Saturday, 6 March 2010

Of Swinbrook and the swan




So annoying, I just spent half an hour creating a loving post about Swinbrook and the Swan and the Mitford letters and the graves in the churchyard and the Duchess of Devonshire, with lots of links, and then it all came crashing down without saving. And now I have to take a DVD of The Hurt Locker (grueling viewing) back to Blockbuster and buy a birthday present and write a column for the Sunday Telegraph, and I've lost my train of thought regarding the aforementioned Mitfords and their views on food. Also, I did lots of links to other good blogs, having been directed there by your excellent comments on my previous post (thank you to book shelf and everyone else). Anyway, am feeling woebegone about the lost words, but maybe the point was simply to write them.

21 comments:

enid said...

Those letters of the Mitford sisters really upset me when I had to read about poor dear Hitler who had a cold and who had given Unity a flat that belonged to some Jews who had gone on holiday - what holiday !!!!!! I really disliked those letters.

Justine Picardie said...

I agree, Diana and Unity's sentiments were truly terrible -- but that is part of what makes the letters interesting to me; the personal narratives in which history comes to life. Jessica and Nancy were rightly horrified by Diana and Unity's views; and Nancy provided the information that MI5 needed to keep Diana in jail during the Second World War. The letters don't ask us to agree with them; but they do shed light on an era when many in the British upper classes were supporters of Hitler and fascism. In writing about Coco Chanel, and the era in which she lived, I can't ignore the anti-semitism that was openly expressed by the British and French, as well as the Germans. That doesn't mean I agree with it -- I loathe it, of course; not least because I have a Jewish father. In editing the letters, Charlotte Mosley hasn't censored them: she has laid them open, so that no one can ignore the dark seam of fascism that was part of the era.
I do understand your instinctive dislike of the letters; but I suppose what I am trying to say (rather clumsily) is that the reflections of shadows and light -- and the betrayals and schisms that ensued within a family, as well as a nation -- are intriguing, as well as troubling.

The Book Shelf said...

How annoying for you! I do love computers but I swear sometimes they work against you... personally I blame mine for my very regular typos and grammar errors.

I have only read the very basics when it comes to the Mitfords. I will definitely look up these letters, and if anyone has any must reads, I'd love to hear them.

Hope you have better luck with your weekend!

kairu said...

Oh, how annoying! Dashed computers...

I've always found the Mitfords intriguing, both as sisters (I'm an only child) and as part of a dying breed of the English upper-classes (I'm an American). As terrible as Diana and Unity's sympathies (more like fascinations and obsessions) with Hitler and Fascism seem now, they are a part of a certain time and place, now long gone.

I have been slowly making my way through Hons and Rebels, and can't wait to get a copy of their letters. What a dying art letter-writing is now. I suppose we have emails, but there's nothing quite like a handwritten note.

Justine Picardie said...

Can you imagine, future historians will be fuming over the lost emails of our generation? There will be no letters, no diaries, just rusting computers...

kairu said...

Your reference to lost words reminds me of a passage from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (I can't remember if I've brought this up before), when Thomasina rages against the burning of the libraries of Alexandria. Her tutor, Septimus, comforts her by saying: "You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language..."

Mikhail Bulgakov put it even more simply, some fifty years earlier, in The Master and Margarita: "Manuscripts don't burn."

Mary said...

Your lost blog post reminds of times when it appears that I have said something brilliant (truly rare) and I am asked to repeat it. Simply not possible. Gone. Pffft.

I have the Mitford book sitting in my reading pile and look forward to reading it as a slice of history.

enid said...

Yes you are right. Intriguing but troubling does sum it up . I like reading about the Mitfords and Hons and Rebels is a favourite. I will reread the letters with new eyes. Thanks for always being so wise.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Kairu, love the Stoppard quote! But I don't agree with it. Seems to me individuals and civilizations suffer when knowledge or wisdom is lost.
Justine, great photos! And I love "I'm nearly fifty I've decided to choose a style & stick to it".
I also agree it is important not to cover up nastiness. My great great aunt was captured by Apaches in Texas and never seen again. When my mother was writing a family history she said the girl just disappeared, because she didn't want to cast the Apaches in a bad light.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of Hons and Rebels (on my last birthday, ten years after I first read it) and the book of letters, and the Mitfords never fail to intrigue me- what a family! If anything, their letters lay their complicated bonds open- Jessica, staunchest anti-fascist of the sisters, stopped speaking to Diana altogether after losing her husband, but her correspondence with Unity never ceased. And Diana, despite her anti-semitic sentiments, was an engaging letter-writer, which can't be denied since a lot of the letters in the collection were addressed to or from her. It was a different world, really.

oxford-reader said...

How annoying for you - I've had similar things happen with dissertations, when I've written a truly fantastic, mind shattering sentence (or so I think) then the computer crashes, and I get the draft back, but without that particular line!

The Mitfords have always fascinated me, ever since I read Mary S. Lovell's biography of them (quite hard to write a biography of five, very different, women). Then their letters - there's so many volumes of them, and they are all, in their way wonderful. Even with all the political and racial difficulties they present, they are the most fascinating family.

Justine Picardie said...

So much to reflect on here: the complicated bonds between sisters, as well as the threads between the past, the present and the future. I am intrigued by the Tom Stoppard quotation -- I haven't read it before, and it does seem resonant to all that we've been discussing here.
I, too, love Hons and Rebels; and Jessica Mitford's famous quote: 'Objectivity? I've always had an objective.' I've also wondered about the reasons why she remained silent on the death of her first child (a baby girl, Julia, of measles at the age of four months), and then of her son Nicky, killed in a road accident when he was ten. She never talked about either death, which is not what one might expect, given that she had been so vocal on the subject of death in her classic 'The American Way of Death'. All that she said of her daughter's death was that, 'The day after the baby was buried, we left for Corsica. There we lived for three months in the welcome unreality of a foreign town, shielded by distance from the sympathy of friends.' And after her son's death, his name was never mentioned by her again. She may have been a Communist, but she also maintained the traditional stiff upper lip of the English upper classes...

oxford-reader said...

Decca's entire relationship with her first husband Esmond Romilly always struck me as very strange, and perhaps the fact she never talked about her daughter's death was part of that strange relationship.

I still can't quite make up my mind who was the strangest sister .... actually I think the only 'normal' one was Debo - even Pam (the one you hardly hear of) was unconventional.

jaywalker said...

Yes, I agree with most comments here and also, thanks for the link to the interview with the D of D - I really enjoyed it. Have been to Chatsworth several times and read her memoirs about her life there recently. One trip there it was their Golden Wedding anniversary and there were dozens of cards on a huge table, all from close friends who were either royalty or the rich and famous!

Rosie said...

Hi I've just discovered your blog via Marie Claire's interview with Sophie Dahl and just want to say I already love it. I've never read about the Mitford sisters but I'll be changing that now.

Justine Picardie said...

Rosie, welcome to the blog!

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Carmina said...

I have read Swinbrook and the Swan and watched the film The Hurt Locker and both are really great, Now I will wait to the premium of the film Sildenafil next summer!

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