Category Archives: Nancy Mitford

The Bolter – Frances Osborne

Now you should all know that I have a small obsession about all things Mitford, which at the moment with the amount of books filled with letters, essays and diary entries from these sisters is very lucky for me. The Bolter by Frances Osborne has been on my book-radar for quite some time because of being part of my Richard and Judy Challenge and also because apparently the book is all about, Idina Sackville, was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Bolter’ in three of her novels. For this alone I know I would like this book, even though looking at some reviews have been slightly underwhelming…

Well I won’t hold back on this… I loved this book. However I can understand why some people out there might not like it so much, but more of that later. The Bolter can be summed up pretty much by its full title ‘The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The Woman Who Scandalized 1920’s Society and Became White Mischief’s Infamous Seductress’. This book promises to be full of gossip and scandal whilst taking a look at just what was going on in the rich upper classes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It does exactly what it promises on that front with some very insightful tales even of royalty. It also lifts the lid further on ‘The Happy Valley’ (which I had no knowledge of prior to this book – but I have been looking up on the web like mad) in Africa where bed hopping, drug taking, suicide and murder along with attempted murder all took place.

These things were great, Frances Osborne makes a lot of affairs and bed hopping very easy to keep up with and digest. She also brings in some really interesting social history such as what could and couldn’t constitute the rights for divorce and what counted as adultery. She looked at the women suffragettes which were something that Idina and her mother Muriel were very much involved with. It also looks at how war affected people not just in terms of rations but in terms of love and affairs of the heart. All this was wonderfully written and all over too quickly. However for me it was the background on Idina herself along with her childhood, parents and the society she grew up in and how they made her into the character which she became that I found so fascinating.

Yes she was a sexual predator in some ways, no she couldn’t be faithful, married and divorced five times, loved to party and left her sons and husband but deep down her story is of struggle and tragedy and how people react to that. Plus she in historical terms as Frances (who is her great-granddaughter) finds, from her family alone regardless of society back in the day, is blamed for this and getting the real insight your opinion is changed. Her first marriage to her true love wasn’t a happy one after the war and he ended up marrying his sister’s best friend Barbie. Some of the names in this book are wonderful. If all the things that happened to her happened to most people they would have given up aged about 21. However Idina is incredibly strong and fights and pushes to get what she wants which you believe is actually a quite settled life just with lots of sex.

This book also did something that very few books tend to do nowadays (unless I am having trouble keeping up) which is to make notes. There are some wonderful quotes such as when Idina describes why she married one of her husbands ‘he had broad shoulders, a long attention span and an endless supply of handkerchiefs’ and facts that I felt I wanted to chase up and learn more about. I also laughed and smiled quite a lot too thinking that anyone who loves the words and works of Nancy Mitford would be right at home with this. It does appear she very much borrowed from Idina and her real story for her own fiction. I also actually felt very solemn when the book ended and quite moved.

All in all a marvellous book which I would recommend to Mitford fans and particularly people who wouldn’t normally pick up a non fiction novel. This book has made me want to know so much more about the era and the other people mentioned as well as more on Idina herself and you cant ask more than that from a good book (this also happened with The 19th Wife which was fiction based on fact but a completely different subject) I am really pleased that Frances Osborne is writing more.
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Filed under Books of 2009, Frances Osborne, Nancy Mitford, Review, Virago Books

Mitford & Maupin Missions

My complete and utter favourite book of last year was undoubtedly The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed any non-fiction as much in all my reading years. At the time it wasn’t the Mitford’s that appealed to me it was partly the fact it was letters between sisters but more the amount of time that the letters spanned, all that history. It wasn’t until reading the letters that I started to twig just who the sisters were, I had heard of Deborah and Nancy before only I knew Deborah as the owner of Chatsworth House which is just down the road from my Gran’s and Nancy as an author most authors raved about. At the time I got the book there was also a TV show on Unity and the rumours of her affair (and pregnancy) with Adolf Hitler. As everything about them became more and more unusual and the more letters I read I gained a bit of a fascination which has resulted in this…


