Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford by Jessica Mitford

By Jessica Mitford

“Decca” Mitford lived a larger-than-life existence: born into the British aristocracy—one of the recognized (and occasionally notorious) Mitford sisters—she ran away to Spain throughout the Spanish Civil conflict along with her cousin Esmond Romilly, Winston Churchill’s nephew, then got here to the USA, grew to become a tireless political activist and a member of the Communist get together, and launched into an excellent profession as a memoirist and muckraking journalist (her funeral-industry exposé, The American means of Death, grew to become an rapid classic). She used to be a celebrated wit, a charmer, and all through her existence a prolific and passionate author of letters—now accrued here.

Decca’s correspondence crackles with irreverent humor and mischief, and with acute perception into human habit (and misbehavior) that attests to her beneficiant adventure of the worlds of politics, the humanities, journalism, publishing, and low and high society. this is correspondence with everybody from Katharine Graham and George Jackson, Betty Friedan, leave out Manners, Julie Andrews, Maya Angelou, Harry Truman, and Hillary Rodham Clinton to Decca’s sisters the Duchess of Devonshire and the novelist Nancy Mitford, her mom and dad, her husbands, her little ones, and her grandchildren.

In a profile of J.K. Rowling, The day-by-day Telegraph (UK), acknowledged, “Her favourite drink is gin and tonic, her least favourite nutrition, journey. Her heroine is Jessica Mitford.”

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A few more words about the nature of my approach to editing these letters: Ellipses generally indicate either the omission of duplicative or ephemeral material that would be of no interest to the contemporary reader or cuts made to reduce long letters to publishable size. Countless times in her hyperactive correspondence, Decca told the same story to different people, sometimes even in the same words. By and large, those duplications have been omitted. The ones that remain are there for what seem important reasons, often because the repetition shows Decca’s obsession with a subject or because small variations in a story appear to reveal something important about her relationship with her correspondents.

The organization for which she labored so single-mindedly was indeed earnest; it was also theoretical and ideological—Decca considered herself nominally a Stalinist at the time—but most of her party activities were far from rigid or abstract. She cared deeply for society’s victims, as individuals, not concepts, and tirelessly championed their rights. With her husband, for example, she defended a penniless, orphaned black “shoeshine boy” named Jerry Newson who was wrongly accused of murder, continuing to defend him for decades, long after his imprisonment would have ended most advocates’ involvement.

Decca said that her “first words” to Romilly were to ask him to take her to Spain with him. He agreed, and over the following days they began plotting secret preparations and inventing a plausible cover story for the escape on which Decca had been intent since the age of eleven. The funds she had accumulated in her “running away account” were critical to the success of the venture. The plot they spun out entailed a series of fictitious letters to Decca’s family, beginning with one to Decca herself from her friends and fellow debutantes “the Paget twins,” Celia and Mamaine, inviting her to visit them in France.

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