Having grown up in a big family, I thought I knew a thing or two about sibling rivalry. And then I read The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary Lovell. The Mitford family makes my own eclectic clan’s dramas and differences seem downright dull.
In this stunning family biography, Mary Lovell introduces the six daughters and one son of a landed aristocratic family in Edwardian England. The family generated controversy and intrigue aplenty over the years. Despite intimate bonds with each other, they had very public political disputes and wildly disparate adult lives.
Diana married Oswald Mosley, head of Britain’s Fascist party. Unity, a close friend of Adolph Hitler, shot herself in the head when England and Germany went to war. Deborah married the Duke of Devonshire and thus filled the coveted role of Duchess of Devonshire. Jessica, a Communist and bestselling non-fiction writer, scandalized the family when she eloped with a nephew of Winston Churchill. The eldest daughter, Nancy, drew upon her family’s colorful upbringing in her bestselling novels and was good friends with writer Evelyn Waugh. Pamela, wife of the wealthy physicist Derek Jackson, led a relatively quiet and humble life.
As you’d expect, there is never a dull moment in the lives of the Mitford family. And as a result, there’s never a dull moment in the book. This biography effectively captures the intimacies and complexities of familial love, loyalty, betrayal, heartache and happiness. The book also serves as a captivating introduction to 20th century social, political, and literary history in Britain.
After reading The Sisters, my curiosity about this curious clan was still piqued. The edited collection The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters offers another intimate portrait of their tumultuous lives.
If you’re in the mood for an intelligent, thoughtful and scintillating story about a family far weirder and wilder than your own, try The Sisters. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my sister.