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on 22 June 2013
Many years ago I indulged in the Mitford saga, read all the books and followed their chaotic lives. So being introduced to Jessica again, but this time with her life bound to Esmond Romilly, was a new experience, and filled in many unanswered questions. Meredith Whitford has done the world a sterling service with this work. A text that flows, illuminated by the many family letters and correspondence. The Spanish Civil War and World War Two loom large in the early years of their relationship and marriage, only to eventually swamp it. I particularly liked the way the pre-war details provided the mis-en-scene to the disintegrating family fraught with political ambitions, indifference, misguided beliefs and personal feuds, yet managing a kind of unifying love. Esmond's connections by family to the peak of political power and persuasion, provides added depth as the impact of war increases and explodes.
Highly recommended as a passage from mid-twentieth century evolution. Treason
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on 28 April 2013
Meredith Whitford has gone to a lot of effort to research Esmond Romilly's life, and her findings give this new biography a distinct edge. A lot of her early text is solely focused on Esmond rather than Jessica Mitford, which allows the reader to understand the nature of the rebellious schoolboy. In Mitford lore he is portrayed as half villain, half delinquent, but as Whitford has pointed out, this is simply not true. Halfway into the text we are properly introduced to Jessica Mitford, and although a lot of the Mitford family info has been recycled (Unity, Diana, Nancy etc), her relationship with Esmond is the main focus. It is as much Esmond's story as it is Jessica's.
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on 16 December 2013
I was very interested to read Meredith Whitford's book, most particularly because it embraces the lives of both Romilly brothers. They would be extraordinary in any era, but in the one they lived in, what comes across most strongly is their passion and commitment to what they believed to be right, and their bravery and ingenuity.

It is very sad that both lives were cut short. The author does shine a great light on them, and I'm very pleased to have read this part of the author's undeniably good research.

I'm only not giving it five stars for three reasons.

a) There are several typos
b) I disagree that 'The House of Mitford' was written from a right-wing perspective. The authors were fairly even-handed with the source material they had, and it was Jessica Mitford's own choice not to 'have her say' in that book about her life, and Esmond's. They asked her, she refused. This was perverse behaviour on her part, when she famously insisted on 'having her say' in Julian Jebb's documentary about Nancy Mitford.
c) I feel it is both a tad rude and rather sour of the author to refer to Mary S Lovell as 'Lovell', presumably from envy of the access to the Mitford archive that Ms Lovell got, and the author was denied. And yet she uses a great deal that was in Mary S Lovell's book....

That said, a book to add to anyone's Mitford collection - if only the author could have had her manuscript properly proof-read!
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on 12 November 2013
I write as Esmond Romilly's nephew although I never knew him as he was killed in 1940 and I was born in 1951, but my father Giles (his brother) often spoke about him to me and what he said is admirably mirrored in Meredith Whitford's new book about him and Jessica Mitford. As for the latter, from personal experience I know her to have been a shallow, malicious and ultimately rather unpleasant character, if a good writer; and insofar as the Mitfords are concerned generally I have no idea why they continue to exercise such an appeal upon the mind of the general reader. I suppose misplaced snobbery might have something to do with it - misplaced, because there was nothing particularly special or grand - let alone distinguished - about the Redesdales.
Debo Devonshire for example quite recently on the radio was dismissive of her distant relative Esmond and among other things castigated him for being someone who could be quite charming one moment then utterly ruthless the next - as if anyone ever thought the two characteristics were mutually contradictory - but what this super hausfrau failed then to mention was that he fought fascism twice, sacrificing his life for it on the second occasion. I've no idea what Debo Devonshire did during the war.
To get back to Meredith Whitford's book, what shone out of it most for me was its sheer lucidity - okay, a lot of the material has been gone over before, but a lot of it hasn't; in particular, a satisfying picture is given of the kind of family the Romillys were. As Huguenot refugees, they have slummed it in this country for very many generations, during which they made inestimable contributions in the legal and military fields. Sir Samuel Romilly, for example, was a legal genius who transformed the criminal law, who was the first person in Parliament to speak against slavery, and who set out the rules for charitable trusts which persist to this day. One of his sons subsequently became Master of the Rolls.
Many Romillys lost their lives fighting for the interests of Great Britain; Esmond's own father Bertram for example was a severely wounded but much-decorated war hero who when dying exclaimed, "I knew he would come back! I knew it would be all right!" - as quoted in Meredith Whitford's book upon his hearing that Esmond at the start of the Second World War had decided to come home to fight. For me, that was the most moving part of her book; it brought tears to my eyes.
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on 16 September 2013
I've read all the Mitford bio's and was expecting this book to rely heavily on what has already been exhaustively covered in print. But the author has covered new ground in what she has written about Esmond and his background and also casts new light on Jessica in terms of her relationship with him and the fall-out with her family. I also appreciated the chapters on historical events to inform their personal histories.

Good, too, to have a pro-Jessica rebuttal of some of the inaccuracies in works written by the pro-Diana Mosley camp, especially their reliance on Toynbee as a source of some of the couple's more questionable behaviour. A mistake to interpret what was obviously a wind-up as gospel truth.

Well worth reading.
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on 24 February 2014
A good deal of this book covers areas of Jessica Mitford`s early life covered before in other writings, but this does include new facts and gives details of the love between Edmond and Decca through the interesting letters they sent to each other. An unexpectedly chilling part of the book lies in the comparison between Unity`s letters before and after the shooting. Who could be in doubt of the
destructive effect of Unity`s relationship with Hitler.
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on 29 November 2013
If you are interested in the Mitford family, this is a good edition to add for information about the early years of Jessica Mitford. She rebelled against her family and background and married someone with exactly the same credentials. The two rebels appear to have had idyllic marriage until war intervened. Despite their haphazard lifestyle, the intelligence shines through. Their independent thinking was quite refreshing and makes me want to read more of Jessica Mitford's books.
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on 8 May 2013
Thinking back on the other books I have read on the Mitford sisters, Jessica Mitford tends to get slightly lost or just overpowered by her extremist sisters. Meredith Whitford's book explores Jessica's life both with and apart from her sisters, giving her an identity which is not just defined in relation, or as a backlash to her family's right-wing, facist views. Meredith includes photographs and various snippets from letters which really brings the narrative to life. Jessica Mitford: Churchill's Rebel definitely deserves a place in the Mitford cannon.
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on 19 May 2014
I enjoyed this book, it was easy to read, very chatty. It was also well informed and researched. Very poignant story of times around the second world war and right wing / left wing politics of that era.
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on 10 May 2013
What little I did know about Jessica Mitford either tended to be about her as a young girl growing up in her childhood home, or more recently, her opinions and relationships in later years. I did not know much at all about her marriage to Esmond Romilly, Churchill's nephew, and I found the young and tragic love story between Decca and Esmond heartbreaking.
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