Hons and Rebels
As my growing obsession with The Mitfords continues my next stop was Jessica Mitford's autobiography Hons and Rebels which runs from her childhood through to her husbands departure to fight in World War Two, a conflict he died in.
I read Hons and Rebels in one sitting and it doesn't read at all like a standard autobiography more like a quirky novel about posh people, and as such is eminently easy to read. Autobiographies can prove difficult, particularly celebrity ones and the Mitfords were that in their day, as the author can often be disingenuous particularly if fellow subjects are still living.
In Charlotte Mosley's collection of the Mitford sisters letters, Debo and Diana are both scathing of Decca's portrayal of their parents which they see as hostile. For my part I couldn't really see that, both Muv and Farve come off as eccentric but no more so than anyone else of their era with their suspicion of doctors, anyone who wasn't Upper Class and the lack of merit in educating women. Muv herself was said to have enjoyed it, so I can't really see what the problem was.
Inevitably the first two thirds of the book are the best those parts which cover the girls childhood and then Decca's elopement.
She reveals a closeted, isolated existence as the Mitfords, careful who their aristocratic daughters could associate with, largely only allowed them each others company and the company of cousins. Inevitably this led to all the girls developing the eccentricities which they became famous for, Decca recalls being kept in the schoolroom or the nursery as loud battles raged on over something that Diana or Nancy had done, and being clueless as to what was happening.
Bored and frustrated she was desperate to run away, Unity was desperate to meet Hitler, and Debo was desperate to marry a duke, all of which, bizarrely came to fruition. Particular highlights include how all three girls ran off a succession of governesses, until one came that was a useless teacher but whose one significant contribution to their education was to teach them to shoplift, so they made her life easy so that she would stay; all of their efforts to embarrass their mother when she takes them on a cruise and Unity's habit as a teen of giving the Nazi Salute and shouting Heil Hitler to everyone including those who served her in the post office.
To be honest if anyone comes off badly in this autobiography it would be Decca's first husband, her cousin Esmond. This doesn't seem to have been intentional on Decca's part either. She becomes infatuated with Esmond before ever even meeting him via reports of his Communist exploits and subversive underground newspaper for Public Schoolboys.
When she does finally does meet Esmond from the start he comes across as financially motivated and largely self-interested. My low opinion of him increased once they emigrated to the States whereupon the narrative gets a little dull. Decca's account of their elopement is quite brilliant though, particularly how a British Captain was sent on a destroyer to bring her home and tried and failed to lure her aboard with a Roast Chicken!
Many people enjoy reading autobiography above fiction and if you are one of these people I heartily recommend this one, if you do have a preference for fiction anyway this autobiography is written and reads like a good novel anyway.