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The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2013
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.

The Mitford Girls is a very good, interesting and informative read, Mary S Lovell has done an excellent job on her research and writing. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Mitfords.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2004
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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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2002
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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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2010
I have never written a review on Amazon before but was so annoyed by the authors biased account of the Mitford sisters that I felt I had to say something. This book is interesting purely because the Mitford sisters were interesting, not because this book is particularly well written.

The author is obviously very taken with Diana Mitford and gushes throughout. There is no criticism about Diana's support of fascsim or friendship with Hitler. The author tries to prevent the reader from judging the Moselys throughout and goes in to much detail about the hardship they faced in prison during the war years. I also find it strange that she never mentions Diana's opinion on Hitler's policies towards the Jews. We hear how Unity Mitford laughed when she learned that one leading Nazi had made a group of Jewish people mow a field of grass with their teeth. What did the Moselys think of this? How could they still like Hitler when stories like this were coming to light before the war?
I actually think this books does Diana a disservice because all we really hear about her is that she is beautiful and very much in love with Mosely. Surely there was more to her, good and bad.

I found the authors description of Decca Mitford harsh. Decca's support of the communist party is not forgiven nearly as easily as Diana's support of fascism. Decca gives birth to a stillborn daughter and people at the time commented that this could be due to Decca's communist activities. Instead of highlighting how hurtful and unfair this is the author comments that this just shows how much people don't like being told which political beliefs to hold.
Decca sounds like an inspirational woman, staying true to her politics throughout her life. Unlike Diana and Sydney she is also critical about her earlier beliefs and is far more self aware.
Both Decca's marriages sound loving and fulfilling yet these marriages are not given the great billing that the Mosely marraige is given (despite Oswald Mosely's many affairs).

It is a shame that the author is so biased because as I say they are a very interesting family. I can't help but think this book is so biased because Diana Mitford was still alive when the book was published. The author had met and very much liked Diana Mitford which really does colour her account of the sisters lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2013
Before reading "The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family" by Mary S. Lovell, I had already read Hons and Rebels: The Classic Memoir of One of Last Century's Most Extraordinary Families by Jessica Mitford, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, and the first two novels by Nancy Mitford.

Mary S. Lovell does an extraordinary job of condensing down the lives of the Mitford girls, their parents, their brother, and numerous partners, children, grandchildren, and various other notable relatives, all of which takes place against some of the most momentous historical moments of the twentieth century. In a sense the family's story mirrors that of the century they lived in.

The parents known to their children as Muv and Farve, aka Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney, represent the early twentieth century aristocracy. Both, to varying degrees are appalled by the changes wrought throughout the 1920s and the emergence of the post-WW1 generation of young people, dubbed Bright Young Things, who erupted into society determined to change the world for the better now once the war to end all wars was over. Oldest daughter, Nancy, and her arty friends were an anathema to her father.

Three of the daughters were split across the two political ideologies that wreaked havoc on the twentieth century: Unity (who unbelievably was conceived in a Canadian town called Swastika) and Diana both being unapologetic fascists, and Jessica (aka Decca) a staunch communist. Not only were Unity and Diana fascists but both formed a close friendship with Hitler and other leading Nazis in pre-WW2 Germany, and Diana married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany Unity unsuccessfully tried to kill herself, and Decca ran away to help the Republican cause in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. These events, along with Nancy's success as a writer, are what make this book so fascinating for anyone interested in this era.

I was slightly less interested in the early childhood years, and in the post-WW2 era. After the war, the book details how each life played out. This is all worth reading but of less interest to me than the extraordinary events detailed in the 1930s and 1940s.

All told though, a very interesting biography, with plenty of conflict (both familial and global) to keep the story moving forward. 4/5
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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. Some then became involved with Communists and they must have had some interesting family reunions. But what I find most interesting is that the sanest sister, who saw through Fascism and escaped, is shown running a bar with her husband in Miami, and she is the only one of them all who is smiling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A lively, very readable account of the lives of the six remarkable Mitford sisters, all very different, and all true individuals. Nancy, the eldest, survived poor education, an unhappy love affair and an even unhappier marriage to become a leading 20th century novelist; after World War II she left England to follow the love of her life, Gaston Palewski, to Paris, where she lived in an elegant apartment and became a favoured member of Parisian literary society, and a much-admired biographer. Pamela, the quietest of the sisters, married a brilliant scientist who was also a top rider and competed in the Grand National - when the marriage ended she kept up her spirits, travelling widely in Europe and establishing a very pleasant home base in Gloucestershire. Diana, the 'great beauty' of the sisters, left her first husband for Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Facists - their marriage was a devoted one, which survived imprisonment during World War II, and the ostracising of Mosley after World War II due to his dodgy politics. Unity, the rebellious fourth daughter, developed a passion for Hitler and for Facism and became great friends with Hitler (as did Diana) - with the declaration of World War II she shot herself, remaining a semi-invalid thereafter. Jessica ('Decca'), perhaps the most remarkable of the sisters, became a committed Communist, and eloped with Winston Churchill's nephew Esmond Romilly, who intended to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Later, the pair moved to the USA - after Esmond's death in World War II, Decca remarried to Bob Treuhaft (who sounds a wonderful man) and began an illustrious career as a writer and civil rights campaigner. And Debo, the youngest daughter, ended up as the Duchess of Devonshire and chatelaine of Chatsworth after her husband Andrew's older brother was killed in World War II - through Debo and Andrew's dauntless work Chatsworth has remained in their family, and is a favourite spot for British tourists and history lovers.

