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The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters Paperback – October 28, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The six notorious and passionately opinionated daughters of the second Baron Redesdale knew many key figures of the 20th century, from Hitler and Churchill to Evelyn Waugh and Lucian Freud. The sisters wrote some 12,000 letters to each other over a span of 80 years—the last was a fax sent in 2003 by 83-year-old Deborah to the dying 93-year-old Diana—and 5% are included here. The turbulent years before and during WWII produced the most noteworthy correspondence: Jessica scandalized her family by running away with her Communist cousin, and Diana divorced a Guinness heir to marry British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Anti-Semitic Unity gushes like a schoolgirl over Hitler and tells Jessica that she wouldn't hesitate to kill Jessica's Communist husband for Nazism—but in the meanwhile she hopes they can be friends. Nancy writes cheerily to the imprisoned Diana after secretly testifying against her during the war. In later years, Jessica irritated her sisters from her home in America and broke completely with Diana over political differences. Peppered with colorful nicknames, filled with love, encouragement, jealousy and gossip, and written primarily to amuse the recipients, the letters testify to the bonds of sisterhood. Diana's daughter-in-law has diligently edited the mammoth correspondence, although readers will need to fill in the gaps with Mitford biographies and memoirs. B&w illus. (Nov. 6)
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From Booklist

For their wit, intelligence, good looks, and politics, the aristocratic Mitford sisters were the toast of the mid-twentieth century. They were prodigious correspondents, particularly between each other. Mosley, daughter-in-law of Diana Mitford, has selected and excerpted from some 12,000 letters between the sisters over a period of almost 80 years, to shed light on women described as Famous Notorious Talented Glamourous Turbulent Unpredicable Celebrated Infamous Rebellious Colourful & Idiosyncratic, as quoted from Jessica's obituaries. As friends and confidantes of noted figures of their time, from royals to statesmen to artists, the sisters drop prominent names offhandedly; Deborah, then Duchess of Devonshire (and the only sister still living), comments to Diana: have had my fill & more of Heads of State & begin to prefer the ponies. Notable for their humor and compassion, these letters reveal Nancy's sharp tongue; Pamela's love of the land (but not of children); Diana's lifelong devotion to her fascist husband, Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity's infatuation with Hitler; Jessica's estrangements and distance from the others; and Deborah's role as peacemaker. Leber, Michele

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061375403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061375408
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The six daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale dominated gossip and society columns in Europe and America during the 1930s and were power players in the literary, social, and political worlds for more than fifty years. They were all bright, witty, and beautiful women who attracted comment and trouble wherever they went. There have been innumerable books about them, including memoirs/roman a clefs from some of the daughters themselves, and at least two have had collections of their letters published before, but this is the first time that correspondence from all six has been published in one volume.

Nancy, the eldest, was a novelist and biographer. Diana and Unity are always described (rightfully) as "unrepentant Hitler apologists", while Jessica is inevitably portrayed (just as correctly) as "Left wing" or worse. Deborah, the youngest, married a Duke and became chatelaine of one of the grandest English country houses. Pamela was second oldest and quietest, enjoying a rural life surrounded by animals.

There are many hundreds of letters in this huge collection, which Charlotte Mosley (granddaughter-in-law of Diana) indicates was winnowed down from untold thousands. The letters are interesting for several reasons. Since the Mitford girls knew an enormous number and variety of people the letters are filled with references to various social, political, and literary lions (thoughtfully identified in helpful footnotes after each letter). Unity and Diana's obsession with Hitler makes their letters particularly fascinating, if disturbing, when they fondly mention "the dear old Fuhrer" and other Nazi leaders. (One wonders if Charlotte Mosley intentionally left out some even more hateful comments the two must have made during the 1930s).
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Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I've read by the Mitford sisters - I now want to move on to the other books of letters by Nancy and Jessica as well as some of the Mitford's autobiographies.

I found these letters fascinating because, as is noted in one of the introductions, this is the first book of letters to chart the lives of six siblings over the span of some 70+ years. I was a little disappointed that a lot of historical events from the sisters' points of view seemed to have been left out, but it was still interesting reading through the decades.

I understand that the volume of letters was daunting and cuts had to be made in order to get the most out of as many letters as possible, but it was still disappointing to read so many short letters. Also, the number of letters to and from Pam made one wonder why there were so few letters. It was never really explained why there were so few letters; unless an explanation, culled from an introduction to one section, was that most of her letters seemed to revolve around her dogs, chickens, and food - massive amounts of food and menus. But, she is referred to in many of the letters - maybe that excuses the lack of Pam.

I found to be very helpful reasonably frequent editorial comments (translations of made up languages between the sisters and explanations of certain words) that kept cropping up, in the likely event that one forgot the meaning of certain words.

I really enjoyed this book and can't help but hope that another volume is in process.
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Format: Hardcover
"Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters," is a truly wonderful read. I finished the 800-plus pages and wished very much that there were 800 more. I'd like to give it 6 stars, but dear old Amazon only permits one to praise to a point. I willingly go beyond that point and any buyer who is a little hesitant about getting the book should go ahead right away.

I have read somewhere that Charlotte Mosley (daughter-in-law of Diana Mitford, aka Lady Mosley) had access to some 12,000 personal letters exchanged by the sisters over nearly eighty years and has only chosen to use 5% of them for the book. But what a literal hoard of literary treasure!

Mrs Mosley has selected well and edited superbly, bringing out and explaining with her own notes the deep and long-lasting relationships of the sisters, the context of their times, their humour and their eccentricities, their enthusiasm for words in several languages, their loves and their tragedies and, with the exception of the delightful and redoubtable Deborah, now the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the sadnesses of their passing.

The sisters have been described as "eccentric" and "maddening." Having read and enjoyed every one of their letters as published in this splendid work, I would be inclined to suggest that they were no more eccentric or maddening than the members of many families. But I suppose that their relatively privileged upbringing, their inclination to express themselves with confidence from an early age, their having the time to write so much - both letters and books - and the extraordinary array of celebrities with whom they mixed, all must have been major factors in how and why their lives were so "inter-esting" (or eccentric or maddening).

What were my conclusions?
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