Sunday, 7 March 2010

The silence of the dead


I've just run out of space while writing too long a comment, prompted by people's interesting responses to the previous post. What I didn't have room to say was this: that here is a piece worth reading about Jessica Mitford's silence on the subject of her childrens' deaths. Whether or not you agree with it, it's definitely thought-provoking. I now want to read her letters.

11 comments:

Sarah Standalone said...

I think Jessica was such a product of her upbringing and of the times, that to talk openly and at length about her lost children would have felt like an indulgence too far. To rail against the system was her therapy, but what great barbed, insightful and sometimes downright funny observational therapy it was for us readers. I am going to reread her letters now.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

She might have lost her English accent in America (to Deborah's horror when the sisters finally met, decades after Decca ran away), but I think that generation probably handled grief differently, very differently from the modern practice of 'let it all out' and 'talk it over'.

Justine Picardie said...

Yes, I'm sure you're both right. The (Dowager) Duchess of Devonshire said something along the same lines recently, when she was interviewed in Tatler: that the British stiff upper lip had gone floppy, whereas in the past, no one talked about grief. "It was all rather skated over. It wasn't the thing to keep belly-aching."

Victoria said...

I think that in writing your autobiography it is totally up to you what you include/exclude and I remember the passage in Hons & Rebels in which her dies and even reading her account was painful in the extreme.
I find Decca's letters fascinating, but think it will take me a lifetime to finish them!

Justine Picardie said...

Absolutely agree. Telling one's own story is a way of reshaping a narrative in whatever way one chooses. We all tell ourselves different versions of the past, as well as the present; those endless looping internal judgments and commentaries. And there are as many different ways to tell a story as there are days in a lifetime; or even more...
Meanwhile. It's well after midnight, and I've just finished transcribing a very long interview with Karl Lagerfeld. Fascinating to listen to his voice again.

Wendy said...

I will have to read this book. I lost my daughter(17 yrs old) and grandson 17 years ago. I have found there are no words to describe it, so I could not begin to write about it.

Justine Picardie said...

Wendy, that's such a terrible and savage tragedy. I don't know if you've read my book about the death of my sister ('If The Spirit Moves You'), nor if it would resonate with you, as everyone's experience of bereavement is different. But I do think that grief can also be experienced as common ground. If we love, then we inevitably suffer loss. The two are inextricably bound together, but losing a child and grandchild is particularly terrible.

Wendy said...

Yes, I have read "If The Spirit Moves You" and thought it was wonderful. I am very sorry about the loss of your sister. There is a quote I like (I can't remember where it comes from) that says 'when the soul receives a blow that doesn't kill the body, the soul seems to recover like the body. But, really, the wound to the soul is like a bruise which deepens. And when we think we have recovered, that is when the terrible after effects are at their worst.' We all get on with our lives, but pieces of us are gone.

Justine Picardie said...

Wendy, thanks for sharing that quote -- it feels piercingly true.

herschelian said...

Thanks for the link to the article about Jessica and her way of dealing with the death of her two children.
I read the book of her letters last year, having been a Mitford fan since I was a teen (back in the dark ages)and found most of them fascinating - though I confess to being a teeny-tiny bit bored at times.
I think Sarah Standalone has got it about right - they were a family who treated EVERYTHING with a veneer of flippancy in order to cover any real emotions; too, too vulgar to let people know what one really felt.

Justine Picardie said...

I suppose that is what is so powerful about the ending of The Pursuit of Love; the tragedy that cannot be made amusing...