AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Riveting. The Six captures all the wayward magnetism and levity that have enchanted countless writers without neglecting the tragic darkness of many of the sisters’ life choices and the savage sociopolitical currents that fueled them.” – Tina Brown, The New York Times Book Review
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire.
They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as “bright young things” in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the stark—and very public—differences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade.
The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous lives—recounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompson—hold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII. The Six was previously published as Take Six Girls.
English writer Thompson (A Different Class of Murder) reveals how the six "posh-feral" Mitford sisters (the oldest of whom was born in 1904) became British cultural touchstones through their unabashed devotion to their respective causes including fascism, Communism, and Elvis Presley allowing them to embody the breadth of 20th-century conflicts within one remarkable aristocratic family. Thompson astutely compares wry contemporary assessments and countless often-brutal newspaper articles on the Mitford daughters to self-sufficient Nancy's more benign fictional version and expat Jessica's heavily embellished tell-all. With a reliance on sometimes-intrusive amateur psychology and an initially scattered chronology, this book reads more like an examination of personalities and sibling interplay than a traditional narrative; Pam's penchant for the rural life means that she barely registers, but the obsessive Unity and heedless Diana leap off the page. Deborah, the most conventional, remained firmly of the upper class, becoming the Duchess of Devonshire. Thompson proves her case that the fearless siblings helped shape one another, sometimes through encouragement, but also through sharp barbs and betrayal, leading to extremism in an already highly politicized era. Non-British readers may take longer to understand the sisters' lasting appeal, but Thompson successfully shows how this group of six captured the zeitgeist by being utterly committed and completely "shame-free." B&w photos.
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