So, I’ve decided that every Friday, I’m going to blog about a fabulous woman who I think is basically brilliant.
I first discovered the Mitfords when I was about seventeen. I’m not sure how I became aware of them as a family, but for the last ten years I have had a form of Mitford madness. One of the best presents I have ever been given was ‘The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters‘ by Charlotte Mosley. In hardback. I carried that book around for about two weeks, so engrossed in it was I.
Jessica (or Decca as she was known) was always my favourite sister. Feisty and fearless, even from an early age, she would grow up to distance herself from her aristocratic background and embrace Communism, becoming known as the ‘red sheep’ of the family. (Two of her sisters, Unity and Diana would become well known for their involvement in fascism during the 1930s and 40s.)
Her life was turbulent and interesting and Decca recounted it in her book Hons and Rebels. She ran away from home as a teenager to document the Spanish Civil war, but only after she had eloped with her cousin first. Eventually ending up in America, she first became involved in the Civil Rights movement before making her name as an investigative journalist. Her most famous work, 1963’s The American Way of Death helped to reform the American funeral industry.
The reason I love Jessica Mitford so much is that she was utterly brave and unafraid to say what she thought. From being tiny, she had a ‘running away fund’ at a bank and in her letters, she comes across as frank, funny and sensible, sometimes upsetting her sisters and parents.
Jessica died in 1996, having become a naturalised American citizen.