Somebody once asked me "What is the appeal of the Mitford girls?" and I said, without hesitating, "There is something for everybody." This, I think, is a fair summary of the six beautiful daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale who are forever immortalized in Nancy Mitford's postwar bestsellers, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, as Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew.
To their children, however, they were simply called "Muv" and "Farve". Although the family is almost extinct-the last surviving sister, Debo is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire-their influence is relevant today through various mediums. The Mitfords' grandfather, Tap Bowles, founded The Lady Magazine- Britain's longest running magazine-and Diana and Debo's descendants stormed the fashion industry in the nineties and noughties when aristo models were en vogue.
This, of course, is fairly superficial and what would be the point of such sisters had they not left an enduring legacy behind. This brings me to Jessica, "Decca", Mitford and her scandalous muckraking ways, passionate activism and stellar wit; the Lefties view her as some sort of Joan of Arc, in rebellion to Diana and Unity, the family's fascists, and Nancy the archetype snob. The Snobbishness was, as with everything in the Mitford family, a massive tease. Thankfully, Nancy's U & Non-U essay is slowing fading into the background and her literary endeavours are emerging forth with new life breathed into them.
The fact is, the girls will never be boring, there is always a new biography or another volume of letters bring printed, Decca joked it was "The Mitford Industry" and indeed, what other set of sisters has captured the public's imagination in this manner before? Not the Kardashians, or any of those "reality" show types, you see censorship was not in their vocabulary and their thoughts, actions and works were off the cuff and although they were often controversial, an integrity lies within their honesty.
So there you have it, in order of birth I present to you:
Nancy the elegant author and Francophile
Pamela the gentle countrywoman whose aga, in cornflower blue, matched her eyes
Diana the society beauty who bolted from Bryan Guinness to live as Sir Oswald Mosley's mistress (her reputation never recovered)
Unity the overgrown debutante and Hitler enthusiast
Jessica the Communist and Civil Rights activist
Deborah the 11th Duchess of Devonshire and well seasoned Elvis Presley fanatic
My book The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life dissects each of their lives into sections. Quite frankly, and I am not ashamed to admit it, the book is a Mitford Tease. It is a guidebook for Mitford enthusiasts who I hope will appreciate the new information that I discovered. It does not whitewash Diana and Unity's politics, but I hope it also presents another side to them. Every important event from the 20th century can be viewed from the prism of Mitford life, and that is where the appeal lies.
The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life
A look at how the perennially popular Mitford girls would cope with modern life, with rare and unpublished images courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library and extracts from rare archived interviews which have never been previously used
About the author:
Lyndsy Spence is from County Antrim in Northern Ireland and runs The Mitford Society, an online community dedicated to the Mitford girls. She is writing a biography of Diana Mitford and Bryan Guinness and also working on a biography of the actress Margaret Lockwood. Lyndsy co-wrote The Flower Girl and her screenplay on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier's Australian tour in 1948 is currently in development with Ariana Entertainment.