The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sistersby Laura Thompson
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Riveting. The Six captures all the wayward magnetism and levity that have enchanted countless writers without neglecting the tragic darkness of many of the sisters’ life choices and the savage sociopolitical currents that fueled them.” – Tina Brown, The New York Times Book/i>/b>/i>
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Riveting. The Six captures all the wayward magnetism and levity that have enchanted countless writers without neglecting the tragic darkness of many of the sisters’ life choices and the savage sociopolitical currents that fueled them.” – Tina Brown, The New York Times Book Review
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire.
They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as “bright young things” in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the starkand very publicdifferences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade.
The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous livesrecounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompsonhold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII. The Six was previously published as Take Six Girls.
English writer Thompson (A Different Class of Murder) reveals how the six “posh-feral” Mitford sisters (the oldest of whom was born in 1904) became British cultural touchstones through their unabashed devotion to their respective causes—including fascism, Communism, and Elvis Presley—allowing them to embody the breadth of 20th-century conflicts within one remarkable aristocratic family. Thompson astutely compares wry contemporary assessments and countless often-brutal newspaper articles on the Mitford daughters to self-sufficient Nancy’s more benign fictional version and expat Jessica’s heavily embellished tell-all. With a reliance on sometimes-intrusive amateur psychology and an initially scattered chronology, this book reads more like an examination of personalities and sibling interplay than a traditional narrative; Pam’s penchant for the rural life means that she barely registers, but the obsessive Unity and heedless Diana leap off the page. Deborah, the most conventional, remained firmly of the upper class, becoming the Duchess of Devonshire. Thompson proves her case that the fearless siblings helped shape one another, sometimes through encouragement, but also through sharp barbs and betrayal, leading to extremism in an already highly politicized era. Non-British readers may take longer to understand the sisters’ lasting appeal, but Thompson successfully shows how this group of six captured the zeitgeist by being utterly committed and completely “shame-free.” B&w photos. (Sept.)
“An engrossing group biography." - The New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
"Lively, gossipy, and at times quite moving" - The Boston Globe
“Thompson’s biography of some of the most infamous sisters of the 20th century explores the answer to the question: how did one family produce such a remarkable range of [women]?” – Time.com
"Juicy and delightful . . . for fans of WWII history, funny, complicated, and fascinating women, and sisterly spats" - Jessica Grose, Lenny Letter
“Smart, jaunty, and wittily entertaining . . . Steeped in Mitford lore and myth-making, The Six offers sharply drawn portraits of each woman, teases out the complexities of their fraught, competitive relationships with one another, and sets their lives within the context of a radically changing world.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Engaging . . . Thompson's is an astute, highly readable and well assembled book, and she writes with particular intelligence about the sisters' self-mythologising and their ongoing hold on the public imagination." – The Observer
"Thompson is marvellous at mapping and explicating the webs or skeins of sibling rivalry [in this] gripping and appalling family saga." – The Times
"The first book to consider "the whole six-pack" in the post-Mitford age. And what a remarkable story it is ... Thompson retells the story with great style and illuminating detail." – The Independent
"A breezy vigorous argument for the sisters' powerful, unrepeatable significance ... Thompson combines a subtle understanding of history with enjoyably crisp, tart insights: this is an excellent place either to begin with the Mitfords or proceed with them." – Mail on Sunday
"I was captivated by this group biography, which tells the story of the Mitfords' sensational lives in a fresh and concise way." – Sunday Express
"This is a careful, realistic assessment of their virtues, follies and charm." – Daily Mail
"Not the first-ever book about the Mitford sisters - but it might well be the best of the lot." – Reader's Digest
What journalist Thompson presents here is a commentary on the once-famous Mitford family rather than an informative narrative biography. These six daughters of British aristocrats (Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah), in the public eye during the 1930s and 1940s, responded differently and sometimes scandalously to the explosive political passions of the time. Diana left her husband to become the mistress and then wife of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, while Unity developed such an obsession with Adolf Hitler that she joined his inner circle. Pamela also married a fascist sympathizer, while Jessica eloped with communist Esmond Romilly, fought in the Spanish Civil War, and assumed the role of muckraker. Writer Nancy is perhaps best known, while youngest daughter Deborah lived quietly as a duchess. Thompson documents the pro-German leanings of the British upper class and how wartime divided this clan and countless others. Family dynamics and the competitive, combative relationships among the sisters explain the choices each made. Based primarily on published materials and providing minor historical context, this analysis juxtaposes the Mitfords' story against the backdrop of novels such as daughter Nancy's The Pursuit of Love. VERDICT For general readers well acquainted with English politics and literature of the first half of the 20th century.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
