The Mitford Society Vol V

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The Mitford Society is pleased to present its fifth annual, with contributions from Meems Ellenberg, Kathy Hillwig, Robert Morton, Gail Louw, Chiara Martinelli, William Cross, May Tatel-Scott, Ella Kay, Terence Towles Canote, Kim Place-Gateau, Meredith Whitford, and Lyndsy Spence. It has been released early this year to mark Decca’s 100th birthday! The table of contents includes:

A Mitford Mimicry: A Mitford Tease

Six Sonnets for Six Sisters

The Most Dangerous Moment of All: Decca Mitford and the Plot to Escape

The Loves of Jessica Mitford: Chapter Two

Decca Mitford: The Entrepreneurial Communist

A Sheepish Short Story

Bertie Mitford and the Birth of Modern Japan

Almost a Bohemian: Diana Mitford and the Bloomsbury Set

The Disappearing Act of Miss Muriel Perry

The Mitford Sisters: A One Woman Play

Pamela Mitford: The Country Girl

Nancy in Venice

Love Him, Loathe Him: Tom Mitford Revisited

Revisiting Chatsworth and House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth

Debo and The Whopper: The Devonshire Diadem

A Dangerous Devotion: Venetia Montagu and Henry Asquith

A Tale of Two Susans: Nancy and Decca

What Would Decca Do: A Muckraker’s Legacy

Murder in the Hons’ Cupboard: The Original Mitford Murder, and Then Some…

Available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 

 

The Mitford Society: Vol IV

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Hello Mitties! It’s that time of year again, the launch of a new Mitford annual. As always, it features the infamous Mitford Tease (Friends and Frenemies) as well as a host of features on the Mitfords and their set. I have included the table of contents below. Next year I will be making a start on Vol. V a lot sooner as it will be a celebration to mark Decca’s 100th birthday! So, there is no time like the present. If you would like to be included in Vol. 5, or have an idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can purchase the annual on both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Table of Contents

 Friends and Frenemies: A Mitford Tease

The Muse: Diana Mitford and Helleu

A Very Mitford Reading

Lucia Joyce: The Pioneering Modern Dancer That Almost Was

Pam and Betje: An Enduring Friendship

Beaten by Beaton: Doris Delevingne and her Love Affair with Cecil Beaton

The Company She Kept: Unity Mitford and her Friends

Too Naked for the Nazis: How Betty Knox Went From Chorus Line to Front Line

Lady Bridget Parsons: The Pursuit of Love by

Literary Ladies: The Fictional Worlds of Nancy Mitford, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Lucia Berlin

The Big Tease: How Olivia de Havilland Fell for Nancy Mitford

In The Footsteps of the Mitfords

Debo and Cake:  A Royal Friendship

Lady Irene Curzon: A Dim View of Diana

Private Enemy Number One

Camelot in the Derbyshire Dales

The President and The Duchess

Only the Sister: Angela du Maurier

Nancy Mitford and Harold Acton: A Life-long Friendship

A Honnish Reunion

The following is an extract from The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life and is subject to copyright and should not be reproduced elsewhere.

Jessica’s American Life

“We lead an extremely un-Duchessy life here.”-Jessica to Deborah, 1951.

In October 1951, Deborah planned her stateside visit to Jessica. Before the impending visit, Jessica wrote to Deborah, to forewarn her of a few domestic things, mainly highlighting the smallness of their suburban home in contrast to the grandeur of Chatsworth. Deborah, now a duchess, would have to (from a lofty point of view) slum it in America. Jessica specifically alerted Deborah’s attention to:

-The sleeping arrangements: Deborah would have to sleep on a sofa in the dining room because there was no spare room. Deborah could stay in a hotel, but there were some factors standing in her way, mainly the rule that a visitor could not bring more than $25.00 into America. “So you will be at our mercy once here,” Jessica warned her. -Daily life was very uncertain for Jessica. Many of her friends were being arrested and she wasn’t sure if she would be next. “Not that we expect to be, but I’m just warning you,” Jessica confided.

-Jessica worked day and night for civil rights organizations, but naturally she would take one or two weeks off work to entertain Deborah. However, should an emergency arise, she would have to “scram” back to work.

-Deborah must avoid making a serious error like Muv, who before her visit had cabled Jessica: “Am considering smuggling some things into US to sell, please suggest best things to bring.” Jessica was convinced the FBI would send customs to raid her house.

