If you’re having a life crisis, just ask yourself ‘what would the Mitfords do?’
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Sunday 04 August 2013
The six daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale – Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah – were the most talked-about British family of the inter-war years.
Beautiful, aristocratic, soignee and headstrong, their lives intersected with 20th century history: Unity fell in love with Hitler, Nancy wrote wonderful novels, Diana married Oswald Mosley, Pamela broke John Betjeman’s heart, Jessica went to America and became a Communist and Deborah became chatelaine of Chatsworth. All of them behaved, singly and collectively, with studied eccentricity. A new book, The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life by Lyndsy Spence, inspects their lives to offer a valuable behavioural guide. There’s no awkward social conundrum that can’t be dealt with by asking: What would the Mitfords do?
How to keep children amused… Try jiggery-pokery. The Mitford sisters had a governess called Miss Bunting, who liked to amuse her charges by teaching them “jiggery-pokery” or shoplifting. She’d take them to the local shops, where they’d proceed to steal.
When your personal life is going wrong… Maintain a “shop front” of belligerent cheerfulness. When Nancy’s husband was dying, she invented funny stories about him; any mention of his name was accompanied by hilarity. She was staying with friends when she received news brother Tom had been killed. Rather than grieve, she put on a gown and full make-up and was determinedly “bright and amusing” all through supper.
When your husband is sent to prison… Join him. When Mosley was sent to Holloway, Diana wrote to the government asking for permission to live with him there. They said no. She wrote again and again, but was rejected. Finally the Home Office gave in. She and Mosley were allowed to reside in the Parcels Office in the prison grounds. Two convicted bigamists were allotted to them as personal servants. Diana lived mostly on port and Stilton from Harrods.
How to cut a dash on the dance floor… Make use of rodents and invertebrates. Unity was a “large and alarming debutante” who used to drape herself in costume jewellery and affect a tiara festooned with rubies. As an extra accessory, she wore her pet grass snake, Enid, coiled around her neck. And when the dance was in full swing, she liked to extract her pet rat, Ratular, from her evening bag and turn him loose…
What to discuss when meeting famous people… Eschew politics. The girls’ mother Lady Redesdale was introduced by Unity to Adolf Hitler. Deborah, the youngest sister, was also present. Employing Unity’s skill as a translator, Muv and the Fuhrer had a lively conversation about the merits of wholemeal bread. Several years later, Deborah was asked if she’d found it more interesting to meet Hitler or Elvis Presley. “Why, Elvis of course!” she said. “What an extraordinary question!”
Life & Style blogs
iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
The face of fertility: why do men find women who are near ovulation more attractive?
People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
Google has set its terrifying, dreaming image robots on the public
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
- 1 This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
- 2 Homeless man playing piano in Florida becomes instant online sensation with public performance
- 3 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 4 San Francisco TV news crew attacked by armed robbers during live broadcast
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...