Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Review of The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life by Lyndsy Spence

There were perhaps no more notorious sisters of the 20th Century than the Mitford sisters. The oldest of them mingled with the Bright Young Things of 1920's London. The youngest of them came of age in Britain during the later interwar years. Some of the Mitfords would go onto considerable acclaim for their various works, while others would find themselves condemned for political beliefs many found abhorrent. The children of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles, the Mitford girls were beautiful, intelligent, eccentric, and often controversial. They could never be accused of being boring.

The Mitford sisters' fame and notoriety would lead to what to what around 1979 the London Evening Standard termed "the Mitford Industry". If anything, since 1979 the Mitford Industry has only grown, with literally hundreds of books and documentaries about the sisters, and even a musical (The Mitford Girls by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherri). This year has seen a new addition to the many books published as part of the Mitford Industry, The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life by Lyndsy Spence.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is an original, unique, and whimsical take on the Mitford sisters. It is written in the form of a self help book, showing how the life experiences of the Mitfords may be applied to our own lives. There are such sections as Nancy's Guide to Fashion, The Mitfords' Guide to Funerals, and Pamela's Household Hints and Tips. The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life tells how one can throw a jubilee party, take a holiday in winter, conduct oneself at a shooting party, and even speak like a Mitford. Miss Spence delivers these bits of advice on how to behave as a Mitford with a good deal of wit and humour, making the book both amusing and very readable.

While humour is at the forefront in The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life, that does not mean it is a book that lacks depth. Miss Spence has clearly done her research and it shows. The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is then not simply a humorous look at possibly the most famous sisters of the 20th Century, but also a very good overview of the sisters and their lives. Indeed, the book includes summaries on each sister, as well as individuals' personal recollections of the sisters themselves. The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life also has one of the most extensive bibliographies I have ever seen, and could prove most useful as a guide to books for those who wish to read more about the Mitfords.

Not only is The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life a very readable book, but it is also a very attractive one as well. Tessa Simpson's illustrations of the Mitfords on the cover evoke the famous sketches of the girls by Sir Harold Acton, while at the same time having a personality all their own. History Press also provided the book with such nice touches as special glyphs for the various sections  There are little hangars for Nancy's Guide to Fashion, little rifles for the Mitford's Guide to a Shooting Party, and so on. There are also several never before seen photos of the Mitford family over the years.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is an amusing and very entertaining volume that those who are interested in the Mitfords will find as a welcome addition to their library. At the same time, however, Lyndsy Spence gives us a wonderful overview of the sisters with considerable insight into their lives. This also makes The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life an excellent introduction to anyone new to studying the Mitford sisters. In the end, The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is not simply a book for those who are already familiar with the famous sisters, but anyone with an interest in the history of 20th Century Britain.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the History Press, and other fine books sellers. 

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