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Thread: The Grave Matter of Precedence Among the Mitford Sisters

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    The Grave Matter of Precedence Among the Mitford Sisters

    The grave matter of precedence among the Mitford sisters
    The Mitford girls have become the west Oxfordshire equivalent of the Brontë sisters


    Not just a family, but a mythology: the graves themselves were less dramatic than I’d expected, with a blessed lack of signs welcoming you to “Mitford Country” Photo: Alamy

    My girlfriend and I had planned to spend a few days exploring the Cotswolds, but the blissful lassitude generated by sunshine and shortbread meant we’d barely made it out of my parents’ garden. Well, said my mother, if we couldn’t stretch to Cirencester, we should at least visit Swinbrook, so we could see the Mitford graves.

    The Mitford graves? I’d known, in a fuzzy sort of way, that the Mitfords had grown up nearby. But I wasn’t aware of their new status as the west Oxfordshire equivalent of the Brontë sisters. All I really remembered was a neighbour describing a strange, naughty group of girls, whom he hadn’t been allowed to play with because his parents didn’t want him learning (as they had from their governess) how to shoplift from Woolworths.

    Over the intervening years, however, the Mitfords have become not just a family, but a mythology. Each has her place in the cosmology: Nancy the Writer, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Nazi, Diana the Fascist, Debo the Duchess. In the gripping volume of their letters edited by Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Mosley, entries are marked not with names, but totems: hammer and sickle, swastika, quill, coronet.

    The graves themselves were less dramatic than I’d expected, with a blessed lack of signs welcoming you to “Mitford Country” (give it time…). But they did provide evidence of the sisters’ fluctuating fortunes. Debo, the sole survivor and matron of Chatsworth, is an icon of unimpeachable Englishness. Unity is the eternal symbol of the aristocracy’s flirtation, political and emotional, with Hitler. Even the quiet sister, Pamela, who devoted much of her life to rural domesticity (represented by Mosley with a faintly patronising crest of crossed spoons), is the subject of a new biography.

    But what of the eldest? On our visit, someone had left a hand-woven wreath of wild purple flowers atop Diana’s resting place. A handful had also been scattered over Unity. (it wasn't me )(shows where the people's sympathy lies though? ) For Nancy, not a petal – just a tombstone fast retreating into illegibility. It seemed a poor reward for the writer who did so much to create the Mitford myth in the first place.
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    Is the story true about Jessica and Unity Mitford sharing the same bedroom as teenagers and having an extreme sister rivalry? Apparently, one covered her side of the room in Lenin portraits and commie posters, while the other was covering hers in Hitler portraits and Nazi posters. I can't remember where I heard this story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Renwein
    A handful had also been scattered over Unity.
    Own up, Ren. It was you.

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    I was in the area last summer and detoured to pay a visit to Swinbrook. Unity and Diana had a bouquet each on their graves. There must be a steady pilgrimage of nationalists through that graveyard.

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    Hard to imagine them stealing from Woolworths.

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