THE LETTERS OF NANCY MITFORD AND EVELYN WAUGH
Twenty years (1946-66) of reciprocal, unconditional support between the twin sensibilities and manifestly unlike personalities of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, expressed in a private shorthand of shared history and coined language. Mitford, refreshingly, "can never take [her]self seriously as a femme de lettres" or anything else; Waugh, depressive and dyspeptic, finds her characterological happiness "entirely indecent," and her punctuation "pitiable," but convention is hardly her strong suit. Or his. They write about writing (especially their own) and about politics and economics and money--Waugh unbendingly conservative, Mitford flexibly socialist ("All the poor people in the world & so on. It's terrible to love clothes as much as I do"). But chiefly they write about Society, exchanging news of scandals and slights in their overlapping circles, peevishly keeping tabs on their pets: Cyril Connolly, a.k.a. Smartyboots or just S. Boots; Diana "Honks" Mitford Mosley, the fascist sister; Lady Diana "Honks" (also) Cooper and husband, Duff; Jessica "Dekka" Mitford, the communist sister; cousin Randolph Churchill, not always "on speakers" with Nancy; "Prod," her mostly absentee husband, Peter Rodd; the "Colonel," her mostly absentee lover, Gaston Palewski. Their common references can be suffocatingly precious or jarring--they consistently consider Jews a breed apart. Their contrariness bonds them at least as much and makes for better material: Mitford is a passionate expatriate who settles in France after the war and sprinkles her letters with idiomatic French; Waugh is a resolute Francophobe who tolerates America (which she abhors); he's a father, she's childless. Withal, they seek each other's counsel and salve each other's loneliness irreplaceably. Editor Mosley (wife of Mitford's nephew and editor of Love from Nancy, 1993) orders their high gossip appreciatively and authoritatively, contributing conscientious footnotes, welcome biographical apparatus, and the admonition that the whole correspondence is "to be read as entertainment, not as the unvarnished truth." Best in controlled doses. Quite the battle of wits.