10 September 2011

the Stateside Mitford


"Objectivity? I always have an objective." JM

Born this day one of the six Mitford Sisters, Jessica,  known as DECCA
portrait by William Acton

they all seem to hold a unique tie to their generation- 
she was to feel the constraints of her privilege most.

she would resent her parents for not allowing her a formal education., yet her Hons and Rebels leaves any sensitive Anglophile longing for ties to that Mitford family.

 Decca seated age 6, with Unity age 9

 "The Hons' Cupboard, where Debo and I spent much of our time, still has the same distinctive, stuffy smell and enchanting promise of complete privacy from the Grown-ups."  Jessica Mitford

Decca , center above & below

 The year she made her come out Decca fell out with the frivolity and flirting of the season, and ran off with her second cousin Esmond Romilly to Spain-joining Communists in the Spanish Civil War. Esmond was reporting on the war scene at the time and Decca was falling in love with Esmond.

 the young &  golden Romillys

Oh yes-and Esmond was First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill's nephew. Family, along with a British destroyer tried desperately to make the pair see reason and return to England. 
Ever the rebel, Decca married Esmond in 1937.

 Esmond and Decca, at left

 The young marrieds emigrated to the States  in 1939- soon after Britain declared war on Germany and Romilly enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Decca stayed in the States while in 1941-Esmond was killed in a bombing raid over Germany. Decca stayed on in America, marrying Robert Treuhaft in 1943-and so her life in civil rights and political life was born stateside. 

Her first book-written in 1960 when she was 43- Hons and Rebels-is a memoir of  her childhood. In her book, The American Way of Death Mitford writes a scathing criticism of  the funeral industry  practices toward Death and Family. The book became an instant bestseller &  was one of the inspirations for Tony Richardson's film The Loved One,  based on Evelyn Waugh's novel. More on this movie later. In 1977, Mitford published A Fine Old Conflict- about her life as a Communist. The book's title was Decca's version of the Communist anthem The Internationale- with the words being Tis the Final Conflict.

Her last work was an update entitled The American Way of Death Revisited. Jessica- Decca- died in 1998 of lung cancer in accordance with her wishes she was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea for a mere $533. 31- 

A woman of conviction to the Last.



  1. Conviction, intelligence, and beauty. One could do worse.

  2. Here's what I think! That first picture with all of those kids.....not one single smile. Yikes! One dog on a chain bottom right of the picture. Not a smile....inside or out...and the poor dog!

    Second picture; still no smiles.....but those children looked so much happier......it seems as though they were "stifling" their smiles! I think I saw a cat......(kinda middle) a terrier......upper mid left...maybe two!! (look right under!)
    ... and the same old dog (even older.) down at the lower right!
    Gave me hope! I hope they are all fine and have dogs..every single one!

    what a wonderful post!

    Animals are essential in children's lives! I think the dogs and cats saved these children's lives.

  3. What a lady! Fearless and determined. Thanks. Mary

  4. Thanks for this interesting showcase of Jessica Mitford. It seems like she stuck to her principles, yet learned from her mistakes.

    Regarding the comment on the family portraits, it wasn't the style then for people to smile so much in photos--I don't think you can infer much about their lives or feelings from their expressions.

  5. Penelope- I think the dogs are chained together, probably to keep them in check. I don't think the Mitford children lacked for pets.

    Parnassus-Yes, I have read the "SMILE" came after ww1- just recently in a book Bright Young People and also Children of the Sun.

    Jones- It must have been a family trait-whatever the turns they all took in life.

  6. Thank you! I am intrigued (along with many) by the Mitford sisters and it is fun to see their likeness in younger relative and long time top model, Stella Tennant. Wondering if you have interest (or posts) regarding Gerald and Sara Murphy?

  7. Found your post via Penny Dreadful's link round up. You have reminded me I need to read more about these gals!

  8. Atomicanna, I read a great deal about the Murphys some years ago & have several books devoted to them. I need to brush up and do a post about them. Let me know if you have any intriguing stories about them! Gaye

    LG1980- thanks for letting me know about Penny D! the Mitfords can take a lifetime to cover. Gaye

  9. I am somewhat obsessed with the Mitford family - my favourite is Debo, the youngest, who seems down-to-earth, despite being a Duchess (or Dowager, now) and I'd love to meet her. Have your ead her books for another view of the family from Jessica or Nancy? and also her letters to and from Patrick Leigh Fermor - "In tearing haste" - wonderful!

  10. sky blu pink- yes, there seems to be an obsession about any and all the Mitford sisters. they do fascinate- the era, the smarts, the tragedies, their own struggles to maintain the sister relationships amongst themselves and all of it in writing-it is irresistible! Nancy is my fav, I think it is her novels that sold me on that choice and I have read her bio, and letters to several different correspondents, in Tearing Haste and so many more. pgt

  11. All gone now. I was lucky to "meet" Deborah Duchess at my club in NYC and to get two books signed. She was quite old and quite impaired but still sharp. Her sister's daughter-in-law was making the rounds with her then and feeding the lines. The next night she AND Paddy Leigh-Fermor were at the Frick speaking but I didn't focus on it until later and of course after they returned to the UK, he died. (I don't mean to say that Britain will do that to one.) What a loss for her. It seems to be understood that because of her patience, tolerance, forbearance(take your choice) she carried on at Chatsworth to its good fortune despite that the Duke was a terrible run-around(in US terms). Sic transit so much.



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