A fresh look at six outrageous sisters.There has been no lack of attention to the notorious Mitford sisters, including biographies of Unity Valkyrie Mitford, who, scandalously, adored Hitler; Diana, who married the outspoken fascist Sir Oswald Mosley; and writer Nancy, the subject of Life in a Cold Climate (2003) by Somerset Maugham Award winner Thompson herself (A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan, 2014, etc.). Added to those are family memoirs, collections of letters, and a previous group biography, Mary S. Lovell's The Mitford Girls (2001). Yet for readers yearning for another take on the glamorous sisters' "posh past," Thompson's smart, jaunty, and wittily entertaining book will amply fill their desire. Steeped in Mitford lore and mythmaking, the book offers sharply drawn portraits of each woman, teases out the complexities of their fraught, competitive relationships with one another, and sets their lives within the context of a radically changing world. "These girls are prize exhibits in a Museum of Englishness," admits the author, but she shows how they were much more. Born between 1904 and 1920, the sisters grew up imbibing the etiquette of debutante balls and the personal consequences of global upheaval; their friends were the fey Bright Young Things, "sublimely clever aesthetes"; their enemies were legion. "Snobbery, shallowness, stupidity, adultery, unpalatability—the Mitfords were accused of all these things and rode out every criticism," Thompson writes admiringly. They fervently believed they were exceptional, even Jessica, who rebelled vehemently against the family's politics. Unity never married, and others chose startlingly unsuitable mates: Diana left her adoring, hugely wealthy, but unfortunately dull husband for the rake Mosley; and Pamela married opinionated, philandering bores; Jessica ran off with a communist, with whom she lived in poverty. Deborah, though, made a more suitable match, with an eminent duke who owned assorted castles. Thompson has fallen under the spell of the breathtakingly beautiful (as she repeatedly insists), seductive Diana, but otherwise, her cleareyed view of the sisters' strengths and foibles makes this gossipy story a delight.
- St. Martin's Press
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- 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)
Meet the Author
LAURA THOMPSON is a writer and freelance journalist. She won the Somerset Maugham award for her first book,The Dogs, and is also the author of the critically acclaimed biography of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate,Agatha Christie: An English Mystery (2007) and A Different Class of Murder: the Story of Lord Lucan (2014).
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The Six is a very ambitious biography/memoir steeped in historical detail and family heritage. To biographize all six sisters into one book was likely not an easy task. The author provided a complete family tree, which helped keep track of the various personages included in the book. As a writer myself, I have to applaud the efforts made by the author to write six different biographies demonstrating how the sisters interacted with each other and how their decisions affected their family. The way they were raised was fascinating and troublesome, and it is no wonder that they were each affected by it. A poignant memoir for sure!
The Six was not a simple read, but an attempt to properly biographize the Mitford family seems like a formidable task. I need to add that this is my first Mitford biography; therefore I'm not able to make comparisons with other chronicles. Laura Thompson found it necessary to present and investigate the Mitford family tree. I did appreciate seeing the actual diagram and referred back to it several times in my reading. I had to take notes and sometimes felt a yoyo effect as my reading time frame wound forward, then backward. I did regain my sense of time but I frequently had to take a reading break, to reset my perspective. The cast of characters went on and on and the use of their own private names and vocabulary left me once again with a list. Pamela is woman, Unity is Bobo or Boud, Jessica is Decca. You get my drift. In an attempt to introduce a complex family narrative, I'd say: Pamela, the rural Mitford, seemingly not politically involved, although she married a Fascist sympathizer. Nancy, a best selling author Jessica, the Communist Diana, a Fascist politician's wife Unity, obsessed with Hitler, shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire. Their lives were unorthodox, reckless, radical, experimental. Their sisterly relationships often came through to me as restless and so chameleon that I couldn't remember who felt what toward whom. The front cover of my ARC depicts stylish sisters. Your copy will have an additional 16 pages of black and white photographs. Laura Thompson refers to the Mitfords as "a variant strain of the Downton Abbey Syndrome." She also notes "The Mitfords were remarkably good at classless displays of class." There are humorous elements to be found. In reading The Six, you'll get more than enough details on Mitford lives and the times. Relationships and events are explained in detail. Reviewing the note section was definitely helpful in my reading experience. My ARC had 367 pages that I read, but the amount of historical information was almost overwhelming to me. Do give this Mitford saga a chance. What was almost overwhelming to me might be just right for you. 3.5 ★