Now four of these are new additions to the collection as I received In Tearing Haste from the delightful John Murray before Christmas, The Pursuit of Laughter and A Life of Contrasts from the lovely Gibson Square just after Christmas and Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford from the very kind people at Orion only yesterday, naturally I haven’t read any of those yet. I have in fact of that whole collection only read ‘The Letters’ and The Pursuit of Love, the rest have all come from some very good routing through charity shops. There are still so many I am missing though; Nancy’s biographies as well as The Blessing and Jessica’s books on Death in America etc, to name just a few. (I also should thank Mitch as she bought me The Letters for Christmas after my Gran, yes you naughty thing, ‘borrowed’ mine and then said I had given it to her lol – well you can have it now.)

I now have one more mission for 2009 is to read all the ones that I haven’t read yet but own. Plus there are many more coming, I actually have a PDF proof version of Deborah’s next book, but I am not allowed to say anymore than that.

Dovergreyreader looked at Mitfordmania when she reviewed A Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley and it brought up some rather heated debate on Diana as a person. I don’t condone her like for Hitler I don’t even attempt to understand it, but what I was always taught in history was to look at both sides and someone who saw both sides of Hitler and one of the biggest events in our worlds history was Diana and though I don’t agree with her ideals I will be interested to hear her side of things if that makes sense. The other question that was raised was ‘are there too many Mitford based books on the market?’ I would say no, I actually think that some of their own books need to be reprinted rather than so many books about them in all honesty. I can understand the fascination though, they knew a wide range of famous people and indeed some of histories most renowned faces and through their love of letters and essays have captured years and year’s worth of history. I just wonder what Debo makes of it all as the furore around her and her sister is going and she is living to see it?

On a slightly different note another series of books I am going to make it my aim to read (well re-read in some cases) arrived yesterday also The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin….

I first read the first three or four (or possibly five) of these about 8 years ago and wanted a land lady like Miss Madrigal, and strongly believed when I moved to London I would make some of the best friends in the world and they would be diverse and wonderful and everything would be fabulous. I would say half of that wish came true. I very rarely re-read novels I have read so it will be interesting to see what I make of these almost ten years down the line! I will keep you posted. I am currently debating if I should read all of them with no stop-gap, but am worried I will get Maupin Overkill, any advice?

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Filed under Armistead Maupin, Charlotte Mosley, Deborah Devonshire, Diana Mosley, Jessica Mitford, Nancy Mitford

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read… So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bernhard Schink, Brett Easton Ellis, Daphne Du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan, John Buchan, Leo Tolstoy, Nancy Mitford, Sarah Waters

Should Have Reads 2008

So whilst putting the final touches to the Savidge Dozen (or my version of the best books of 2009 in my humble opinion) I have been going through the books I have read and been sent or bought and of course the ones that I haven’t managed to read. So I thought I would do my own top ten of books that I haven’t managed to read but will be showing their faces in the first few months of 2009. I wonder if any of them will be in the Should Have Reads 2009, what a depressing thought, swiftly moving on…

The Top Ten Should Have Reads 2008

1. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian BarryThe

2. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
3. Love In A Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
4. Story Of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block
5. The Outcast – Sadie Jones
6. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
7. The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
8. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
9. Bonk – Mary Roach
10. Company of Liars – Karen Maitland (as didn’t finish it this year)

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Roach, Nancy Mitford, Sebastian Barry, Tom Rob Smith

The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

My first Nancy Mitford novel to read has had a lot of pressure upon it to be good. Everyone I have mentioned it to who has read it has commented on how fantastic it is and also I came away from the letters of the Mitford Sisters earlier this year with a real fondness for Nancy and her humour. Happily I can say that her humour and personality shine brightly through this novel. I was also pleased to see that though yes indeed if you know the Mitford’s and their family history then yes you can see it reflected in this work, but its also accessible for anyone who has no idea who the Mitford’s are at all and just want to read a great and extremely funny book.

