I’ve said a lot about the Mitford sisters and my current obsession in this post here, so plan just to plunge into my thoughts about this book without much explanation.

A collective biography must be one of the most difficult things to write. How do you decide how much space to give to each of the individuals concerned? How can you be fair to all points of view when the individuals themselves have such different recollections of the same events?

The Mitford Girls is a prime example of the problems inherent in trying to write this kind of biography. Mary Lovell has done (I think) a really good job here but it isn’t (and probably never could be) perfect. The amount of time spent on each of the sisters is dictated by events, and the years before and during the war were always going to be dominated by Unity (with her Nazi sympathies and suicide attempt), Diana (with her marriage to Oswald Mosley and her imprisonment in Holloway) and Jessica (with her elopement, Communist views and move to America). Nancy dips in and out between these stories with her books, her affair with Palewski and her life in Paris. Deborah and Pamela don’t seem to get much of a look in when compared to the other four.

And I think that’s a bit of a shame, especially in Pam’s case. In some respects she’s the one that interests me the most simply because she seems so ordinary compared to the others – well as ordinary as an eccentric member of the aristocracy can be. I would love to have known more about her, especially the period after her marriage broke up and she made a life with one of her female friends. Others have commented how Mary Lovell dismisses without any real exploration the idea that Pam was gay. But for the most part I really just wanted to know what Pam felt about the rest of them.

And Debo; well she is the baby and comes into her own in later life as the doyenne of Chatsworth but I didn’t feel she came across as strongly as she did in the letters where her personality really shone through.

It was disappointing that the period after 1955 takes up so little time as one of the fascinations for me about the sisters is how they grew old and mellowed (or mostly didn’t mellow). Again that’s something that comes across most strongly in the letters.

Don’t get me wrong, everything I’ve said above is really quibbling about the detail of what was an enjoyable read, but I suppose with hindsight that I probably should have read this before I read the letters, as the biography stops in 2000 when Diana is still alive and the letters go on further and so may have satisfied my curiosity a bit more. All I could see here were the gaps.

And my Mitford mania hasn’t diminished at all (though I may give it a rest for a bit…….)


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