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Do come to me funeral

Mary Beard: Jessica Mitford, 5 July 2007

Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford 
edited by Peter Sussman.
Weidenfeld, 744 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 297 60745 6
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... but he was hopelessly ill-prepared and soon invalided back to Britain with dysentery. There he met Jessica Mitford, a year older than himself, who had just finished her coming-out ‘season’. Mitford had not had the luxury of a school education, her parents – Lord and Lady Redesdale – not thinking it worth the ...

Stop screaming, Mrs Steiner

Wendy Steiner, 17 December 1992

The American way of Birth 
by Jessica Mitford.
Gollancz, 237 pp., £16.99, October 1992, 0 575 05430 1
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... give their eye-teeth for nothing more hostile to contend with than bad reviews. In 1963, when Jessica Mitford’s American Way of Death was published, America was in the middle of a full-scale critique of its mores and institutions. This was the golden age of the exposé. Vance Packard’s Status Seekers, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and ...

Poor Hitler

Andrew O’Hagan: Toff Humour, 15 November 2007

The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters 
edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Fourth Estate, 834 pp., £25, September 2007, 978 1 84115 790 0
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... like a frowning man with a tin cup. This is most true of Nancy’s novels and Hons and Rebels, Jessica’s famous memoir, but it’s true of the letters too, which now appear in The Mitfords, a collection edited by Charlotte Mosley. The man in the street was never Nancy Mitford’s sort of thing. In fact, she found the ...


Alan Brien, 5 December 1985

Orson Welles 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 562 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 297 78476 5
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The Making of ‘Citizen Kane’ 
by Robert Carringer.
Murray, 180 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 7195 4248 0
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Spike Milligan 
by Pauline Scudamore.
Granada, 318 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 246 12275 7
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Nancy Mitford 
by Selina Hastings.
Hamish Hamilton, 274 pp., £12.50, October 1985, 0 241 11684 8
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Rebel: The Short Life of Esmond Romilly 
by Kevin Ingram.
Weidenfeld, 252 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 297 78707 1
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The Mitford Family Album 
by Sophia Murphy.
Sidgwick, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1985, 0 283 99115 1
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... cuts Peter Sellers. But are the rest of us any better? Perhaps the spate of books about, say, the Mitford family is also a symptom of an urge to become vicarious groupies, hobnobbers by proxy among the upper classes. You too can whistle the Music of Time. Is it because the Mitford daughters are so exceptional, or so ...

Michi and Meiji

Nobuko Albery, 24 July 1986

Principles of Classical Japanese Literature 
edited by Earl Miner.
Princeton, 281 pp., £25, August 1985, 0 691 06635 3
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The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature 
by Earl Miner, Hiroko Odagiri and Robert Morrell.
Princeton, 570 pp., £39.50, March 1986, 0 691 06599 3
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Mitford’s Japan: The Memoirs and Recollections, 1866-1906, of Algernon Bertram Mitford, the First Lord Redesdale 
edited by Hugh Cortazzi.
Athlone, 270 pp., £18, October 1985, 0 485 11275 2
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... to the English-speaking public The Memoirs and Recollections: 1866-1906 of Algernon Bertram Mitford, the 1st Lord Redesdale. As in the case of Lady Fraser’s mammoth work, I would hardly have dared attempt lectures and correspondence which Jessica Mitford dismissed as ‘Grandfather’s depressingly huge ...

Taunted with the Duke of Kent, she married the Aga Khan

Rosemary Hill: Coming Out, 19 October 2006

Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 305 pp., £20, October 2006, 0 571 22859 3
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... launched into the world, the London Season and the marriage market. It was, as Jessica Mitford wrote two years later, ‘the specific, upper-class version of the puberty rite’. Or rather it had been, for 1958 saw the last such presentations; this was the year of the last curtsey. That it was all coming to an end was less surprising ...

Contra Galton

Michael Neve, 5 March 1987

In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity 
by Daniel Kevles.
Penguin, 426 pp., £4.95, August 1986, 0 14 022698 2
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... prisons and reformatories remain, in their terrifying way, beyond the grasp of almost all, from Jessica Mitford to Norman Mailer. That Kevles should be thought – as some have thought him – incapable of giving the background to this story, simply for having been serialised in the New Yorker is wilfully unimaginative. The mid-sections of In the Name ...

