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Sisterly

A.N. Wilson

21 October 1993
Love from NancyThe 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’, NancyMitford confided to a correspondent in 1949. ‘Bliss. He shakes like a jelly at one’s jokes, I adore that.’ It was laughs NancyMitford 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 ...

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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... and all that is grotesque also. The jokes, always cruel, both charm and repel; without them, you’re 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 ...
6 February 1997
The Letters of Nancy Mitford​ and Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Hodder, 531 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 340 63804 4
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... The letters exchanged by NancyMitford and Evelyn Waugh over twenty years were written, we are told, ‘to amuse, distract or tease’, a welcome function no doubt in times of bogged-down creativity. But it is clear they were also written ...

Pamela

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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... Prince Charles’s wedding, while Orson gloats when Princess Margaret in her eagerness to see him 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 ...
4 December 1980
The Letters of Evelyn Waugh 
edited by Mark Amory.
Weidenfeld, 664 pp., £14.95, September 1980, 0 297 77657 6
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... said they noticed a change, a new harshness in his character. The breakdown propelled him into the Catholic Church, deprived him of a settled base, and transferred to him the important friendship of NancyMitford, a close friend of his wife’s who had broken with her when she ran off. Partly through the Mitford family, and partly through the patronage of Lady Cunard (whom he detested), he was now ...
20 December 1979
Class 
by Jilly Cooper.
Eyre Methuen, 283 pp., £4.95
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... so far as class is amusing, Jilly Cooper has not let her subject down. She quotes the Registrar General and Richard Hoggart and Michael Young, while writing in a manner that falls somewhere between NancyMitford and a Daily Mail column. Her characters are fun, her observations acute, and since she does not try her hand at analysis, it is hard to fault her. Yet the question remains: is class in ...
4 March 1999
A Slight and Delicate Creature: The Memoirs of Margaret Cook 
Weidenfeld, 307 pp., £20, January 1999, 0 297 84293 5Show More
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... The problem with NancyMitford, according to one of her sisters (the Communist? Possibly. The troublesome, giggly one who fancied Hitler? Not likely. The Duchess? Probably), is that she never came first with anyone. It’s ...

Diners-out

E.S. Turner

3 July 1986
Augustus Hare: Victorian Gentleman 
by Malcolm Barnes.
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £20, May 1986, 9780049201002
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Midway on the Waves 
by James Lees-Milne.
Faber, 248 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 571 13723 7
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... they tended not to be gentlemen. (He once left a note for Maugham pointing out his vulgar error in asking for a ‘drink’, instead of ‘something to drink’, which may well have stimulated NancyMitford to write her essay on Hare.) Sir Osbert Sitwell has testified to the mild panic which met Hare’s arrival at a garden party at Renishaw, when ‘the ladies held their hats to their heads and fled ...

Nonchalance

Mary-Kay Wilmers

27 July 1989
Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education 
by Sybille Bedford.
Hamish Hamilton, 328 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 241 12572 3
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... Catholic south of the country, Julius von Felden, and his complicated family history, which involves a great deal of money, much of it Jewish, and a scandal that comes close to unseating the Kaiser. NancyMitford said it was one of the very best novels she had ever read and Evelyn Waugh ‘saluted a new artist’. Proustian in its preoccupation with money and rank, it has the charm of the dying Europe ...
8 December 1994
John Betjeman: Letters, Vol. I, 1926-1951 
edited by Candida Lycett Green.
Methuen, 584 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 413 66950 5
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... over by the same method. And on and on it goes. Anthony Powell remembers that when they were both staying with the Longfords ‘John made everybody laugh.’ ‘Betch made me laugh,’ attests Pamela Mitford. ‘Throughout our lives, whenever we met, we always burst out laughing,’ corroborates John Summerson. Betjeman’s own feelings about his role as laugh-raiser were ambivalent. To the end of his ...
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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... After this initiation ceremony, dating back to the reign of George III, they would be officially ‘out’, 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 ...

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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... often the tones we think of when we think of good writing – but leaves the experimental and the ethically careful standing in the street 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 ...

The Trouble with HRH

Christopher Hitchens

5 June 1997
Princess Margaret: A Biography 
by Theo Aronson.
O’Mara, 336 pp., £16.99, February 1997, 1 85479 248 2
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... of the Royal Family comparing itself to a going concern is not as recent as some may think. In fact, it’s almost a hallowed tradition.) She behaved with wonderful surliness at occasions of duty. NancyMitford related one such fiasco: a dinner in honour of the Princess in Paris in 1959: Dinner was at 8.30 and at 8.30 Princess Margaret’s hairdresser arrived, so we waited for hours while he ...

Diary

Christopher Hitchens: The Almanach de Gotha

2 July 1998
... had trouble in defining Russia’s political system, which combined popular representation and an autocratic tsar.’ One of those new-old dilemmas, affecting any modern nation with an ancien regime. NancyMitford was premature in saying: ‘An aristocracy in a republic is like a chicken whose head has been cut off: it may run about in a lively way, but in fact it is dead.’ We shall see. The Duchy of ...

Alan Coren

Alan Brien

4 December 1980
The Best of Alan Coren 
Robson, 416 pp., £7.50, October 1980, 0 86051 121 9Show More
Tissues for Men 
by Alan Coren.
Robson, 160 pp., £4.95, September 1980, 0 86051 116 2
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... objects’ are pilloried, they are presented as harmless, endearing relics, to be preserved in the aspic of nostalgia just because they are so laughable – the viewpoint of Wodehouse, Waugh, NancyMitford and Peter Simple. The term ‘novelty’, which now gets translated as ‘trendy’ or ‘fashionable’, becomes a dirty word. ‘Feeling profound or vehement’ is reserved for those who wish to ...

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