The Pursuit of Love tells of Linda and her pursuit of that exact thing, all told by her cousin Fanny. It starts of back in their childhood when Fanny came to live with them after her mother ‘Aunty Bolter’ has run off with yet another man (hence her nickname) and how she copes in a house run by the blunt and endlessly shouting Uncle Matthew. After that it’s a tale of ‘debuts’, dances, dalliances and doomed marriages as Linda tries to find ‘true love’ a thought she originally feels she could only have for the Prince of Wales.

What are wonderful in this book are the characters, and that fact that though there is one main story line with Linda there are also wonderful short stories of others interwoven. It’s also an interesting and funny insight into society and class in those times and also Nancy’s own way of looking at her childhood and family. Quite clearly Linda and her constant crying in childhood (which almost made me cry with laughter) and beauty and dizziness in adulthood is a mixture of Nancy and her sisters. Uncle Matthew who flies into rages, cries at Romeo & Juliet ‘why did they have to die, the silly fools’ and hates foreigners even though he’s only every been to France is easily their father. There are also some other wonderful characters like Lord Merlin who gives Rodin pictures, houses and cheques for £20,000 without a thought who reflect certain society members.

My only gripe with this book has been the cover, I just think its wrong for a few reasons, however I shalln’t open that can of worms right now. This must become a classic, I am shocked in a way that it hasn’t officially, instead it seems to be a cult classic with many authors naming either this or ‘Love In A Cold Climate’ as one of their favourite books. I really enjoyed it and on several occasions laughed out loud. A truly glamorous, witty collection of fantastic characters, and their colourful tales, if you haven’t read this you should!

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Filed under Nancy Mitford, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosely

Now if you are sat there thinking ‘he can’t have read that mammoth book in only a few days’… I haven’t. This has actually been a book I have been devouring in fits and starts for almost a month, well three weeks or so. It’s so big I couldn’t carry it everywhere with me on the tube, so have been reading other books along side. ‘The Mitford’s – Letters Between Six Sisters’ is an amazing book, a collection of the famous sisters letters to each other over 80 years, edited by Diana Mitford’s daughter in law Charlotte Mosley. Edited I think is an unfair word in this case; she hasn’t merely compiled them and then cut out bits and bobs. She has thoroughly researched the sisters so that as you read each different era you get a good introduction by Mosley as to what was going on in each of the sister’s lives and the life of the family of Mitford’s as a whole.

Not that I have read anything about the Mitford sisters before, though bizarrely I have heard of them often, but I can understand J. K. Rowling’s quote on the front that ‘the story of the extraordinary Mitford’s has never been told as well as they tell it themselves’ and she is write, there is no hole barred here. The sisters are constantly frank with each other through times of loving each other and times where they hated each other as some of them did. But its not just the times when they think each other is ‘wondair’ or each other are ‘hateful’ and all the turmoil they go through as a family, its an amazing look through history as the Mitford girls seemed to know everyone separately.

Nancy writes in fascinating detail of the family and how she found the constraints of her parents and the family too much. She also writes of how she writes, why and a fascinating insight into some of the other great writers of the last hundred years such as her close friend Evelyn Waugh. Pamela wants a simple quite life and can discuss any meal she has eaten in the last thirty years, has a love of farming and also became a lesbian although only once or twice do the sisters discuss this. Diana, the family beauty, becomes a fascist, after marrying the heir to Guinness she has an affair with a politician and is jailed during the Second World War. Then there is Unity who became a close friend (and has a slight obsession with) Hitler causing a conflict between her love for him and the love for her country which led to her shooting herself. There is Jessica who became a fighter for social change and ended up living in America writing about funerals and prisons. Finally we have Deborah who became Duchess of Devonshire, owner and restorer of Chatsworth, and who mingles with royalty (describing Diana as ‘clever with the public but truly she was mad’) and the Kennedy’s. This is truly simply outstanding, both for the historical and for the tales of six women who became celebrities without trying to and couldn’t see quite what all the fuss was about. What is also interesting is as they get older they too look back on their older letters and indeed themselves.

