The Mitford Girls (Little Brown, London) Publication date September 2001 Hardback
ISBN 0 316 85868 4
The Mitford Girls (Little Brown, London) Publication date July 2002 Paperback
ISBN 0 349 11505 2
The Sisters (W. W. Norton, New York) Publication date January 2002 Hardback
ISBN 0 393 01043 0
Even if the six daughters, born between 1904 and 1920, of the charming, eccentric David, Lord Redesdale, and his wife Sydney had been quite ordinary women, the span of their lives - encompassing the most traumatic century in Britain's history - and the status to which they were born, would have have made their story a fascinating one. But Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo, were, and are, far from ordinary.
The Mitfords' unconventional childhood and adolescence, growing up in a rambling country manor, deprived of formal education and at the mercy of their father's titanic rages and obsessions, has long been immortalised in Nancy's masterly comedies of aristocratic manners, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The girls' lives were the stuff of headlines. Nancy, the merciless tease turned brilliant, subversive novelist; Diana, the most beautiful woman of her generation, reviled for her abandonment of her gilded marriage and hated and imprisoned for her love of Oswald Mosely; rebellious Decca, who eloped at nineteen to the Spanish Civil War with Churchill's communist nephew and went on to become a ground-breaking civil rights campaigner; sweet Debo who became Duchess of Devonshire and chatelaine of Chatsworth; even feminine, domesticated Pamela, known as 'Woman', was enough of a Mitford to have John Betjman at her feet and her Raeburn stove painted blue to match her eyes. And at their dark heart, beloved but unstable Unity, in love with Hitler and obsessed with Nazism, who shot herself as war was declared.
In The Mitford Girls, Mary Lovell's extensive research traces the development of each of these remarkable women from the nursery to maturity, recording the terrible losses they suffered and the rifts that opened between them; uncovering often uncomfortable details of their politics and personalities and revealing the truth to be more complicated, but no less extraordinary than Nancy's fiction.
What the reviewers said:
"... strips away the myths ... (but) Lovell also finds time for the glamour we have come to associate with the Mitfords ... An excellent book, calm, dispassionate and respectful of its subjects while never buying into their tendency to mythologise. Mary Lovell manages to understand someone else's family without falling in love with it."
"Heartily recommended. There is new research here ...scrupulously accurate and fair minded."
A.N. Wilson in New Statesman.
"Lovell tells the story of the sisters (and assorted cousins and aunts) well ..."
"The Mitford Girls is an entertaining read, whatever you think of the protagonists."
"... the whole story is brought together, expertly and entertainingly, by Mary S. Lovell ... as a curtain raiser ... both of the Mitford Girls and those bright young things around them, it is second to none."
"The remarkable Mitfords have inspired dozens of books but this may well be the best. Enjoyably anecdotal, it is engagingly written while displaying a rare and commendable restraint."
Independent on Sunday.
"Rises with aplomb to the challenges of a group biography, deftly weaving together the narrative threads of six at times radically disparate lives, to create a fascinating account of a fascinating family."
"This is a book that will educate those who hope to understand the Mitfords' hold on the imagination of an entire era and entertain those who enjoy an upper-class family saga. It's Upstairs without Downstairs."
Robert Gottleib in the New York Times Book Reveiw.
"They were quite a handful these sisters. But they were always great fun. And so is Lovell's rollicking book."