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Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford
Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford
by David R L. Litchfield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gratuitous and sensationalized, 13 Oct. 2013
Gratuitous and sensationalized manipulation of history is one way to put one's own spin on it. Mr. Litchfield's axe, however, is so large that I fear he will never get it ground. His vitriol for the entire Mitford family, not just Unity, is so poisonous that he blames the family for every ill to befall world history since the beginning of time.

While I certainly understand his distaste for Unity Mitford--it's hard not to have an opinion of one of the most infamous women of the 20th century--it seems to me that he has allowed his very strong and not at all veiled (thinly or otherwise) opinion of the subject of this biography to color every single observation and every single conclusion drawn from his research (more later on the research). The most successful biographers are those who accept the subject as he or she was (or is) and to explore the depth and breadth of personality, but not to judge. It is frankly insulting to readers who are completely capable of forming opinions based on presented evidence. Litchfield strays so far from this premise that this work should more accurately be called an Op-Ed piece than a biography.

Litchfield certainly makes some startling claims about the Mitford family, not the least of which is innuendo that the late Tom Mitford orchestrated incestuous relationships with his sisters. He finds fault with every member of the family, intimating that Lord Redesdale was incapable of writing his own letters, that Evelyn Waugh is actually the author of Nancy's earliest books, that it was impossible for Diana as a teenager to be interested in politics, that Deborah was "unwanted and overshadowed," and on and on ad nauseum. His prose drips with sarcasm and judgment, and is frankly, quite unpleasant.

He is not content to grind his axe merely on the Mitford family, however. His analysis of Alfred "Duff" Cooper, British Ambassador to France in 1944, proceeds as follows:

"Like Mosley, Duff spent too much time jumping in and out of bed with other peoples' wives to be capable of contributing anything very useful in his role as a diplomat. Unfortunately, the British Empire had been remarkably effective at breeding such men."

In addition, his analysis of what he terms "Torah True Judaism, a branch of Orthodoxy" is so hilariously incorrect and off the mark that I wonder if he even knows anybody who is Jewish with whom he might have shared this howler, in an attempt to approach something at least resembling the truth.

Litchfield takes it one step further and sneers at previous Mitford biographers, including David Pryce-Jones, Anne de Courcy, Jonathan Guinness, and Mary S. Lovell, but this does not stop him from heavy use of their careful and disciplined research. Litchfield's ace-in-the-hole for primary research sources turn out to be his mother, "who gained intimate knowledge of the Mitfords' 'goings-on' while her father was practising as a doctor in Burford," and his grandmother. With all due respect to Mr. Litchfield and his family members, what comes across is a family commitment to Mitford hating that is at least as virulent as the Mitford family commitment (with one or two exceptions) to fascism.

I make no excuses for Unity Valkyrie Mitford. She was a fanatic, and a syncophantic and enthusiastic follower and apologist for one of the most evil men in world history. She was cruel and cavalier, and willingly complicit in a political movement that resulted in the slaughter of some 50-85 million people. Whatever her sexual preferences or appetites were has no bearing on her commitment to National Socialism, and Litchfield's salacious and prurient focus on this aspect of her life is more than a little creepy.

The Other Mitford: Pamela's Story
The Other Mitford: Pamela's Story
by Diana Alexander
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment!, 26 Oct. 2012
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I am a self-confessed "Mitford Maniac," obsessively reading every biography of every member of the family, as well as their own works, and any works in which they might be mentioned. It was intriguing to me that "The Other Mitford" would chronicle the life of Pamela Mitford Jackson, and I wondered how it would be done, as Pamela did not leave as extensive a cache of letters and published items as all of the other sisters except Unity.

