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Hons and Rebels (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Jessica Mitford , Christopher Hitchens
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sep 2004 New York Review Books Classics
Jessica Mitford, the great muckraking journalist, was part of a legendary English aristocratic family. Her sisters included Nancy, doyenne of the 1920s London smart set and a noted novelist and biographer; Diana, wife to the English fascist chief Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity, who fell head over in heels in love with Hitler; and Deborah, later the Duchess of Devonshire. Jessica swung left and moved to America, where she took part in the civil rights movement and wrote her classic exposé of the undertaking business, The American Way of Death.

Hons and Rebels is the hugely entertaining tale of Mitford's upbringing, which was, as she dryly remarks, “not exactly conventional. . . Debo spent silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen's face when it is laying an egg. . . . Unity and I made up a complete language called Boudledidge, unintelligible to any but ourselves, in which we translated various dirty songs (for safe singing in front of the grown-ups).” But Mitford found her family's world as smothering as it was singular and, determined to escape it, she eloped with Esmond Romilly, Churchill's nephew, to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. The ensuing scandal, in which a British destroyer was dispatched to recover the two truants, inspires some of Mitford's funniest, and most pointed, pages.
A family portrait, a tale of youthful folly and high-spirited adventure, a study in social history, a love story, Hons and Rebels is a delightful contribution to the autobiographer's art.

Product details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books (Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171101
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171103
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.3 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,079,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read 30 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting insight into the life of Jessica Mitford and the rest of her extraordinary family. Easy to read and give a good background to life in pre-war Great Britain.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant memoir of happier days 4 Mar 2005
By Writer - Published on Amazon.com
One of my favourite books of all time, Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels is her personal account of her childhood as a member of the eccentric, aristocratic family of Lord and Lady Redesdale, and of what happened after that - when she ran away from home to fight in the Spanish Civil War, eloping with a distant cousin. The family were a constant presence in the British press in the first half of the twentieth century, and this book gives the story of their lives from the other side. Impossibly impractical, the author was entirely unprepared for any semblance of independent living - she writes amusingly of her early attempts at housekeeping, including doing the washing-up by washing, drying and putting away each dish before tackling the next one, and sweeping the staircase from the bottom to the top. Personal tragedies, however, are glossed over - the sudden deaths of two of her children are barely mentioned, overshadowed by the family's associations with such famous historical figures as Churchill and Hitler.

As another reviewer mentioned, 'Decca', as she was known, wasn't one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, so don't take every word as gospel - just enjoy this book for what it is, a highly original and amusing memoir.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Girl Gone Wild 5 April 2009
By Daniel Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wodehouse always averred that he based all his characters (Bertie and chums) on actual characters he had known coming of age in an England roughly contemporaneous with the one Jessica (Decca) Mitford chronicles here. People, even ardent fans, have tended toward the skeptical side regarding Wodehouse's claim. This memoir should lay much of this skepticism to rest. Decca, her sisters and extended family come across as nothing so much as non-fiction Wodehouse - No, not an oxymoron! Above all, this memoir is full of the beauty, eccentricity, insouciance and joy of youth which comes to know sadness and tragedy all too soon.

The only way to effectively convey the rum atmosphere of the rural gentry in which Decca was nurtured - now completely vanished from England - is to proffer some select passages. Here, for example, is the family wending their privileged way to the parish church on a typical Sunday:

"Every Sunday morning, rain or shine, we stumped off down the hill with Nanny, governess, Miranda, several dogs, Boud's goat, Enid, her pet snake, and my pet dove. Some of the graves in Swinbrook churchyard were conveniently surrounded by high railings for better preservation and privacy. These made good cages for the assorted animals, whose loud yelps, cooing and baaing blended nicely with the lusty voices of the village choir and effectively drowned out most of the ten-minute sermon."

