The Mitford Affair
By Marie Benedict
What it’s about?
Between the World Wars, the six Mitford sisters dominate the English political, literary, and social scenes. Though they’ve weathered scandals before, the family falls into disarray when Diana divorces her husband to marry a fascist leader and Unity follows her sister’s lead, inciting rumors that she’s become Hitler’s own mistress.
Novelist Nancy Mitford is the only member of her family to keep in touch with Diana and Unity after their desertion, so it falls to her to act when her sisters become spies for the Nazi party.
Probing the torrid political climate of World War II and the ways that sensible people can be sucked into radical action, The Mitford Affair follows Nancy’s valiant efforts to end the war and the cost of placing loyalty to her country above loyalty to her family.
What I think:
This is the second fiction book I have read featuring the Mitford asisters this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The narrative is split between three of the six sisters and explores their thoughts and actions as WW2 approaches.
Nancy, the writer is witty and sociable, part of the Bright Young Things. She wants to marry and have children and write.
Diana is the family beauty. Marrying into the hugely wealthy Guinness family she causes a scandal when she divorces her husband and becomes the mistress of Sir Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Facists.
Younger sister Unity is socially awkward and looking to find her place in the world. She aligns herself with fascism and takes her obsession with Hitler to Germany where she is determined to meet him.
The book explores the complex relationships between the family as their political views and actions threaten to tear them apart.
What is fascinating is the extent to which Diana and Unity embrace fascism and the lengths to which they are prepared to go in their support of Hitler and the Nazi party.
Diana, far from being the young mistress, comes across and highly intelligent and capable. Her utter devotion to Moseley and his cause leads to acts of treason that ultimately lead to her imprisonment.
While Nancy goes on to have success with her writing, Unity’s ending is much more tragic.
The lives of the Mitfords are well document, not least by themselves in letters and autobiographies. But Benedict still finds a way ti give the sisters distinctive and unique voices that imagine their inner most thoughts and bring them to life in fiction.
This is a compelling and interesting read that would make a great choice for a bookclub as there is much to discuss.
Thank you Netgalley for my gifted advanced copy of The Mitford Affair.