Nancy Mitford

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Nancy Mitford, 1957
The Hon. Nancy Freeman-Mitford, CBE (28 November 1904, London - Versailles, 30 June 1973), was a novelist and biographer, one of the 'Bright Young Things' on the London social scene in the interwar years. She was born at 1 Graham Street (now Graham Place) in Belgravia, London, the eldest daughter of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Lord Redesdale.

Novelist and biographer

She is best known for her series of novels about upper-class life in England and France, particularly the four published since 1945; but she also wrote four well-received, well-researched popular biographies (of Louis XIV, Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great). She is one of the noted Mitford sisters and the first to publicise the extraordinary family life of her very English and very eccentric family, giving rise to a "Mitford industry" which continues to roll on.

U and non-U

She was an essayist in Noblesse Oblige (1956), which famously helped to popularise the famous 'U', or upper-class, and 'non-U' classification of linguistic usage and behaviour (see U and non-U English) — although this is something she saw as a tease and she certainly never took the matter seriously. However the media has frequently portrayed her as the snobbish inventor and main preserver of this usage. She is credited as editor of the book but in fact the organisation of the project was done by the publishers. One of her novels had been used by Professor Alan Ross, the actual inventor of the phrase, as an example of upper-class linguistic usage.

Letters, journalism and essays

Nancy Mitford's gift as a comic writer and her humour are evident throughout her novels and also in the many articles which she wrote for the London Sunday Times. In the 1950s and 1960s in the days before television was widespread these articles made her appear to be England's expert on aspects of life across Europe. In 1986 her niece Charlotte Mosley edited some of these works in: A Talent to Annoy; Essays, Journalism and Reviews 1929-1968. She was a noted letter-writer and her correspondence has been edited by her niece as: Love from Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford (1993) and in The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (1996); also The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73 (2004). Her letters and essays are notable for their humour, irony and cultural and social breadth.

Politically a moderate socialist, she somehow kept on good terms most of the time with her sisters, despite the extreme political views of Diana and Jessica, mainly by deploying her acerbic wit. Some of their letters are republished in The Mitfords; Letters between six sisters (2007).

Romantic life

In 1933, after a going-nowhere romance with homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St Clair-Erskine, she married The Hon. Peter Rodd, the youngest son of the 1st Baron Rennell. (Lord Rennell was a British Ambassador to Italy, a former poet, and possibly a one-time lover of Oscar Wilde according to historian Neil McKenna.) The marriage was a failure; her husband was unfaithful and couldn't keep a job; in time Nancy took over the family finances, working in a bookshop, and was unfaithful in her turn. Though the Rodds separated in 1939, they continued to see one another on a purely friendly basis, and Rodd used her Paris flat as an occasional base. She also gave him financial assistance from time to time. They were divorced in 1958 (although Nancy's surname appears as Rodd on her headstone).

The turning-point in Nancy's hitherto very English existence was her meeting with French soldier and politician Colonel Gaston Palewski (Charles de Gaulle's Chief of Staff), whom she always called 'Colonel' and with whom she had a relationship in London during the war. At the end of the Second World War she moved to Paris, to be near him. The largely one-sided affair, which inspired the romance between Linda Talbot (nee Radlett) and Fabrice de Sauveterre in Mitford's novel The Pursuit of Love, lasted fitfully until Palewski's affair with and eventual 1969 marriage to Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duchess of Sagan (1915-2003), a beautiful socialite who was the former wife of Count James de Pourtalès and a granddaughter of American railroad magnate Jay Gould.

Life in Paris and Versailles

Based in Paris in an apartment at 7 rue Monsieur, VII, Mitford had a busy social and literary life and received countless guests visiting the city. She had a huge number of friends and acquaintances in the English, French and Italian aristocracies, as well as in the international set in Paris. She travelled frequently and established a pattern of visits to country houses in England, Ireland and France as well as annual visits to Venice. Although much of her life was spent in France, she remained English to the core in her beliefs and attitudes.

Nancy Mitford's public persona was remarkable: she was invariably elegantly dressed (often by Dior or Lanvin), she lived a hectic social life, and was a well-known public personality in the United Kingdom even though she lived in Paris. She had a particular "Mitford" brand of humour which became very well known through her novels and newspaper articles and attracted a cult following. Her "teases" were famous, including a description in a Sunday Times article of Rome as a village centred on the vicarage. The posthumous publication of her letters has enhanced her reputation.