And we have eccentric Uncles instead of Wodehouse's eccentric Aunts, but again, real ones:

"Uncle Tommy presided as magistrate at the local police court, and in this capacity doled out his own ideas of justice to the local citizenry. He was particularly proud of having given a three months' jail sentence to a woman driver who accidentally ran her car into a cow on a dark night: `Clap `em in the brig! That's one way of keeping these damn' women off the road.'"

I'm afraid that such options are no longer open to us, fellows!

Of course, most of this book is given to Decca's break with her Wodehousian upbringing, her elopement with Esmond Romilly and ensuing adventures in Spain, the time back in England in the commune on Rotherhithe Street (which, curiously, was the only part of the book which could have been set in England during the 80's when I was an adolescent - just mix in loud music and illicit drugs) and their final idyllic excursion to America. There's a piece on American and British English which is priceless. Americans, you do pronounce your "t" s as "d" s without being aware of it. Don't believe me? - Say "thirty-three" quickly, without thinking! - But that's alright; you remain a much friendlier people and more open society, as Decca and Osmond found.

The ending is circumspect, as befits the onset of war and Osmond's death in it. And, of course, there's much to and fro amongst the Mitfords and their biographers about just how scrupulously honest Decca has been here. But the intrepid reader should put such quibbles aside. As Jessica Mitford puts it here:

"It is perhaps futile to try to interpret the actions of another - one may be so completely wrong;"

And this memoir is so filled with sparkling actions, enchanting circumstances and the wild joys as well as tumbles of any youth worth the having, that I can't imagine any reader not taking delight in it.---I can't think of any laud higher for such a book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honestly wonderful 19 Oct 2007
By Karen N. Finlay - Published on Amazon.com
I absolutely loved this book. I had just finished reading the very long and very good "The Sisters" http://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Saga-Mitford-Family/dp/0393324141 about the Mitfords, and wanted more when I was finished. Jessica ("Decca") was the most fascinating of all -- the one who ran away to Spain and America and became widely known for her politics and her book, "The American Way of Death." (and an Oakland resident, like myself, which is always intriguing!)

"Hons and Rebels" is charming, witty, and in its pages is not only an interesting glimpse of life in upper class England between the wars, but a love story as well, as she retells the story the story of her romance with her first husband, Esmond.

I never heard Mitford speak, but her voice comes through strongly in this book -- witty, determined, able to laugh at herself and family, but serious about her politics and trying to get by as a young idealistic couple in America. (And I imagine a very posh British accent...) What I also liked was how she treated the relationship with her closest sister, Unity, who, as a Nazi sympathizer, was the polar political opposite of Decca. What a family.

Highly, highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book 11 Jun 2009
By Lolly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you like Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, you will love this book. This is the real story, told from the perspective of Jessica Mitford and is an absolute pleasure to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of age as a "ballroom pink" 18 Mar 2006
By Jay Dickson - Published on Amazon.com
The Mitfords, the six daughters of Baron Redesdale, were inescapable fixtures of England's cultural life in the Thirties; as their mother noted, she needed only pick up a newspaper to see invariably a headline about "Peer's daughter" and she'd know one of them was in trouble. Eccentric, funny, intelligent and lively, one became a one became a novelist (Nancy), one became a fascist (Diana), one became a countrywoman (Pamela), one became a Nazi (Unity), and one became a duchess (Deborah). The second to youngest, Jessica, became a communist and then a famous muckraking journalist, and wrote THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH as well as this very funny memoir of growing up Mitford. Given almost no education while being raised in Gloucestershire and London, she eloped with Churchill's nephew Esmond Romilly to Spain, and then found work with him in America as the war began across the Atlantic. The memoir gives a fascinating account of what it was like to live as what her sisters dismissingly term "a ballroom pink" in the Thirties, but is most memorable, of course, for its detailing of her sisters' hilarious observations about class, snobbery, sex and one another: when it is announced their King is going to marry an American with the unprepossesing name of Wallis Simpson, for example, the sisters refuse to believe it ("That cannot be her real Christian name!").
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