I have long been fascinated by the Mitford Sisters because I knew that these were a very interesting group of women, but I didn't really know a lot of detail about their story.
When we visited Chatsworth, the home of the late Deborah Mitford, who became the Duchess of Devonshire, I bought several books. An autobiography of Deborah Devonshire, which I have yet to read, another by the housekeeper of Chatsworth and this biography of the whole Mitford family.
For some time I have been struggling with reading books, in that I have had trouble making time to read. All the time I have been reading other books I have been dipping into The Mitford Girls. It was fascinating and when I finished my last book I finally set to and just read this book. Quite some time later I finished it.
I definitely enjoyed this book, which by the way I should tell you the name of! - The Mitford Girls, The Biography of an Extraordinary Family by Mary S Lovell - and this one is a keeper. It gets to stay on the shelves.
The book of course tells the story of the Mitford family, from the meeting and marriage of the parents David and Sydney, through the births of their six daughters, Nancy, Diana, Deborah, Jessica, Pamela and Unity and their son Tom. The main focus is on the six sisters because - and I don't think this is a spoiler - their brother Tom died during the second world war and although he was perhaps a more controversial character than I realised he had been he wasn't as well known, lived as long, neither did he get up to as much as his more famous sisters.
The sisters were all very different, and all, apart from Deborah and possibly Pamela, very political in very different ways. Communists - tick - Fascists - tick. It wasn't just their politics which caused scandals. They had multiple marriages, divorces and oh so many other things. Life in this family would certainly have been interesting, even if not always enjoyable or easy.
After reading the book I don't particularly like any of the sisters! The portraits painted of them in the book were not unpleasant, but they were not endearing either. I suppose they were quite factual and not much else. In fact I found the whole book to be rather confusing. In parts there was great detail and the author gave some opinion and her own thoughts, then in other areas it seemed more as though she were just regurgitating lists of things, this happened and then this and then this and then this... She also skipped over great periods of time. For example the years 1980 to 2000 are covered in one chapter, while 1940 to 1941 gets a chapter all of its own. Granted that more happened to the family in 1940 to 1941 - according to the book - but it seems odd to just then lump a whole two decades together.
The author was assisted by Jessica's daughter and by Deborah and the book focussed a great deal on Jessica and Deborah and in particular I felt that it gave an overly favourable portrait of Deborah and I suspect that the access and information given to the author about and by her was very closely controlled. Of course Deborah was also the youngest of the sisters and was far less controversial a character than any of the others, she wasn't particularly political and didn't divorce or have other personal scandals, but her life just seemed to be glossed over which was rather a shame.
I think you can tell if you have read any of my other book reviews that I found this book far more interesting, it held my attention and interest and really made me think far more than anything I have read for a long time. So that is all really good.
Overall, I would give it 8 out of 10 for the good bits and perhaps a 7 for the things I felt were lacking, but that may be unfair as the author can only write about the things they are allowed to and as I said, I suspect this book was very controlled by the family.
I definitely recommend it though if you are interested in women, 20th Century Life, biographies or just like having a nose around in other peoples lives!
On to the next one!
Oh, and just a note about the condition of this volume...
When I bought it the book was pristine. However, as I started to read it, it started to look more and more tatty. Then a sort of plastic sheet that was over the cover started to peel off. I had to peel it off as it was hanging off in places, and then the books condition went downhill very fast. So that is why it looks as though it has been kicking around for a few decades. Not sure why it went like that or why the plasticky layer peeled off. Very odd!
The book stays on my shelves though.
This is one of the posts that I wrote in August to be published in September but publishing it got delayed by my need to take a blog break.