Her novels, articles and biographies gave her a long-sought financial independence. Financial concerns, and in particular the need to provide for her old age, had been (especially in earlier years) a constant interest. In 1967 she moved from Paris to 4 rue d'Artois in Versailles where she bought a house, but which isolated her from the life she had established in Paris. The owners of her Paris apartment needed it back for their children and she wanted a garden. Her friends who might visit her in Paris were dying; Evelyn Waugh in 1966. Her relationship with Palewski was cooling. From her biography of Louis XIV she also knew Versailles very well.

Awards

She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and an Officer in the French Legion of Honour in 1972. It was Palewski who formally invested her, presenting her with the latter decoration, when she was already fatally ill. She died of Hodgkin's Disease on 30 June 1973 in Versailles. Palewski was with her on the day of her death. Her remains were brought home to England and are interred in the Swinbrook Churchyard in Oxfordshire with those of her younger sisters, Unity Mitford (1914-1948), Diana, Lady Mosley (1910-2003. Jessica was cremated and scattered under the Golden Gate in San Francisco(1917-1996).

She is the subject of several biographies, including: Nancy Mitford: a Memoir by Harold Acton (1976), Nancy Mitford: A Biography by Selena Hastings (1986) and Life in a Cold Climate by Laura Thompson (2003).

Bibliography

  • Highland Fling (1931)
  • Christmas Pudding (1932)
  • Wigs on the Green (1935)
  • Pigeon Pie (1940)
  • The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • Love in a Cold Climate (1949)
  • The Blessing (1951)
  • Madame de Pompadour (1954)
  • Voltaire in Love (1957)
  • Don't Tell Alfred (1960)
  • The Water Beetle (1962)
  • The Sun King (1966)
  • Frederick the Great (1970)
  • ''In the 1930s she also edited the early Victorian letters of the family of her great-grandparents, Edward Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley and his wife Henrietta Maria, daughter of the 13th Viscount Dillon. These were published as:
  • The Ladies of Alderley Letters 1841-1850 (Hamish Hamilton, 1938)
  • The Stanleys of Alderley Their letters 1851-1865 (Chapman & Hall, 1939)
  • ''She was also the subject of a biography by Selina Hastings published by Hamish Hamilton in 1985.
  • '' She wrote the Preface to Saint-Simon at Versailles by Lucy Norton which was first published by Hamish Hamilton in 1958

Trivia

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The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by King George V. The Order includes five classes in civil and military divisions; in decreasing order of seniority, these are:
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Baron Redesdale, of Redesdale in the County of Northumberland, is a title that has been created twice, both times in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.

It was firstly created in 1802 for the lawyer and politician Sir John Freeman-Mitford.
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Louis XIV (baptised as Louis-Dieudonn̩) (September 5, 1638 РSeptember 1, 1715) ruled as King of France and of Navarre.

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Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise (later Duchesse) de Pompadour, also known as Madame de Pompadour (December 29, 1721 – April 15, 1764) was a well known courtesan and the famous mistress of King Louis XV of France.
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The Mitford family is an ancient aristocratic English family.

Origins

The family traces its origins in Northumberland back to the time of the Norman Conquest. The main family line had seats at Mitford Castle, Mitford Old Manor House and from 1828, the newly built Mitford
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U and non-U English usage, with U standing for upper class, and non-U representing the rest, were part of the terminology of popular discourse of social dialects (sociolects) in 1950s Britain and the northeast United States.
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The Mitford family is an ancient aristocratic English family.

Origins

The family traces its origins in Northumberland back to the time of the Norman Conquest. The main family line had seats at Mitford Castle, Mitford Old Manor House and from 1828, the newly built Mitford
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Lieutenant-Colonel The Honourable Peter Murray Rennell Rodd (16 April 1904 – 1968) was a younger son of Rennell Rodd, 1st Baron Rennell.

He was educated at Wellington College and Balliol College, Oxford. On 4 December 1933 he was married to the Hon.
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James Rennell Rodd, 1st Baron Rennell, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, PC (9 November 1858–26 July 1941), known as Sir Rennell Rodd before 1933, was a British diplomat, poet and politician. He served as British Ambassador to Italy during the First World War.
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Oscar Wilde

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Gaston Palewski (20 March 1901 - 3 September 1984) was a French statesman and a supporter of Charles de Gaulle.

He came to prominence as a senior officer under de Gaulle at the Free French Forces headquarters exiled in London in 1940-44.
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Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle ( ) (November 22, 1890 – November 9, 1970), in France commonly referred to as Général de Gaulle
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Jason Gould (May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892) was an American financier, who became a leading American railroad developer and speculator.

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Ville de Paris

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Motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur
(Latin: "Tossed by the waves, she does not sink")

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, as seen from the esplanade du Trocadéro.
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Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh

Evelyn Waugh, as photographed in 1940 by Carl Van Vechten
Born: September 28 1903(1903--)
London, England
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