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- Published on Amazon.com
My wife bought this book to enjoy. She did enjoy it and said that I would enjoy it, too. She was right: it has been one of the most enjoyable books that I have ever read. I recommend it whole-heartedly and without reservation.
Why do I recommend 'The House of Mitford'? Well, the Mitford family - especially 'the girls' - have amused, annoyed and entertained for many decades. But this book is about much more than 'the girls' for it delves into the family's roots on both the side of 'Farve' and that of 'Muv.' 'Farve' was, of course, David Freeman-Mitford, Lord Redesdale, but his father was Algernon Bertram (Bertie) Mitford, an MP and very much an educated man-of-the world. I knew nothing of him but I now know much more. 'The other' grandfather (of 'the girls') was Thomas Gibson (Tommy) Bowles, an MP himself (for King's Lynn), a yachting expert (he hired his crews from dear old Aldeburgh) and the illegitimate son of another MP. Bowles owned and published Vanity Fair and The Lady, both successful magazines and both much enjoyed, especially through the former's famous cartoons.
Jonathan Guinness, a son of Diana Freeman-Mitford and the late Lord Moyne (Diana's first husband), and Catherine Guinness, Jonathan's daughter, have had unparalleled access to family letters, papers and memories, and their studies of 'the grandfathers,' their lives and times are superb. 'Farve' and 'Muv' receive full and fair coverage, too, and they appear as more generous and less eccentric than in some more critical essays.
'The girls' themselves - Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica (Decca) and Deborah (Debo) - are very well and very fairly portrayed. I have never taken to Nancy, but Pam may have been fun to know. The tragic Unity and her close association with Hitler are not everybody's cup of tea and the Communist Decca was probably an unpleasant individual. Deborah (Debo), now the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has survived and seems to know how to survive. As I have said elsewhere, I would have loved to have met any one of these ladies, though I would probably have become tongue-tied had a meeting happened. Other than the charmed and talented only son, Tom, who died a hero (in Burma just before the Jap war ended) and much too young, my 'favourite' Mitfords are definitely Diana and Debo, the former loyal to her late husband (Sir Oswald Mosley, Jonathan Guinness's step-father) to the last, and the latter clearly the most consistently loving and loved.
The authors ought to be proud of their efforts for they have produced an educated, erudite, wonderfully well-researched and extremely pleasurable work that will, hopefully and rightfully, be regarded as definitive. It is throughout a masterpiece and I shall re-read it and refer to it on more than one occasion in the future. My problem now is finding another book full of such enjoyment to read next: the task will be difficult.