Love From Nancy
Nancy Mitford began planning her memoirs around the time she became ill, and subsequently died without writing them and instead her friend Harold Acton wrote a biography. Later, her sister Diana's daughter in law Charlotte edited a collection of her letters. She is also the editor behind all the Mitfords letters to each other and of Debo's correspondence with Paddy Leigh Fermor.
I guess the reason for this was that if anyone was going to make money out of the intense interest in the sisters well it may as well be the family themselves, and there's something fair about that I think; though an early footnote implies that this new development considerably annoyed Acton who withheld his letters and may not have had the same level of access as Charlotte.
Her foreword tells us that she removed sections from six letters on the basis that they could be considered libelous and that Debo, who was the executor of Nancy's estate, asked her to remove sections from a further six because they were excessively spiteful about persons still living and could cause embarrassment. Having read that it struck me that the 12 most interesting letters she ever wrote aren't really in it!
Nancy is a terrific snob and a bit of a bitch, reacting like the Dowager Countess of Grantham might when a LOWER CLASS man sits next to her in a restaurant. Her most interesting letters are to or about Evelyn Waugh who comes across as a very eccentric character with a great capacity to offend or become offended. Randolph Churchill and Duff Cooper also come across as great characters I would like to know more about. Randolph particularly seems thoroughly awful.
I've read two Waugh novels 'Brideshead Revisited' and 'A Handful Of Dust' and took to neither but this has persuaded me to keep trying.
In some ways Nancy's life was tragic. Her first engagement and then her marriage were both disasters, she was infertile, and she was in love with a philandering Colonel, Gaston Palewski who never fully committed to their relationship. In her letters to him, her unguarded desperation for him to love her the way she loved him comes across profusely. In that I empathised.
It was heartbreaking too, that whilst Diana and Debo lived quite long lives, both living into their 90s, Nancy died in her 60s but oddly lived to experience most of her best friends & contemporaries "going first" dropping like flies around her over a three year period, the death of Evelyn Waugh shaking her particularly. As they passed she crossed each out in her address book writing the date of their death next to the entry.
I enjoyed reading this but I think I would have enjoyed reading the responses she got mixed in among her letters more. I also found it strange that certain of the letters in this collection which she wrote to her sisters were missing from that bumper collection (Letters Between Six Sisters) in a way that I noticed; for example a letter to Nancy from Diana about Unity, and a query about a childhood memory from Decca are in that collection, but there's no response from Nancy. The response appears here, which seems like an odd thing to do.
Probably the most telling sequence of letters comes on the publication of Decca's autobiography, Nancy writes to tell her it is wonderful, if ' a cold wind to the heart' but writes to others including Mark Ogilvie Grant and Evelyn Waugh to slag it off, which I felt gave the clearest indication of her as a character. Witty, yet not to be trusted and highly insincere. Something her own sisters and friends all thought of her.
A good read 8/10