Deborah’s First Impressions

After receiving Jessica’s cautionary tale, Deborah braced herself for the worst, and upon her arrival, immediately penned her feelings to Diana, confiding that the entire first impression had caused her “such a turn.” As soon as she regained her composure, Deborah gathered her thoughts:

-Jessica appeared as a stranger to her, she had “lost all colour, even her eyes look different.” Nonetheless, Deborah quickly concluded that people often physically changed between the ages of twenty and thirty-five.

-The hot Californian climate was “dreadful” and “airless” and “must be bad for people.” It certainly wasn’t Blighty.

-Jessica’s American accent startled her the most. Not only had she adopted an American accent, but she also said “completely American sentences.” When Deborah asked her how old Bob was, she answered, “Pushing forty.”

-Again, Deborah in a state of trauma, added, “It’s the voice I can’t get over.”

-Needless to say, Deborah checked into a hotel.

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In Feburary 1952, Debo finally travelled to America by airplane and the stops from London to San Francisco for refueling seemed endless. When Debo landed she felt weary and bemused at the sight of Decca, Bob and their three children; Dinky, Nicholas and Benjamin, waiting for her at the airport.

    ‘And there was Decca. A new person, trousered, American in appearance and accent – someone I did not recognize. It was the oddest sensation and filled me with a feeling of intense loneliness. What was I doing, thousands of miles from home, meeting a stranger who had once meant more to me than anyone in the world?’
Wait for Me, p. 164

Debo’s engagement book for her week in California read: Tuesday 12th February: dinner with more Communists. It is interesting to note, as Debo wrote in Wait for Me, that King George VI had died a week earlier and the left-wing extremists of California did not miss an opportunity to challenge Debo on her royalist views. Debo was thrown into the deep end, and although she had survived the sparring matches between Nancy and Farve at their dining table, these dinner guests had an intentional sting in their tails. None of the guests, Debo rightly opined, had ever been to England yet they launched into a ‘bitter criticism’ of everything she knew. Whenever Debo attempted to defend herself against their tirades, they laughed in her face and greeted her with, ‘You would say that, wouldn’t you.’ One evening Debo was a spectator in their argument on how to do away with the royal family. ‘Manners were not they priority,’ she said.

Despite the hostility from Decca’s Communist friends, Debo praised her sister and Bob for being generous guests. They treated Debo to a delightful stay in Carmel where she experienced ‘brunch’ for the first time and thought it ‘perfect’ – all of her favourite foods laid out in one meal. As they were leaving Debo was puzzled as to why Decca had packed the hotel towels, she questioned her action and was met with: ‘They are lovely and white and ours are horribly grey.’ When Debo said, ‘Hen, that’s stealing.’ Decca replied, ‘Oh, it’s all right, hotels are insured for that sort of thing.’ Debo, by her own admittance, had turned into the ‘old Conservative policeman’.

The visit, for Debo, had been tense but during the trip glimmers of the old Decca shone through. Decca’s new life, the foreign customs of America, and the unchivalrous behaviour of the dinner guests contributed to a feeling of bewilderment. The ‘bright spot’ was Dinky, who at the age of nine astonished Debo with her practicality, and the trip served to create a lifelong bond between the two.
ImageWhen Debo returned to England she received a letter from Decca confiding that her friends were delighted in meeting a real life Duchess. Debo, in return, sent Decca a charming photograph of herself and Andrew wearing their ceremonial robes. ‘Being active’ she scribbled underneath.

Muv’s American Adventure

Muv had grown up travelling around the Orient and the south of France, and she was not unaccustomed to long journeys, always by sea, on her father’s yachts. Such a seasoned traveller, she wore a sailor suit until she was 18. Though, after she was married, Muv’s travels seemed limited to Europe; trips to Dieppe to visit Aunt Natch, ice-skating holidays in Switzerland, reunions with Unity in Munich via Switzerland and ‘cultural cruises’ around the Med with the three youngest girls: Unity, Decca and Debo. And she often persevered with long voyages to Canada with Farve to his fruitless gold mine. Wartime restrictions and Unity’s delicate health (post suicide attempt) limited Muv’s travels somewhat, but in 1948, she surprised everyone when she booked an impromptu plane ticket to California.

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Muv’s American adventure was a surprise visit which both moved and unnerved Decca; the invitation was prompted by Dinky, then 7 years old, when she wrote: ‘I wish you would come see us in Oakland one day.’ Muv jumped at the chance to visit her granddaughter and readily cabled Decca with the necessary travel arrangements. It had been almost a decade since Muv and Decca had met, although they often wrote to one another, and Decca admitted to being in ‘a state of terror’ at their reunion.

