The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford
For years, biographers have been fascinated by the Mitfords, a quiet aristocratic British family with six beautiful daughters, nearly all of them famous for their controversial and stylish lives.
There’s Nancy, the novelist who had a love affair with Charles de Gaulle’s Chief-of Staff; Pamela, the only sister who opted for a quiet life; Diana, the family beauty who married a Guinness then ditched him in favor of the founder of the British Union of Fascists; Unity, who had a crush on Hitler and unsuccessfully attempted to kill herself on the eve of World War II; Jessica, who eloped with a Communist at the age of 17; and Deborah, who married the Duke of Devonshire. In Leslie Brody‘s Irrepressible (Counterpoint Press, 2010), it’s Jessica Mitford–known throughout her life as Decca– who, at long last, has the chance to shine.
She was a rebel almost from infancy. As Brody writes, “Soon after Jessica Mitford moved with her family to Swinbrook House in Oxfordshire, she began to plot her escape from it.” Her escape was spectacular, to be sure. As a teenager, she eloped with Winston Churchill’s nephew and ran off to the Spanish War. The couple eventually settled in America, where Mitford would remain after his death, later remarrying and becoming a journalist. Ultimately, she would be most famous for her expose of the American funeral industry, which was published in 1963 as The American Way of Death, but her work on civil rights and social justice was equally influential.
Throughout Irrepressible, Brody includes direct quotes that let Mitford’s unique perspective shine through. And, as a white British woman with Communist leanings, Jessica Mitford provides a view of America- a country with an independent streak as fierce as her own- unlike that of any other. She was a “muckraker” in the truest and best sense of the word.