I should not have held my breath waiting for this one. What a waste of time! It is so poorly written, badly organized, repetitive, and borderline plagerized. The same anecdotes are told over and over again; chronology is just all over the place, and many facts are just plain wrong. For example, when Ms. Alexander describes a visit in 1949 that the Jacksons made to the Romillys in the US, (p. 147), she writes, "they called in on Jessica and Esmond, who by this time were living in Greenwich." There is a big difference, a huge difference, a world of difference between Greenwich (one of the richest towns along the Connecticut "Gold Coast") and Greenwich Village, which is where the Romillys actually lived. There is no excuse for this kind of sloppiness.

There is no attempt at insight, or analysis, or informed understanding of Pamela's life...and I am sure there are other adjectives besides "gentle" that could have been used to describe her.

I will say that there are two photos of the family I had not seen before, and for this, I am grateful.

The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London
The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London
by Lisa Hilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great subjects; not such great writing, 20 Aug. 2012
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"The Horror of Love" is a good addition to the Mitford canon. There is very little that is new about Nancy's struggles--personal, financial, romantic or gynecological. The introductory chapters do a brisk but thorough account of Mitford's early years, which are well documented in Mary Lovell's masterwork "The Sisters" and various volumes of Nancy's correspondence. The detail devoted to Palewski's career is fascinating. For many years, readers have been offered little about him that is not couched in "Duc de Sauveterre" fictions. His role during and post-WWII was crucial to the success of the Free French, and essential to DeGaulle's eventual assumption of power. He was clearly a man of formidable intelligence and political skill. His resume as a serial pouncer/adulterer no longer reads with charm, but as pretty creepy, frankly.

Hilton does a credible job of presenting both protagonists warts and all, and what a lot of warts both had! The descriptions of Palewski's appearance and traffic-stopping halitosis were especially frank. The author also takes the usual descriptions of Nancy's "talent to annoy" one step further, and details the viciousness, bitterness, and cruelty of which she was not only capable, but seemingly proud. I suspect that many of her famous prejudices (children, Americans, and her insistence that the two are interchangeable) may have started off as a tease, but later in her life, became ingrained and rather ugly.

Nancy Mitford's novels are wonderful romps, delightful to read, frothy and not particularly substantial. (Which doesn't mean I don't love them!) Her non-fiction works, particularly her biography of Mme. de Pompadour, are scrupulously researched and beautifully written. As a self-supporting woman of a certain kind of independence, she was ahead of her time. However, I am not convinced by Hilton's arguments that the relationship Nancy and Gaston achieved was a very adult ideal. Mitford was very badly hurt and humiliated by the 3 significant men in her life: Hamish St Clair-Erskine, Peter Rodd, and Palewski. But her class did not engage in whingeing or making scenes. So non-U. Denial was a critical element of her makeup, and perhaps is what enabled her to go on.

What I came away with is that neither was a particularly nice person. Charming, lucky, elegant, cultured, to be sure. But not nice. Not that it matters. Other biographers have painted a more sympathetic portrait, and I find the less varnished truth of this one refreshing.

HOWEVER, what is NOT refreshing is the clunk, clunk, clunk of Hilton's prose. Her attempts at arch throw-aways are excrutiating. Other readers have complained about Hilton's affectation for including quotes from letters or conversations in the original French without footnoted translation; my French is not horrible, but I did find myself with a dictionary at the ready. It just seems like a.- a poor editorial choice; or b.- a putdown of any readers without French. And please, please, please: a prize to anybody who can tease out the meaning of this gem on p. 135:

"....Tom Moseley once remarked 'poor brute' when Nancy teased Gaston after a hard day's work. Presumably he cared for women who were better at being gazed on (Diana was not, and she minded)."

In the immortal editing notes of Harold Ross, "who he?"

I was also disappointed in the photo pages: a picture of "the New Look," but not with Nancy in it; a photo of Churchill and DeGaulle with the caption, "Nancy was a Gaullist even before she met Gaston;" generic pictures of Venice and Versailles.

You can read it in a day or two, and if you are a Mitford addict--as I am--it is an enjoyable read without a lot of insight or new information.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2012 2:29 PM BST

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