« "Enormous tolerance for intellectual dishonesty" | Main | Betty on Teddy »

Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford

San Francisco, March 27, 1944

Darling Muv,

..... The main reason I haven't written for so long is that you never answered my question about the Mosleys. I see in the papers that they are living in Shipton, so I suppose you do see them. I was so disgusted when they were released, & so much in sympathy with the demonstrators against their release that it actually makes me feel like a traitor to write to anyone who has anything to do with them. However I see that it is difficult for you, & not your fault....


Oakland, January 6, 1993

Dear Miss Manners,

.... I need your advice rather urgently. To explain: I've just got a FAX machine, and have been sending out lots of letters on it. One of my sisters in England also has FAX (much to my amazement) so naturally I sent her one straight away. I was surprised that she didn't answer by return - hers came the next day. However, she did say that she was in London when mine arrived, hence delay. Which brings me to the point: What is an answer "by return" in the case of FAX?  .....

Perhaps every new technology requires some re-thinking of the correct response. For example, telegrams (which are probably too young to remember) almost always had bad news; as they were jolly expensive, the answer was simply, such as "Desperately sorry. Mitford," only 3 words. Or if it was just a broken limb, not a death: "Rotten luck. Mitford." Again, only 3 words; ample, at a shilling a word.

Eagerly awaiting your response...

The writer of these letters could be extremely rigorous and unforgiving, but for the most part she was full of fun. She was always blunt. In a letter of 1990 to Katharine Graham, Decca Mitford tries to sugar-coat her advice about handling painful matters in memoirs, but the coating just drips right off. "But you can, & SHOULD, remember that it's YOUR book & deal with events according to your own taste."

Jessica Mitford Treuhaft, the fifth of the six Mitford sisters, American firebrand (and even a member of the Communist Party for a while) died a little over ten years ago, on 23 July 1996. Now we have her letters, in Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, edited by Peter Y Sussman (Knopf, 2006). Even if I weren't something of a Mitford-watcher, this would be a book that I'd have to have. It is in so many ways a companion to Decca's inimitable 1960 tell-all (that didn't begin to tell all), Hons & Rebels, one of the funniest books that I've ever read. Almost from the start, Decca rebelled against the class-bound ways of her semi-aristocratic family. She wanted to be free to make her own decisions, and she learned early that this would require her to be able to support herself. And of course she would have to run away, something that would require a Running Away Fund - which, amazingly, she funded before putting to its intended use. Decca didn't just run away, either; she ran off to the Spanish civil war with her cousin/husband, an episode that required major diplomatic intervention. Then it was off to America, where, among other things, the couple ran a cocktail lounge. And then, Esmond Romilly was lost in action in 1941.

Decca's next move, more or less, was to marry a Jewish labor lawyer, with whom she soon settled down in Oakland, California. With two of England's most notorious anti-Semites among her sisters, and a family that breathed low-grade anti-Semitism without thinking about it, Decca had done just about everything that she could to alienate her family. But that was never her intention ...

Continue reading about Decca at Portico.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


A google alert brought me to this page. I am the editor of the book discussed here. More about "Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford" can be found at my web site, www.peterysussman.com. Feel free to link to it as well.

Peter Sussman

I am a kottke.org micropatron

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2