More than 800 pages of letters provide an engrossing, deeply personal group portrait of six idiosyncratic sisters whose political views varied as much as the trajectories of their famous—often notorious—lives.
Daughters of the loopy Lord and Lady Redesdale, the Mitford girls first burst onto the English social scene as “bright young things” in the 1920s. Nancy, the eldest, was the family wit; she wrote a series of bestselling novels that captured their rarified milieu, among them The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949). Dazzling beauty Diana left her society marriage for Sir Oswald Mosley, a notorious rake who also happened to be leader of the British Fascist Union. Unity, too, embraced fascism while living abroad in Germany, becoming a friend and confidante of Hitler and Goebbels. She attempted suicide at the news of the outbreak of war and later died of complications from the bullet wound. Jessica, whose political leanings swung to the left, saved up her pocket money for years so she could elope with her communist cousin Esmond Romilly to Spain and fight the good fight in the Civil War; she became a bestselling author in her own right with Hons and Rebels (1960). Quiet, private Pamela was the “horsey” sister. Deborah, known as “Debo,” became Duchess of Devonshire and keeper of the family flame. Debo’s compelling flair for anecdote shines to particular advantage in this exhaustive collection, lovingly edited by Diana’s daughter-in-law, but each letter is a thrilling gem unto itself, thanks to the sisters’ individual cleverness.
Marvelous fun, though the abundance of in-jokes and private language makes the book most enjoyable for readers already familiar with the Mitford legend.