This is possibly my favourite book of the year so far. I am now officially a Mitford-holic and will be reading much more by them and about them. Where else would you get such insight in 900 pages of Britain from both the poor and the rich (the sisters weren’t all loaded as some people believe) told by some of the most fascinating, mischievous, voices that you could ever wish to hear.

Another thing that’s been special about this book bar all the above is it has been the first non-fiction book that I have enjoyed, recommended to everyone and has just made me read and read. It’s also a book that has given me lots and lots to read in the future. I now want to read books that they recommend each other; some of these included Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Mary Anne’, everything by E.M. Forster, Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. As well as everything that they wrote themselves, particularly Nancy, as well as everything by Evelyn Waugh, so that’s made the book even more of a treasure. I will leave you saying this book is truly ‘wondair’ and a final quote from Jessica on reading. Buy this book everyone should read it!

“1) Get a supply of books you have always meant to read, but never had time, such as Plutarch’s Lives, War & Peace, Bacon’s Essays etc. You’ll find your attention unaccountably wandering – you seem to have read the same paragraph several times and still can’t quite get its import. Put the books on a chair to be read some time later. 2) Next, fetch up some novels that you know one ought to have read in childhood but never did – Hardy, Conrad, the lesser-known works of Dickens. Same, alas, as in 1) above. 3) Find some books that you know you like, as you have read them before – Catch 22? Catcher In The Rye? Pride & Prejudice? (You’ll have to fill in the titles of your own favourites). This is far more easy going, far more pleasurable. 4) Try some collections of short stories, the shorter the better. Also, Grimm’s Fairy Tales – that sort of thing. That way the constant interruptions – meals, pills, baths etc – don’t specifically matter. 5) Above all – lay in a huge supply of mags, the more trivial the better, and leaf through them languidly while waiting for your cup of tea. That, anyway, is what I usually do.”

I was really sad to put this book down, in fact slightly bereft, but on with more!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Collins, Nancy Mitford, Review

Breaking The Book Ban Once More

Oh dear… Its happened again. I was merely walking past the Aladdin’s Library near the gym in Tooting Bec (so far my better/less bookier half hasn’t noticed this flaw in the gyms location) and it happened all over again. I was better this time though. I only bought two… for me.

Don’t Tell Alfred – Nancy Mitford
I have to admit I debated this one, not because its Nancy Mitford as I am growing to truly love her (via Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely that I am slowly devouring and have been for some time) it was the cover, which yes is a kitsch Penguin classic but for some reason makes me think of old peoples homes, sadly was too tempting and matched another purchase. I am looking for The Pursuit of Love everywhere.
The Woman In Black – Susan Hill
This was a gift for Polly, isnt it great when you can buy books that form your friends personal library, not in a pushy way. We both read Turn of the Screw and were left cold by it, so I got her this as its a real ghost story with chills and one of my favourite books.
Shameless – Paul Burston
I actually need to re-read this as I know I loved it, but read it when it came out, thats one to dig out and put on the TBR pile. This was another book for Polly.
Love In A Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
I know I bemoaned the previous Nancy book’s cover, but these are wrong, so hideous. Why do publishers need to make (the did it with Austen too) books look chick lit when they arent, I have nothing against chick lit by the way, am I being picky? Anyway been wanting this ages so for me a real gem was found. I do kick myself I didnt get the fabulous 70’s BBC cover of The Pursuit of
Love & Love In A Cold Climate from Oxfam for 99p a while back, but then I didnt appreciate who Nancy Mitford was then. Shocking I know.
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
I bought this for the non bookish member of my household, one because they like travel books (who’d have guessed), two because they not being British might find this a funny account of Brits and how quaint, daft and delightful we can be.
See technically I only bought two!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Nancy Mitford, Susan Hill