Darling Muv,

We are terrifically excited about your visit here. When I got your telegram it was all mixed up, so I got the impression you were planning to smuggle some English goods into the country in order to get dollars. This probably wouldn’t work and anyhow shouldn’t be mentioned in a telegram as telegrams are checked by the authorities. I had no idea one could telephone England but the call went through in no time…Actually, if you can go by plane direct to San Francisco, there won’t be any problem about money, as we would meet you there and take you straight to our house…
    There is only one thing that concerns me, and that’s the possibility of newspaper publicity over your visit. As you know I live in terror of reporters and this is just the kind of thing they might pick up. Most newspapers get a list of incoming plane passengers. Could you look into the possibility of traveling under another name?…(Be sure to let us know what it is!) Above all, don’t talk to any reporters. Simply ignore them, it’s the only way…[D]o bring the Daily Express Song Book, as we have a piano, also family pictures to show Bob & Dink.
    We are really awfully excited that you’re coming & I hope the trip won’t be too awful. Personally I hate flying, it gives me such a frightful headache. But I’ve only done it with Dink when I’ve had the problem of convincing the airport people that she is under 2 so we wouldn’t have to pay her fare. Last time we did this she was 5, we had to wrap her in a blanket with just her head showing & give her a bottle. She was hopeless & kept asking technical questions about the plane’s engine etc.
    I can’t wait for you to see the children…
    Love & longin to see you, Decca.

(Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford by Peter Y. Sussman, p. 130)

Once again, Dinky, broke the initial awkwardness when she brightly asked, ‘Granny Muv, when are you going to scold Decca for running away?’ They appropriately responded with shrieks of laughter, and from then on Muv threw herself into Decca’s American life, she even made potato salad for Decca’s Communist Party comrades. Muv thought Decca’s house ‘wonderful and very pretty’ in comparison to the ‘awfully hideous’ English houses with sham Gothic design and stained glass windows. Following her conclusion of American architecture, Muv thought Oakland was like a ‘musical comedy stage set’.  She was impressed by everything Decca seemed to do: ‘Clever Little D., to make such a lovely meatloaf!’ And Muv, always so suspicious of food, seemed to enjoy American cuisine, joyfully consuming hamburgers and waffles prepared by Bob. Though, some Americanisms managed to get lost in translation. In the supermarket, Dinky began to yell in her California accent, ‘Penny! I want a penny!’
    ‘Oh…panier,‘ Muv said, pointing at the shopping carts. ‘She wants one of those little baskets.’

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Bob had appointed himself tour leader and asked Muv what she wanted to see most. Her list was modest and she replied:

  • A supermarket
  • A women’s club
  • Funeral parlour

The women’s club was out of reach but Muv was able to explore the other two curiosities on her list. The supermarket and funeral parlour were beyond her wildest imagination and she sat down to write to the The Times extolling the supermarket system of self-service: ‘So sensible and practical, I thought.’

Bob seemed baffled by Muv’s ‘non-Jewish-motherishness’. ‘Why are you wearing those hideous spectacles, Little D.?’ she asked one day.
    ‘Because I can’t see without them,’ came Decca’s blunt reply.
    ‘Oh, yes; I remember you never could see much as a child,’ Muv vaguely replied.  

ImageIn anticipation of Muv’s homecoming to Inch Kenneth Unity had spent a guinea on some dead roses for her. Muv was exhausted by the long flight (in those days a plane trip from London to California was a 50 hour journey), but she optimistically described her American adventure and spoke glowingly of ‘Mr T’ [Bob Treuhaft] telling Diana he was a good husband and father and ‘not such a rabid red as Deca is!’ Diana acidly confided, to Nancy: ‘Mustn’t he be surprised when he thinks over his fate.’
(The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters, p. 245.)

In true Nancy style, she cheerlessly added…

‘Thank goodness Muv is back- I was so worried by all that sickness as it sounded so like her heart not standing up to the journey. Then of course one knows communists can never pull any strings and whereas any of us would have got her onto the Queen E. [Queen Elizabeth] they clearly never could.’
(The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters, p246).

The American trip was a success and it served to break any conflicted feelings between Decca and Muv, though with the publication of Hons & Rebels in 1960 some old tensions flared up again. In hindsight, Decca confided to Nancy that although she loathed Muv as a child, in her adult years she had come to respect her greatly.