Monday, August 3, 2015

Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

I've mentioned before on the blog that I have an ever growing collection of books by or about the Mitford sisters--Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. I've read several of Nancy Mitford's novels (The Blessing, Christmas Pudding, Pigeon Pie), and I've read Deborah's memoirHons and Rebels is the memoir of Jessica Mitford (1917-1996) and covers the times of her unconventional childhood, difficult teenage years, and life with her first husband, Esmond Romilly (1918-1941) up to the time of World War II.

Growing up in the Mitford house meant having eccentric parents and unusual siblings. Jessica's mother didn't believe that women should have an education, a sore spot for Jessica who longed to go to school. Her father was very opinionated about most everything, and he didn't like people. Another sticking point was the difference in political beliefs that she had with her sisters. Diana and Unity adored the Nazis (with Unity going to Germany and becoming one of Hitler's inner circle). Hitler was present at Diana's wedding to fascist Oswald Moseley. Jessica, meanwhile, considered herself a communist. 

Her second cousin, the anti-fascist Esmond Romilly, whom Jessica had worshiped from afar, constructed an elaborate plan for Jessica to flee England with him when she was nineteen. They went to Spain in the midst of the Spanish Civil War and caused quite a sensation in England. They eventually married in 1937. (Unity reported that news of Jessica's marriage to Esmond caused the Fuhrer to put his head in his hands in despair.) 

Jessica's life with Esmond was an adventurous one where they traveled and ended up in the United States in 1939. They lived like Bohemians, never having enough money, but Esmond had lots of confidence. They tried several odd jobs such as selling silk stockings or working as bartenders and made good friends along the way such as Katherine Graham of the Washington Post and her influential family. The fun ended, though, with Esmond's death in 1941. 

I loved this account of Jessica's with its conversational writing style that made me feel like she was telling me her story over a cup of tea. At times, I had to remind myself that this amazing story was actually a memoir even though it felt like fiction. If you love reading about the Mitfords, or if you like reading about the time between World War I and World War II, I'd recommend this book for you.

The Mitfords in 1921
(Left to right) Lady Redesdale, Nancy, Tom, Diana, Pamela, Lord Redesdale; 
(Bottom row) Unity, Jessica, and Deborah

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I really don't know much about the Mitford sisters, but I've been wanting to read about them. This sounds like a good one. Thank you.