The Art of Self-Defeat

Noël Annan, 19 July 1984

Faces of Philip: A Memoir of Philip Toynbee 
by Jessica Mitford.
Heinemann, 175 pp., £9.95, July 1984, 0 434 46802 9
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... a lovable talent for organising others, etc, etc.’ Such an unworthy thought never crossed Decca Mitford’s mind. She, too, is always one for a joke. I like jokes, there can’t be too many of them for me, so I enjoyed her book, which is written with irrepressible Mitford brio. There’s a high-spirited acknowledgment of ...

What a Lot of Parties

Christopher Hitchens: Diana Mosley, 30 September 1999

Diana Mosley: A Biography 
by Jan Dalley.
Faber, 297 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 571 14448 9
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... class confidence allied to a tiny, repetitive tic of fanaticism. It’s easy to see how Diana Mitford/Guinness/Mosley attracted the obvious clichés about ‘The Huntress’ and ‘The Nymph’. Anyone with her first name, and a pleasing profile to boot, can earn such leaden gallantries, as Earl Spencer, that other upper-class thug, not long ago ...

No Casket, No Flowers

Thomas Lynch: MacSwiggan’s Ashes, 20 April 2006

Committed to the Cleansing Flame: The Development of Cremation in 19th-Century England 
by Brian Parsons.
Spire, 328 pp., £34.95, November 2005, 1 904965 04 0
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... wars, the bombed graveyards of Britain and Europe, the nuclear stand-off of the long Cold War, Jessica Mitford and the removal of the ban by the Catholic Church in 1963 all contributed to the chronology detailed in Committed to the Cleansing Flame. In 1967, the number of cremations exceeded the number of burials in the UK, and now more than 70 per ...

Embalming Father

Thomas Lynch, 20 July 1995

... what he called ‘the reality of death’. I think he’d heard that at one of these conferences. Jessica Mitford had just sold a million copies of The American Way of Death and Evelyn Waugh had already weighed in with The Loved One and talk had turned at cocktail parties to ‘barbaric rituals’ and ‘morbid curiosities’. The mortuary associations ...

Hons and Wets

D.A.N. Jones, 6 December 1984

The House of Mitford 
by Jonathan Guinness and Catherine Guinness.
Hutchinson, 604 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 09 155560 4
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... Nancy Mitford’s first novel, Highland Fling, is about a young British gentlewoman in the late 1920s, wriggling uneasily but divertingly in the generation gap of her time and class. Her parents’ generation seems to be stuck in the mud of the grouse moors: tough as old boots, the elders blaze away, pausing to reminisce about World War One and the filthy Hun ...

Good enough for Jesus

Charlotte Brewer, 25 January 1990

The State of the Language: 1990 Edition 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels.
Faber, 531 pp., £17.50, January 1990, 9780571141821
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Clichés and Coinages 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 305 pp., £17.50, October 1989, 0 631 15691 7
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Rhetoric: The Wit of Persuasion 
by Walter Nash.
Blackwell, 241 pp., £25, October 1989, 0 631 16754 4
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... Dictionary to ‘members of the dictionary’s “usage panel”, (including Alistair Cooke, Jessica Mitford, Margaret Atwood, Paul Theroux, Fay Weldon, Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Dwight Bolinger, Elizabeth Traugott and many more). What is revealing is how the panel’s response to certain types of usage ...


A.N. Wilson, 21 October 1993

Love from Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford 
edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Hodder, 538 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 340 53784 1
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... My great new friend is Noël Coward’, Nancy Mitford confided to a correspondent in 1949. ‘Bliss. He shakes like a jelly at one’s jokes, I adore that.’ It was laughs Nancy Mitford wanted, much more than grandeur. She longs to make people laugh, and sometimes, almost in the manner of a nervous stand-up comedienne, interrupts her letters to make sure that the audience is suitably convulsed ...

Nit, Sick and Bore

India Knight: The Mitfords, 3 January 2002

The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family 
by Mary Lovell.
Little, Brown, 611 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 316 85868 4
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Nancy MitfordA Memoir 
by Harold Acton.
Gibson Square, 256 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 1 903933 01 3
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... left with girls in pearls living borderline tragic lives, or with the po-faced, lumpen Unity Mitford – galumph, galumph – who, unlike her five sisters (in descending order: Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Decca, Debo; there was also a brother, Tom), had little talent for levity. So the jokes are crucial. One occasionally gets the impression, from Mary ...

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