Lovell's book is readable and very enjoyable. Particularly pleasurable were the descriptions of the sisters' and their brother Tom's childhoods - their father David, on whom Nancy based 'Uncle Matthew' in her novels 'the Pursuit of Love and 'Love in a Cold Climate', was a humorous man but one who could burst into comic rages, and who had various strange games, including sending his children out to hide and be 'sniffed out' by a bloodhound, while their mother Sydney had various strange experimental ideas about diet and education -, the sections dealing with the 1930s and the start of World War II - the passages dealing with Unity were particularly well realized, and the material about Decca's elopement, renunciation of her upper-class background and move to America fascinating - and pretty well all the material on Nancy and Decca in their later life. There are lots of very interesting quotes from people who knew the Mitford sisters personally and from the sisters' letters. To be honest, I agree with the reviewers who feel that Lovell was too soft on Diana and Oswald Mosley. I personally felt that she glossed over some of the nastier side of Mosley's politics, and the appalling behaviour of many of his followers, and that Diana came over as rather too perfect (this was, after all, a woman who supported the mass murderer Hitler and doesn't seem to have condemned many of the Nazi actions even after World War II). It was good that Mosley, and indeed Hitler, were not portrayed as pantomime villains but I think Lovell went too far to the other extreme. In her - rather admirable - desire not to make Unity into a villainess, Lovell also didn't quite show how appalling Unity's anti-Semitism was, or the obsessiveness of her devotion to Nazism and Hitler. And I felt Lovell was also rather too soft on Sydney Mitford, who, though clearly very devoted to her family, also embraced a rather nasty sort of Nazism (which led to her and David Mitford's separation) and who Nancy in particular felt quite critical of. I would have also preferred a slightly different balance to the book - quite a bit more about Nancy, her writing and her love affair with Palewski, and a bit more about Decca's rejection of her family background, and a bit less detail about the blissful happiness of the Mosleys, though I felt the middle section of the book, from the 1920s to World War II, was well-paced and balanced. And of course, in writing a book about all six sisters, Lovell had to give each of them a reasonable amount of space.

On the whole I'd heartily recommend this book as a very readable and lively portrayal of six interesting women, and of a certain period in recent history. I stop short of five stars due to the criticisms above. But it's still very much worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2010
There is, admittedly, a glut of Mitfordiana but Mary Lovell's erudite, witty and thorough treatise of an atypical family of minor aristocracy, (six girls, plus Tom), encapsulates the fascination. Know the enemy - is what I would say to anyone who shudders at Fascists Diana and Unity, or Commie Decca. Extremism in either direction is wrong, but so is blanket criticism.

'The Mitford Girls' really could have taken eldest sister Nancy's title of 'The Pursuit of Love.'

In very different ways, and with very different men; all the sisters pursued love, life and happiness with varying degrees of success and whether one agrees with the politics or not, the pursuit is never less than interesting. Their class is irrelevant, these women had as little choice about the 'manor' of their birth as the denizens of a council estate. Personally, as the world becomes more depressing, I value more and more those who make me laugh amidst the tears; therefore I regard this family of incorrigible wits and wordsmiths very highly. Debo the Duchess is good value, as is the quiet one, Pamela. I have always been a fan of Nancy's novels, but deplore her duplicity. Then again, I am not an admirer of the politics of either Diana or Unity, but the subjective take is irrelevant - this book and "Letters Between Six Sisters" are invaluable records of an era.

These ladies were related to Churchill, most of them met Hitler, and knew and corresponded with everyone from Evelyn Waugh to Bernie Ecclestone. I doubt there will be a dialogue between a family like this again in print. Which is a pity.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2001
I've been looking forward to this book for ages and it did not disappoint.
An independant look at all the sisters, including the less well known Pamela (and Jessica).
I could not put this book down. Reveals many unknown facts about the sisters and also about the influence that Hitler played amongst the family. Takes readers further through the lives of the Mitfords than many of the other books available.
Well worth the wait!
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