Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

I love an Edwardian evening... Coal fire spitting softly in the grate, snowflakes catching in the light of the streetlamp outside, the whole house quiet and warm and comforting. I curled up on the sofa in an old loose cardigan and read the first 100 pages of The Mitfords.

I love a good letter writer, too. Rupert Brooke is a particular favourite, by turn sweetheart and caustic rat, imbued with exactly my sense of humour. And I am delighted to be able to say that the Mitford girls live up to my high epistolary standards. Deborah and Nancy are far and away my favourites, each snappy and funny with, frequently, hints of surrealism. But it is only in reading her letters, in hearing her own personal voice, that I am for the first time able to get some kind of feeling for Unity, always the hardest sister to generate empathy for. She is a giddy schoolgirl, letter after letter simply babble about how many times she has met Hitler and where and for how long and what he said and what he did when she replied and how many times he touched her on the arm and how many times on the shoulder... it becomes quite wearing, whilst at the same time being a real insight into her extraordinary, and perhaps slightly frightening, psyche. The pre-war correspondence between her and Diana is, of course, of the greatest historical significance of all the letters, but is also the most tedious, and I find myself skipping paragraphs in order to get to the next cheering 5 line missive from Nancy. This in no way belittles the weight of the horror that Unity and Diana both refused to attach to their beloved Fascism, but in fact adds to the complicated strands that made up the Mitford family tapestry.

3 comments:

Mrs. B. said...

I love the Mitfords! They're just fascinating. I've got this book and I'm reading it a bit at a time since it's a big one.

Alison said...

This is such a great book. I really do think letters are the best way of getting to understand someone. In fact, reading this has encouraged me to read other books of letters. And having read your review I'm tempted to try Rupert Brookes' letters...

Lulu said...

I'm a bit of a Brooke obsessive. He is himself fascinating, but what's even more interesting is other people's reactions TO him. It seems that alamost everyone who met him fell instantly in love, and yet, by all accounts, he wasn't a particularly nice person. I have a million theories...perhaps I should do a post about him? Letterwise, if you're interested, he's quite hard to get hold of. I have one book of letters between him and James Strachey, and a more (in my opinion) interesting book of letters between him and Noel Olivier. The REALLY interesting letters are still all boxed up at Cambridge, and we mere mortals don't have access. Your best bet for anything on Brooke, to be honest, is either second-hand on Amazon or get in touch with the Rupert Brooke society at The Orchard in Cambridge. I bought about 5 or 6 books about him there, and the ladies that run it are very helpful. Even better, GO there - it's the most heavenly place on earth, particularly in Spring.