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The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family Paperback – July 18, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

In The Mitford Girls, Mary S Lovell cordially brings together the varied personalities of an eccentric British blue-eyed sisterhood that spanned the 20th century. Born of "minor provincial aristocracy", as the late Lord Longford put it, the six Mitford sisters and one brother came to epitomise the Bright Young Thing generation of London society, hosting the extravagant, giddy parties lampooned by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies. Nancy, the literary dry wit, was herself to write several successful novels, most notably Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, which followed the family prescription of fact doused with fiction. Notoriety, though, came elsewhere. Diana, beautiful and strong-willed, left Bryan Guinness the month Hitler came to power in Germany to be with dashing British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, whom she eventually married. A meeting of hearts and beliefs, they stayed together through internment during the war, and the years after. Tragedy came with the manic public fervour of the unfortunately named Unity for Hitler and the German Nazi Party. She met the Fuhrer on 140 occasions between 1935 and 1939, achieving a rare intimacy, but when war broke out she shot herself in a vain bid to end her life, which left her disabled for the rest of her life. Decca was the leftwing antithesis of Unity, who wrote The American Way of Death and Hons and Rebels, the latter every bit as witty as Nancy's work. The other siblings--Pam, wooed by John Betjeman, Debo, who became Duchess of Devonshire, and Tom--receive fairly scant attention in an account understandably dominated by pre-1945 events, when much of the British aristocracy flirted with fascism. In abstaining from judgement, Lovell, who writes fluently and never loses sight of her charges, comes close to underplaying the Mitford s' more unsavoury views and behaviour, though her task is inevitably fraught with negotiation, particularly as Debo and Diana are still alive. The diverse energies of this multi-plumed brood, who in adult life were rarely in the same room, make them hard to contain in one book, and perhaps require more distance to do justice to the themes, and disparities, of their extraordinary lives. David Vincent, AMAZON.CO.UK In the first book devoted to the whole tribe, Lovell does sterling work in revising our Nancy-made image of her parents in her novel THE PURSUIT OF LOVE Sunday TIMES

About the Author

Mary Lovell lists her chief interests as horses, sailing, aviation and book collecting. She enjoys overseas travel and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She is the author of four previous biographies including the international bestseller STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING: The Biography of Beryl Markham.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (July 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,031,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Biographies can sometimes get bogged down in quotes and counterquotes from letters and diaries, but this one moves along well, perhaps because there is a large family to keep track of and the times moved pretty fast too.
Some of the girls were authors themselves, mainly Nancy Mitford, and their family background helped to set the scenes for their fiction.
The upper classes in England were frequently Fascist sympathisers prior to the Second World War, because they felt that the only alternative being presented was Communism, which had of course done away with the upper class in Russia, or extreme Republicanism, which had done away with the upper class in France. So it is not that surprising that as in the novel The Remains Of The Day, the people in this book were keen to meet the rising Fascists in Europe.
Mosley in Britain and Hitler were generally described as magnetic characters and gifted speakers. Having seen or met them some people fell under their spell. But we do have to wonder whether the Mitfords found it quite so necessary to go out of their way to meet them. They were not a very well-off family, for all they had staff and travelled a lot; there was also unemployment in Britain and they may have been trying to advance their social status in this way.
The book is scrupulously careful to keep saying that at the time, the full horrors were not known, which is true, but the constant repetition in the face of one sister having read an account of events in Germany and trying to convince the others that matters were dire, seems odd. If nobody believed her or even listened, it is because they did not wish to listen.
The photos are very interesting - not only are the ladies shown with family but with some of the movers and shakers of the time, including the Fascists.
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Format: Kindle Edition
A complicated story of a complex family – with the emphasis on complex. Nazis, communists, socialites, social climbers, self-publicists, not much opportunity to live your own private life with this lot. Thank goodness the book includes portraits of the six sisters on the back cover; this became a constant point of reference to determine on a real time basis which was the current sister under the microscope in the confusion of nick-names and name dropping. The focus is on the Mitford Girls – the poor solitary brother who seemingly successfully pursued a death wish receives fairly short shrift. All up, an interesting bunch, mostly self-absorbed and unlikeable, but a great insight into that world of the petty minor-aristocracy, and probably worth reading if only for the insights into aspects of the dark worlds of Hitler and Mosley.
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I'd always been confused about which Mitford girl was which and why some were reviled, some loved. Leave it to Mary Lovell to sort the girls out. I think she might be my favourite biographer: she sets out the facts without drowning the reader in tedium. This was a delightfully gossipy journey into a fascinating family at a fascinating time in history. A quick and easy read.
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A really fascinating insight into an intriguing family at a critical time in the 20th century. With 21st century eyes the Mitford family may appear eccentric at best or possibly downright odd. But they are a reflection of the attitudes, behaviors and social possibilities of a sector of society at that time in the 20th century. Never dull! Lovell has a lively and engaging writing style, the reader wants to keep turning the pages to see what in earth will happen next.
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What a pleasure to review such an splendid book about a mad and elegant familly in a mad and elegant period. Mary Lovell does a superb job in capturing the essence of this outstanding bunch of ladies. She manages to retain an impeccable historical perspective over the conflicting political moments without ever committing the sin of hindsight judgement. Dont miss the story!
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I can't think of a book that has interested me more than The Mitford Girls.The family would have been a fascinating study at any time in history but growing up in the first part of the 20th Century with all its poltical upheaval and two major wars has resulted in a story full of the key players in world events. I cannot recommend this book too highly
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Format: Paperback
Wonderful fair biography of the Mitford girls: 6 sisters. They were connected with all important public figures in society and politics. Wonderfully written!
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Not finished with book yet, but it is fascinating. Best book I've read about the Mitfords. First heard about them when Jessica Mitford wrote, An American Way of Death.
I truley enjoy bios, as well as suspense & mysteries. Have ordered book about the Langhorne sisters to read next.
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