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

Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

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Published in 1962, this memoir detailed Olivia de Havilland’s transition from Hollywood film star to Parisian resident. Leaving America in 1953, she followed a Frenchman to Paris, where she became Mrs Pierre Galante and set up home on the Left Bank of the River Seine, but has since moved to the Right Bank, where she resides in a house as tall as it is wide. Re-issued by Crown Archetype to mark her 100th birthday, of which was celebrated on 1 July of this year, Every Frenchman Has One is as relevant and funny today, as it was over fifty years ago.

Far from an in-depth memoir of a Hollywood star, de Havilland offers us candid snippets of her life on the domestic front as well as the exciting world that befitted a star of her calibre. We are presented with the trials and tribulations of moving across the world with a young son, to a trip to Alexander, the famous coiffeur, for a haircut, and fittings at Christian Dior. Divided into twenty chapters, she discusses her daily struggles with French customs, French maids, and French salesladies to French holidays, French law, French doctors, and, above all else, the French language. Most puzzling of all, she asks:

How does a girl look sexy without looking sexy?

What must you tell a French doctor?

Do you eat a crepe of wear it?

Where do you keep your bathtub?

What does every Frenchman have one of?

The juxtaposition of such a life is what gives the book its panache, and humour. You can revisit two posts on the book by clicking here and here. Included in this new edition is an interview with de Havilland that reflects on her 60 plus years of living in Paris.

Written with wit and style, above all else Every Frenchman Has One is an elegant tale of an American living (and loving) in Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

A Fitting at Dior as recalled by Olivia de Havilland

Nancy in Dior

Nancy in Dior

Following my post on Nancy Mitford’s fashion, I have transcribed Olivia de Havilland’s memories of French fashion and a fitting at Christian Dior in the mid 1950s, the same time when Nancy was a loyal customer.

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To begin with, ever since coming to live here I’ve been faithful to the House of Dior, which means that I’ve known the establishment under the reign of King Christian the First, under Yves Saint Laurent, who became Prince Regent on the royal demise, and under Marc Bohan, the incumbent. And it is a question as to which of the three has tried the hardest and done the most to flatten my bosom. Not permanent, you understand – just while I’m wearing a dress.

The whole thing started at my first fitting on my first Dior dress, designed by His Highness himself. There I was, standing in merely my stockings, my slip and my bust, and the next minute I was fully clothed and bustless. At first I couldn’t think where I’d gone to. Then I was struck rigid by the idea that some sort of instantaneous and lasting transformation had occurred and that I’d suddenly lost forever what is every girl’s pride. Springing out of my paralysis and into action, I looked frantically down my decollete to see what had happened to me. Fortunately, I was still there, both of me. But bound. And gagged. Like the Japanese female foot. Or feet, rather. By a framework of net and bone. The dress’s basic foundation.

You mustn’t think, here, that I have one of those over-exuberant superstructures that really needs lashing to the decks to keep it from going overboard. No, no, not at all. It is, rather the sort that you might call appropriate, quite becoming, so it’s been said. Neat but not gaudy. However, it’s a wonder what the tender encouragement of a well-placed dart can do to put it “en valuer”. Therefore, all in favour of tender encouragement, I did not take the matter of my binding meekly, but immediately crossed pins with my fitter in the first skirmish of the Great War of Compression. But each time I advanced my cause by withdrawing a peg from my armature, the fitter would swoop in with a fresh squad of cleats and batten down the hatches tighter than ever. I tell you, there have been times during these forays when it has been my mind that cleaved and my bust that boggled.

Now that we are in the full swing of the third regime of the House of Dior, you would think, wouldn’t you, that, pin-scarred and needle-tried, I’d be able to say to you that I’d succeeded in imposing the American silhouette upon at least one dress of French haute couture? But I have not succeeded. As I charge into combat, arrayed as I am in the constraining armour of my basic bodice, oxygen starvation defeated me every time. In the end, I always lose my War of Liberation, and the French always win their War of Containment.

But I must say, I do look darn well dressed. And I’m beginning to accept the French notion that a girl’s bust really is more important when she’s got her clothes off than when she’s got them on.

 

Extracted from Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland, 1961.

 

Olivia de Havilland & Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Blessing’

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I remember that during my first weeks as a newly engaged, newly resident of Paris, I received from a malevolent Irishman a copy of Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing, which concerns an Englishwoman who marries a Frenchman and discovers that, although he obliges her beautifully in the evenings, he spends his afternoons with his mistress. The book shook me. At each fresh example of the husband’s perfidy, I exclaimed to Pierre: “So this is the way a Frenchman spends his honeymoon!” Is this the way a French husband toys with the tea hour? Is this…….., etc.”
Pierre was enraged. Finally he threatened to throw the book out the window, howling, “No, eet ees not true about Gaston, Alain, Georges, Robert, Raymond, Thierry, Jean-Pierre, Jean-Claude, or Jean-Paul!” Then he ran out of breath. I was en-heartened, but not wholly convinced. So I studied all our friends — Gaston, Alain, Georges, Robert, Raymond, Thierry, and all three Jeans — and found that it was clearly true, none of them was unfaithful to his wife, and obviously had no desire ever to be so.

 

Somewhat reassured though I was about my own personal destiny, I felt a curious sensation of dismay and bewilderment about Frenchman as a whole, and confided to Andre Maurois one day at tea that I was rather shocked by the discrepancy between the reputation of the French husband and the low incidence of infidelity that really existed chez lui.

 

Having agreed that the average Frenchman much preferred to be faithful to his wife, Maurois reflected for a moment and decided that the reputation must once have been well-founded  — “in the romantic period,” he said, “over a century ago, when the life of the feelings was given so much importance, and when the poetic imagination was accorded so much expression. Nowadays the style is different because conditions are difference. The French husband no longer has the leisure that his inheritance used to assure him, because the last two wars have wiped out the old French institution of the carefully nurtured and passed-on family fortune, and almost every modern Frenchman must therefore work. He marries young and has his children promptly. And you know,” concluded Maurois, “to have a mistress, a man must have the money for it — and the time — and the energy!”

 

With Pierre that evening I did a little careful checking. The family fortune had been thoroughly wiped out by 1946. He must have been bewildered by my expression of pure delight. He was puzzled but pleased when I myself took The Blessing and threw it out the window. After all, it was about the rarest type of modern Frenchman — a marquis, who had the time, the money, and the energy!

 

Extracted from Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland, 1961