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


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Frequently Bought Together

The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family + The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters + Wait For Me!: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister
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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (18 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115054
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary S. Lovell was an accountant and company director until she began writing in 1980 following a serious riding accident which left her temporarily disabled. Now an internationally acclaimed biographer, she has written best selling biographies of Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, Cynthia Pack, Jane Digby, Sir Richard and Isabel Burton, the Mitford sisters and Bess of Hardwick. Her latest biography is a family saga of the Churchills. Her books have been translated into foreign language editions, in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Danish and Finnish. Her biography of Amelia Earhart was made into a movie starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere in 2010, and she has four further titles optioned for film treatments. Until 2011 she led reader groups interested in Jane Digby around Syria every year, to follow in the exciting footsteps of this favourite subject of hers. She has recently completed promotional tours in the USA and UK, and is now working on the final chapters of 'the Riviera Set'.

Product Description

Amazon 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 Führer 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 Mitfords' 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 Führer 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)

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First Sentence
During the course of researching and writing this book I have often been asked the question that people ask endlessly of a biographer: 'Who are you writing about at the moment?' Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michelle Scott on 3 Oct 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a long book, and about a quarter of the way through it dragged a bit for a few chapters, but that is my only real criticism. I really enjoyed it - if it had been a fiction work, it would all have seemed a little far-fetched: how could one family be involved in so many of the key events of the 20th century? Close friend of Hitler, member of American Communist party, cousins of Winston Churchill, well-known authors, the Kennedy connection, owner and saviour of Chatsworth - they'll all in here, and the characters and family dynamics are all interesting and complex enough to keep you intrigued.......
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Davies on 9 July 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well-researched and well-written work, highly interesting and engaging. I felt bereft when I came to the end of it! Lovell has an easy, fluid writing style that keeps the reader hooked.

Lovell makes every effort not to be biased or opinionated in respect of the extreme politics espoused by three of the sisters, and the result is a level and sensible account of their lives and times. If readers want a Hitler-bashing book, or an anti-Red manifesto, they must look elsewhere.

That Lovell managed to converse with three of the sisters as well as close relatives such as Bob Treuhaft, Dinky Romilly and Charlotte Mosley adds authenticity to this book and leads me to believe that this might be a definitive Mitford tome.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. L. Delisser on 18 Aug 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
None of them were very nice. Nancy sounds positively horrible; the fascists really needed their brains washing out - there simply isn't any excuse for writing 'I am a Jew-hater' to a national newspaper as if she expected a Dame-hood for it (Unity) or to be an apologist for the Nazi party right up until her death (Diana) . She may have been beautiful but she sure as hell wasn't a beautiful person.
Jessica got it about right by running away to the Spanish Civil War and never going back. Tom was probably gay so slept with lots of women to make up for it - as you do - and Pamela probably was a lesbian but the author really isn't prepared to challenge any of these people or our views of them, in print and the book is the weaker for it. Unity was mad and deluded. Only Deborah sounds relatively normal.
I have to say that fascinating though the family is, this book is rather a wasted effort. The sisters worth writing about have all written their own stories and those that have a biographer have been written about in far more depth and detail than Mary S Lovell manages here. There simply isn't enough room to do each one justice and very little attempt to comment or analyse. It's a bit of a soft-soap actually. Diana needed to be far more robustly dealt with but it seems Mary Lovell liked her and thereby let her off.
That the author missed the opportunity to meet Jessica who died before the book was mooted is a real loss - I wonder if she would have been quite such a fan of Diana if Jessica had been able to tell her story. She had such tragedy in her life I can't help wondering how she survived it.
It is an eye-opening read but then I think you should choose your most interesting sister and look for better researched accounts of their lives. I have.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Books & Crafts on 8 Nov 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I will admit that after reading the reviews on this book on Amazon I was a little apprehensive about how I would find the book and if it would grate on me or not. After reading the preface I did think that it was a bit too crawly to Diana so I thought it might grind on me the whole way through.

However I ended up really enjoying this book and I appreciate all of the work that has gone into it. I think the author has researched well and has done a good job overall. I do not necessarily agree with some of her views about Diana and Unity - I do feel that she was trying to keep on the good side of Diana seeing as she was still alive when the book was released but in the end, I didn't find it over bearing.

I read the book in less than a week and very much wanted to know what the next bit would be - however controversial the Mitford sisters were no one can deny they are an utterly fascinating set of people to read about.
I do find the line of "Upper class poverty" positively laughable however, these people who live in large houses with acres of land and servants at their disposal would not know difficulty or a hard way of living if it hit them in the face, nor would they have the stomach to live it - so I am afraid that their constant cry of "Oh we're really rather poor" does not evoke any sympathy from me!

The book deals with each sister as everything happened during her life, there was not much said about Pamela but I think she was the most quiet one of the sisters so maybe there was not much of a story to be told. Diana, Jessica and Unity seem to get the most focus, which I guess is predictable due to them each being involved where they were.

This book is a good precursor to The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters which I shall be starting next.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Twilight is not good for maidens on 27 Sep 2002
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This has to be one of the most enjoyable biographies I have read for a long time. Although it's not a short book, it makes easy reading, written as it is in Mary Lowell's delightful style that is strongly reminiscent of Nancy Mitford's books. If you know her books, you'll love it for the insight into her life behind the books, particularly the girls' fascinating childhood; if you don't you'll be intrigued by the ups and downs of the family fortunes and their friendships with notable figures from Hitler to the Kennedys. This book is not just a biography of a famous and remarkable family, it is also a panoramic view of the history of the last century. Whatever happened, a Mitford was there - the war (both in Germany and Britain), the Communist movement, and so much more.
Reading biography is almost as much an art as writing one, in the way each reader relates personally to the characters with whom they become intellectually involved, and in the reading of this book it is easy to become very involved indeed and, unlike many biographies, it does not seem to fade away towards the end; Mary Lowell's writing retains our interest right until the close.
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