anybody dare imprisoning such a beauty, only because she was a nazi and possibly a spy?" Everything should be forgiven to Diana, because she was beautiful and she loved her children very much. On the other hand, Jessica, who joined the ranks of the Communist party, is portrayed as the black sheep of the family. Jessica eloped to the Spanish Civil War, was widowed at 24 and spent most of her life as a civil rights activist in the States. Much worst than being a nazi.... Finally, Deborah married a rich nobleman and became a very respectable figure of the British aristocracy. Marrying well and staying married also requires some skills, but not as many as actually becoming Hitler's pet aristocratic friend. Therefore, Deborah's achievements are left mostly unexplored, apart from the fact that she married into money and managed to stay rich all her life, contrary to Jessica, who was - not surprisingly - disowned.

  24. 4 out of 5

    E

    The Mitford sisters were pretty fascinating, a witty and odd upper class family who diverted wildly when it came to politics. Nancy became a well-known writer whose books The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate were thinly disguised portraits of her childhood; Debo became the Duchess of Devonshire; Pam lived a quiet country life; Decca became a communist, journalist and crusader for a number of progressive causes; oh and Diana married Oswald Mosley, Britain's notorious fascist leader and The Mitford sisters were pretty fascinating, a witty and odd upper class family who diverted wildly when it came to politics. Nancy became a well-known writer whose books The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate were thinly disguised portraits of her childhood; Debo became the Duchess of Devonshire; Pam lived a quiet country life; Decca became a communist, journalist and crusader for a number of progressive causes; oh and Diana married Oswald Mosley, Britain's notorious fascist leader and Unity fell in love with Hitler. This was not an average family. Lovell has done a well-written and researched biography, but she seems hampered by biases towards the sisters. She doesn't seem to get Nancy's sense of humour and she's oddly critical of Decca, who in many ways had the only sane response to a childhood, which while filled with pranks and pets nevertheless was incredibly restrictive when it came to the girls' education and associations - which was to run away as soon as possible. Perhaps to protect her access to the surviving sisters, Diana and Debo, she makes tremendous excuses for the Nazi sympathies and dismissive of credible-sounding allegations that Unity's relationship with Hitler went beyond an obsessive crush. It is useful to be reminded that in the 1930's a lot of the British upper classes flirted with fascism, but both Diana and Unity went far far beyond a casual association into an active promotion of hateful ideology. By the time Lovell finally admits that Unity's actions are irredeemable I had already reached that point many chapters ago. As with all biographies the last chapters begin to wear as the losses pile up. To get a better sense of what made the Mitfords so interesting I'll likely go back to Nancy's novels or pick up a volume of their collected letters. This is a good foundation, but it doesn't convey the vitality of this lively family.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Spencer

    How to sum up a 500+ page group biography? Well, imperfectly, I suppose. Before reading this book, I was vaguely familiar with the Mitford family. I knew Nancy Mitford was a novelist famed for her wit, and I'd read a book or two of hers. I was also aware that at least one of the Mitford clan had fallen in with the Nazis, though I was a touch vague on the details. And I knew the whole family was famed for their good looks and sharp intellect. The interesting nature of the family definitely comes th How to sum up a 500+ page group biography? Well, imperfectly, I suppose. Before reading this book, I was vaguely familiar with the Mitford family. I knew Nancy Mitford was a novelist famed for her wit, and I'd read a book or two of hers. I was also aware that at least one of the Mitford clan had fallen in with the Nazis, though I was a touch vague on the details. And I knew the whole family was famed for their good looks and sharp intellect. The interesting nature of the family definitely comes through in this book. One gets the impression that they could be challenging company, though never boring. Overall I enjoyed taking a journey back to their aristocratic corner of England. I did have a few quibbles with the text, though. For starters, the author seems to definitely pick favorites among the Mitford sisters and it comes out in her writing. While she does report on the various disputes among the sisters, one gets the sense that poor Jessica (Decca), the sister who eloped and later became an active Communist, can never do right. If there are two ways to interpret her actions, rest assured that Lovell will pick the more negative of the two. As the narrative nears the end of Decca's life, this tendency is less pronounced, but by that time, I'd started to actually feel a bit sorry for Decca even if some of her actions were outrageous. In contrast, the author goes out of her way to try to rehabilitate Diana and Unity, the sister who, to varying degrees, became allied with fascist parties and causes. So, while Decca's politics get criticized, readers are constantly reminded that fascist sympathies weren't so shocking in upper class Britain. Even with these issues, I still found the book fascinating. I will probably read more of the Mitfords' writings in future, and I enjoyed the chance to be a fly on the wall for a small portion of their interactions. Definitely not a dull family.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniela

    A well researched and well written biography of the six fascinating Mitford sisters, spanning not only their individual lives but also one of the most eventful periods in European history, from the 20s to the 60s and beyond. Why only three stars? At first I had a hard time putting my finger on why I didn't enjoy this more, but I guess it comes down to two things: - I expected a lighter read. The only thing I knew about the Mitfords was what I gathered from Nancy's semi-autobiographical novel The P A well researched and well written biography of the six fascinating Mitford sisters, spanning not only their individual lives but also one of the most eventful periods in European history, from the 20s to the 60s and beyond. Why only three stars? At first I had a hard time putting my finger on why I didn't enjoy this more, but I guess it comes down to two things: - I expected a lighter read. The only thing I knew about the Mitfords was what I gathered from Nancy's semi-autobiographical novel The Pursuit of Love, namely that the Mitfords were an eccentric British family. I was looking forward to stories of fox hunting, endless parties and five o'clock tea, but what I got was a hefty dose of politics, because at least three of the Mitfords were deeply involved with Hitler and/or British Fascism and one was deeply involved with Communism. A big part of the book (about 200 of its 500 pages) focuses on WW2. - When you have only 500 pages to write about the lives of six people, there is not a lot of space for deeper psychological insight. I feel the author had a hard time cramming in all that happened to the six women during their lifetime, without the opportunity for looking deeper into their characters. This is not the author's fault though - I can't see how one could have done it differently. Still, this is a very good biography and my critique is purely based on personal preference. I think people with an interest in history will enjoy this more than those looking for an in-depth look at the inner workings of the Mitfords.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This "Saga of the Mitford Family" was better than a good novel. You couldn't make this up. An eccentric, aristocratic English family (father was in the House of Lords) with six daughters who grew up to be so different from each other. They were related to the Churchills and Winston helped them out more than once. They were also connected to the Kennedy's by marriage. Two of the daughters became famous as fascists, one a communist, one Duchess, one famous novelist and just one who kept a low prof This "Saga of the Mitford Family" was better than a good novel. You couldn't make this up. An eccentric, aristocratic English family (father was in the House of Lords) with six daughters who grew up to be so different from each other. They were related to the Churchills and Winston helped them out more than once. They were also connected to the Kennedy's by marriage. Two of the daughters became famous as fascists, one a communist, one Duchess, one famous novelist and just one who kept a low profile along with their only brother. The father was extremely temperamental but loving. The mother had her hands full and didn't believe in sending her daughters to school (the boy went to Eaton) which Jessica especially never forgave. She was the most rebellious of all and saved money from an early age in her "running away fund", finally eloping at 18 to fight with the communists in the Spanish Civil War. Then to the US where she remarried after being left a young widow, moved to California and became famous as a journalist and author of "The American Way of Death". The portrait of Hitler and the Third Reich through the eyes of an adoring young woman was revealing. The most poignant part was Diana's imprisonment during the war as a member of the British Fascist Party. A fascinating read, especially if you were around during World War II and its aftermath.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Raisu

    The Mitford girls are utterly fascinating, and anyone who's even a little bit interested in the history of ideas in 20th century Europe, or the English aristocracy between the wars, will probably find something to like in this book: Lovell writes their story well. However, couple of things about the book did annoy me a bit. Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love and Love in Cold Climate are novels, they're fiction. No matter how much she borrowed from reality, she used her imagination and skill as a wr The Mitford girls are utterly fascinating, and anyone who's even a little bit interested in the history of ideas in 20th century Europe, or the English aristocracy between the wars, will probably find something to like in this book: Lovell writes their story well. However, couple of things about the book did annoy me a bit. Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love and Love in Cold Climate are novels, they're fiction. No matter how much she borrowed from reality, she used her imagination and skill as a writer to finish the books. She didn't lie, she wrote novels. It's understandable for family members to recognize fictionalized versions of themselves, and consider the portrait distored. It's not okay for a professional biographer to not understand the difference between dishonesty, lies, and fiction. Second, Lovell's admiration of the family matriarch Sydney gets a bit much after a while. Still, the good far outweighs the bad in this case. It's interesting how reality is often far from realistic. If you read all this in one novel, you'd consider it rather fantastical.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Louise Pennington

    This is a beautifully written book full of wit and it clear how much work was put into research. However, the book is completely undermined by Lovell’s hero-worship of Diana Mitford for her beauty to the extent that chapters frequently detour into excuses for Diana’s support of her husband Oswald Mosley’s fascism. Apparently, being tall, blonde and blue-eyed is a reasonable excuse for hanging out with Hitler and promoting anti-semitism. Lovell is far less kind to Decca whose support for communis This is a beautifully written book full of wit and it clear how much work was put into research. However, the book is completely undermined by Lovell’s hero-worship of Diana Mitford for her beauty to the extent that chapters frequently detour into excuses for Diana’s support of her husband Oswald Mosley’s fascism. Apparently, being tall, blonde and blue-eyed is a reasonable excuse for hanging out with Hitler and promoting anti-semitism. Lovell is far less kind to Decca whose support for communism is deemed horrific; afternoon tea with Hitler? Totes fine. There are wonderful passages about sisterhood and family; all of which are undermined by the defence of Diana (and frequently Sydney). It is unfortunate (to say the least) as Lovell is an excellent writer. There are just a limit to the number of times you can claim to be a biographer and then use white supremacist, patriarchal standards of beauty as an excuse to ignore the harassment, abuse and then genocide of Jewish people.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Connell

    This is an exhaustively researched, compelling read about a family blessed (cursed?) with no shortage of drama. Like other reviewers, I found myself growing a little frustrated with Mary Lovell's condescension toward Jessica alongside her minimization of Diana and Unity's behaviors. I can only assume that the fact that Diana was still living when this book was completed led Lovell to paint Diana in a more flattering light, but it is hard to stomach excusing Diana's support of Fascism in light of This is an exhaustively researched, compelling read about a family blessed (cursed?) with no shortage of drama. Like other reviewers, I found myself growing a little frustrated with Mary Lovell's condescension toward Jessica alongside her minimization of Diana and Unity's behaviors. I can only assume that the fact that Diana was still living when this book was completed led Lovell to paint Diana in a more flattering light, but it is hard to stomach excusing Diana's support of Fascism in light of the horrors it produced. A more balanced look at the facts in light of contemporary understanding would certainly seem appropriate here: in truth, you cannot defend the indefensible. Still, I was utterly drawn into the saga of this remarkable family. Well worth a read.

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