A Mitford Teaser and some Dorothy Whipple

Another Tuesday Teaser, this time from Jessica Mitford’s delightful Hons and Rebels, which I will be reviewing on May 20 for the Spotlight Series tour of NYRB Classics.

(Annoyingly enough, Debo had the looks to be almost any heroine, tragic or romantic, she would want to choose. She had the right figure for it, beautifully thin and long-legged, the pallor, the huge eyes, the straight yellow hair — she could have had her pick, from Joan of Arc to National Velvet to Anna Karenina — but since she hardly ever read anything but Sporting Life she obviously didn’t realize what she was missing.)

I don’t usually read memoirs, but this account of the eccentric Mitford family is excellent.

As well, since I promised to share some of the unrepublished (?) Dorothy Whipple novel Every Good Deed that I found at my library, here’s a taste:

Miss Emily, sitting by the open window in a flowered silk dress and mushroom hat wreathed with white roses, had no experience of bad women, quiet or otherwise, but she nodded as if she had plenty. Miss Emily cherished several delusions about herself. She imagined, for instance, that she knew all about the seamy side of life, all about children, that she was a woman of authority, very firm, a good manager of other people. The truth was that, like her sister, she was gentle and innocent, naive and romantic.

If they could have laughed at themselves, it would have helped, but good and sweet-natured though they were, perhaps the Miss Tophams had a restricted sense of humour… Tired though they were, however, they never let themselves off. They toiled earnestly at whatever came their way. They persevered to the end. They saw things through. This was one of their outstanding qualities. Or it may have been a defect? Perhaps it is a bad thing not to know when to give up?

Because the situation would have been difficult for them in Gwen’s circumstances, they thought it must be difficult for Gwen. The Miss Tophams were continually reconstructing people in their own image. No matter how often other people proved themselves to be entirely different from the Miss Tophams, the Miss Tophams, though shaken, sometimes considerably, at the moment of proving, obstinately started building them up again before long, sure that they must really be what they themselves were.

Every Good Deed is about a pair of middle-aged sisters desperately trying to do all the right things like lots of volunteer work for poor children, but being taken in by the manipulative Gwen they bring into their home… It’s an unusual look at well-meaning behaviour gone wrong, because there are no limits to it.

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12 thoughts on “A Mitford Teaser and some Dorothy Whipple

    • Carolyn (afewofmyfavouritebooks) says:

      I’ve only read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, which I quite loved, I think she’s the closest to Jane Austen’s humour of anyone I’ve ever read. I’d like to read Love in a Cold Climate too and reading Hons & Rebels only makes me more interested in their strange and talented family! I looked at a collection of the sisters’ letters, but all the nicknames they use and trying to keep straight who is who (the fascist? which fascist? the duchess? the communist? the writer? the regular one?) made it all very confusing. Reading this memoir seems to be helping with that.

  1. Mrs.B. says:

    Oh, I loved Hons and Rebels which I read last year. Love those Mitfords!

    And what a teaser! It’s the best one ever. I love Dorothy Whipple and have read most of her novels but unfortunately not this one. Oh, if only Persephone would republish this!

    • Carolyn (afewofmyfavouritebooks) says:

      It’s interesting how some of the Mitfords were interested in literature (obviously Nancy, but also Jessica, she writes about meeting Evelyn Waugh as a kid) and some of the others weren’t at all.

      My library doesn’t have any of the new republished Whipples, just the old unavailable ones.

  2. Aarti says:

    What a great teaser! I have never read any Whipple OR any of the Mitfords, but I too think the Mitfords are fascinating. Jessica Mitford of funeral home expose fame had a large role in this great non-fiction book I recently read, The Eyes of Willie McGee. I really liked her after reading that book, and I highly recommend it even if she’s not a main character πŸ™‚

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