Dec 1: The Sisters, the Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell

“This is the story of a close, loving family splintered by the violent ideologies of Europe between the world wars. Jessica was a Communist; Debo became the Duchess of Devonshire; Nancy was one of the best-selling novelists of her day; beautiful Diana married the Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley; and Unity, a close friend of Hitler, shot herself in the head when England and Germany declared war. The Mitfords had style and presence and were mercilessly gifted. Above all, they were funny-hilariously and mercilessly so. In this wise, evenhanded, and generous book, Mary Lovell captures the vitality and drama of a family that took the twentieth century by storm and became, in some respects, its victims.” (Amazon blurb)

Why The Sisters? Why read about the Mitfords?

For me it starts with Nancy. I read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate as a teenager and loved them both. They were like P.G. Wodehouse with the sharp edges left in. It was because of reading those books that I picked up Nancy Mitford’s non-fiction book about Louis XIV, The Sun King, one day, not long after I had my first kid. It was because of The Sun King, that I came to write my first novel, Charlatan.

Then there’s beautiful Diana, married to Oswald Mosely. And then there’s Unity – what a story – and that’s before I even to get to Jessica and Debo. Is that them all or have forgotten omitfordsne? Probably. Which is why I need to read this book.

Another reason is a little side project I’m working on – a book about famous sisters in history – and there might be another set of sisters (or two) featuring on my history wishes advent in the days ahead. Watch this space…

For those interested, there is a very watchable 45 minute documentary on Netflix right now called The Mitfords, a tale of two sisters. It focuses on Diana and Jessica (although the others are there to, making the title seem a bit silly). It features the history writer Laura Thompson who also has a book out about the sisters, but I’m picking Mary Lovell’s 2003 book because I’ve another book by Thompson on my Christmas list already.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has read either Lovell or Thompson’s Mitford books.

Or is there another must read book on the Mitfords that I should be reading first?


Parmesan Chese

History wishes is my Christmas Advent Calendar of non-fiction books I’d love to get my hands on. One book a day, every day until Christmas!

Kate xx

Book love

sun kingToday I have been writing the historical afterword for my novel and to help me do it I’ve pulled down from the shelf some of the books I have loved best while working on Charlatan. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but The Sun King by Nancy Mitford has to get a special mention.

I bought that book fourteen years ago. That’s a life time ago – in fact that’s my oldest child’s lifetime ago, pretty much, as it was not long after I had Dominic (somehow now 14 and six foot 2) that I found myself I pushing him around in his pushchair in the small Suffolk village we lived in at the time, quietly dying of boredom. Adjusting from working full-time to being at home with a baby was a task in itself, but at least I had mastered the art of sitting on the floor with a small child and playing with him with one hand while holding a book and reading it in the other. The trouble was that all I had on my shelves fiction. I needed something a bit more challenging.

The answer came in the form of the village second-hand book store which, very handily for a mother with a pushchair, had books in boxes set out on tables on the pavement. That’s where I came across this:


The cover of my copy is not quite so attractive as the edition now available on Amazon that is pictured above! But what a wonderful read it is, packed with detail, generously illustrated and delivered with Nancy Mitford’s inimitable voice and wit. In chapter six I first came across the Affair of the Poisons. Mitford provides a lively, gossipy outline of what happened in Paris in the late 1670’s and early 1680’s but what really caught my interest was when she wrote that she had gleaned much of this information from another book altogether, from which she said “most of the foregoing facts, which are only like the visible part of the iceberg, have been shamelessly culled.”

How much did I want to know about the rest of the iceberg? So much! And although I never managed to find a translation of Georges Mongredien’s book about Madame de Montespan, (the book that Nancy Mitford referred to) I did find Anne Somerset’s The Affair of the Poisons. And maybe a few more…