Just what is it about a Mitford Girl that had Bright Young People such as Evelyn Waugh and Brian Howard simply raving to one another about these too, too divine beings? It is worth noting the Mitfords would not be the Mitfords had it not been for their grandparents. This is not simply a case of genealogy but libraries and pluck. While the Mitford's father, David, claimed only to have read White Fang the Mitford's paternal grandfather Bertie (pronounced Barty) wrote extensively about Japan and had a huge library collection. The Mitford's maternal grandfather was the illegitimate widower Thomas Bowles MP, founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady who dressed all his children in genuine sailor suits and navigated his family through storms on his yacht. That's not a crappy metaphor.
Tomorrow it will be 39 years since the most famous Mitford, Nancy, died. So with that as our tenuous link we press on with our Friday 5 Mitford siblings.
2. Unity Mitford - Unity Valkyrie, when her paternal grandfather suggested the middle name Valkyrie (which she changed to Walküre) there was of course no way he could have known what would become of this war maiden who insisted on attending finishing school in Munich and befriended what Farve referred to as "a murderous gang of pests" and we refer to as Nazis and fascists. Unity was apparently an accomplished artist and presented Hitler with collages she made, as well as a jewel Nancy claimed looked like a hen's dropping. Unity was one of the younger members of the Mitford tribe, making her debut just as older sister Diana was divorcing Bryan Guinness for Mosley (none of which later). Unity had a secret language with her sister Decca called Boudledidge, drawn out English spoken with a downturned mouth, a serious language for a serious girl. When war was declared between Britain and Germany Unity put bullet through her brain. She survived but not without severe brain damage, dying of meningitis in 1948. Unity never forgot Boudledidge.
3. Pam Mitford - The 2nd child, after Nancy who was very envious of the new baby because their nanny ('Ninny') preferred the baby Pam, as a young child Nancy was heard to say: "Oh Ninny, how I wish you could still love me!" Pam contracted polio as a child, whilst her brother Tom was brought to the front of their dance classes, Pam lingered at the back, unable to hop on her right leg. All the Mitford children were given a slice of land to tend and earn money from through chickens or growing vegetables. Pam seems to have taken to it very well and was nicknamed The Woman due to her practicality. Her sister Decca wrote that as a child Pam would have liked to have grown up to be a horse. The Mitford to cause the least trouble or scandal Pam is occasionally referred to as The Other One, but she must have had something to her to hold John Betjeman's attention so devotedly.
4. Jessica Mitford - Decca, the red sheep of the family. It is said Decca and Unity's political views started as a game. A chalk line divided their room which was decorated with swastikas on one side and the hammer and sickle on the other. As a communist Decca renounced her priviledged lifestyle and eloped with Churchill's nephew, her second cousin. After his death in World War 2 Decca met and married an American civil rights lawyer and moved to America. Upon joining the Communist Party where in an attempt to draw more people in she advertised an event with a poster saying "Girls! Girls! Girls!", to the annoyance of some comrades.
5. Nancy Mitford - It is impossible to omit Nancy from any mention of the Mitfords. As the eldest and the bossiest it is arguable, in light of mother Sydney's famed vagueness, that Nancy was the matriarch of the family. Her teasing and cruelty set the tone with which the sisters would treat each other, Nancy is quoted as saying: "Sisters are a shield against life's cruel adversity" to which her younger sister Decca replied: "But sisters are life's cruel adversity!" Nancy used her sharp wit in her letters, light fiction and in her histories. Her distinctive Mitford tone made her histories particularly readable, in her account of Madame de Pompadour a French aristocrat is confidently described as a "Rip-snorting oddity". One of the more politically moderate of the family Nancy leant to the left but was more interested in the exquisiteness of French fashion and teasing others over their U or Non-U tendencies.