Nancy Mitford

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Mitford, Nancy,

1904–73, English novelist and biographer, b. London. She managed a London bookshop during World War II and moved to Paris in 1945. Mitford and her five celebrated and politically diverse sisters (Jessica, see below; Pamela, 1907–94; Diana, 1910–2003; Unity, 1914–48; and Deborah, 1920–2014) were born into the British aristocracy, a class she satirizes in her novels, notably In Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949). Her writing is sophisticated, malicious, and captivating. Indeed, her boring, bigoted, illiterate lords and amoral, irresponsible ladies have taken on the qualities of myth. She also wrote biographies of Madame de Pompadour (1954) and Frederick the Great (1970).


See her letters (1993), correspondence with E. Waugh (1997), and selected Mitford sister letters (2007), all ed. by C. Mosley; memoir by H. Acton (1976); biographies by S. Hastings (1986, repr. 2012) and L. Thompson (2019).

Mitford's sister Jessica Mitford, 1917–96, b. Gloucestershire, England, also a writer, is known for her witty and irreverent polemics, and her brilliant investigative journalism. Her works include The American Way of Death (1963; rev. ed. 1998), a scathing exposé of the American funeral industry; Kind and Usual Punishment (1973), a critical study of the brutality of American prisons; and The American Way of Birth (1992), an indictment of the overuse of cesarean sectionscesarean section
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See P. Y. Sussman, ed., Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford (2006), her memoir of her early days as a Communist (1977), and her autobiography (1960, repr. 2004). See also J. Guinness, House of Mitford (1984), M. S. Lovell, The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family (2002), and L. Thompson, The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters (2016).

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Hilaire Belloc told Mary Herbert, the mother of Waugh's second wife, Laura, that "he has the devil in him." Waugh himself told John Betjeman's wife, Penelope, that he was "by nature a bully and a scold." After witnessing his rudeness to a French intellectual to whom she introduced him, Nancy Mitford asked him if it weren't a contradiction that he was so rude a man and yet he claimed to be a practicing Catholic.
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The BBC, in a change of strategy, is adapting 20th-century authors like Kingsley Amis and Nancy Mitford, while ITV, in the hope that fans of last year's "Oliver Twist" want some more, is following up with "Nicholas Nickelby."
(As Patey tells us, the contrarian Waugh used to play the role of "comic super-snob" precisely to offend proletarian sensibilities, but he was otherwise extraordinarily generous to Catholic charities.) In one particularly important letter to his friend and fellow author, Nancy Mitford, Waugh put the matter directly: "It is not true that any Catholic thinks the poor go to a servants' hail in heaven." I must remind my Protestant colleagues of that when they write next with more qualms of conscience about their hired help.
The book is nicely illustrated - there's a pretty photo of Nancy Mitford, for example, and one of Pirandello typing with one finger - and beautifully designed.
He also published works by the British authors Nancy Mitford and Angela Thirkell, as well as works by the French authors Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Or, as Osbert Lancaster put it: "To hell with Nancy Mitford! What I always say is, if it's me, it's U!"
Also the St Fagans Book Club will be taking place on site when members will be discussing The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.