Sunday, 12 October 2014

Book #25 A Life Of Contrasts by Diana Mosley

A Life Of Contrasts

When Diana Mosley's autobiography was published, a friend of hers wrote a review of it in which he accused her of "lacking a dimension" and they subsequently fell out. I only discovered this as I read the additional chapters tacked on to the end of the book, which she added at a later date and I thought it summed up perfectly what was wrong with it.

The 3rd oldest of the Mitford sisters - I was initially reluctant to read Diana's book being so personally at odds with her choice of politics, but I was encouraged to by someone I tweet with and was quite glad I did in the end.

There is a tone to Diana's writing which as her contemporary critics noted lacks something, a je ne sais quoi. if I was to characterise this lack I would call it a sense of normalcy, a sense of awareness of the real world, and definitely a lack of self awareness.

But these absences in her writing lead to a unique book, which is repeatedly unintentionally hilarious, as she laments the lack of a seaside "of their own" (you know as opposed to the norm where people have their own seaside) so they went with their Nanny to visit her sister and the thrill was that "one might pass a Negro on the stairs"  OK....then.

A lot of the childhood reminiscences are familiar to those who've read other Mitford books, Farve's opinion on Romeo and Juliet and the nurse who said she was too beautiful to live etc.

I was more interested in later Diana and what I found was a seemingly endless round of houses and interior design and trips abroad on yachts with Daisy Fellowes and pals and that everyone from her cousins to Evelyn Waugh was in love with her.  Occasionally there is an astounding indolent vapidity to it in the later years. Her experience at Holloway prison where she was imprisoned without trial for nearly 4 years is the one event of real note and it does come across like the grim event it likely was. My favourite Diana anecdote remains that she bought a fur coat to wear in her cell from the money she got from suing a newspaper accusing her of living in luxury.

What is probably most staggering is her genuine attempt to blame the Holocaust on the Jews - who really should have seen the way the wind was blowing and left Germany. In almost the same breath she incongruously blames those Jews who did leave Germany for making things worse by drawing international attention to it.

She points to other atrocities and leaders and defends Hitler as no worse than Mao or Stalin, and whilst she may have a point, it shows an utter lack of compassion and the same loss of perspective of which she accuses others of in the "two wrongs don't make a right" sense.

Being tarred with the Hitler brush she admits did ruin her life and her sister Unity's life and her husbands political career and yet she stands by her good opinion of him and the fact that in 1935 "there was nothing exceptionally wrong in wanting to have tea with Hitler". There is something almost disarmingly honest in that.

In letters between her other sisters it is said that she stood by her fascist beliefs not because she truly still held them but that to publicly abandon them would be an admission that she and more to the point Mosley had wasted their time, most of their lives and certainly most of their money,  pursuing political suicide.  If there is one certain thing about Diana it is that she loved Oswald Mosley beyond reason. To leave ones husband in the 1930s to become the mistress of a married man shows a kind of  bravery and/or foolishness rare for a woman of that era 

Which brings me to a further mystery, Diana and Mosley's finances. How they were able to move from fabulous house in England, to fabulous house in Ireland to fabulous house in France despite his losing most of their fortune in various follies baffled me. It's very hard to see what either one of them DID for a living after leaving Holloway, particularly Diana. When Nancy dies, Debo describes her life as sad, she only had her books, yet Diana doesn't seem to have anything except Mosley whom she propped up as he went from failure to failure. Whilst Nancy wrote, Pamela farmed and ran a stables, Decca had a series of normal jobs, and Debo was busy running Chatsworth as well as commitments associated to being a Duchess, Diana seems to have done little even her children and grandchildren were on the whole looked after by nannies. 

A life of contrasts indeed, and a book of contrasts, on the one hand the carefree lifestyle of the rich against the status of pariah in ones own nation state. The writing, joyous and carefree, often funny, and then by turns completely offensive and deluded; do make this book and Diana Mosley as a character unique.   She was almost certainly the only woman in history to be well acquainted privately with both Winston Churchill and Hitler which is remarkable of itself.

An interesting and intriguing addition to the Mitford canon well worth reading. 8/10

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