Magazine article The Spectator

Friends and Enemies

Magazine article The Spectator

Friends and Enemies

Article excerpt

THE PURSUIT OF LAUGHTER: ESSAYS, ARTICLES AND REVIEWS by Diana Mitford, edited by Deborah Devonshire Gibson Square, £20, pp. 416, ISBN 9781906142100 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Nancy was the only one of the six Mitford sisters who, throughout her life, bitterly complained of the fact that she had not been sent to school. Her younger sister, Diana, on the other hand, dreaded the very thought of school, and when they were children it was one of Nancy's favourite teases to pretend she had overheard their parents planning to pack Diana off. 'I was talking about you to Muv and Farve, ' Nancy would begin, a wicked gleam in her eye. 'We were saying how good it would be for you to go away to school.' Luckily Diana was allowed to remain at home, where she received a first-rate education, mainly by reading widely in her father's library. The reading habit stayed with her for life. She read for hours a day in English, French and German, and when in Holloway during the war it was the scarcity of printed matter that she found one of the most painful deprivations. As she describes in The Pursuit of Laughter, a wardress occasionally did the rounds carrying a tray of books, those bound in red by far the most popular as the women prisoners used the dye as lipstick. From time to time Lord Berners and other kind friends would send her their latest publications, but most of these were 'distressingly short; a prisoner wants to look up from a book and discover that several hours have gone by unnoticed'.

During her long widowhood Diana Mosley became a regular reviewer for Books & Bookmen and the Evening Standard, and a selection of her reviews are included here. If most are too short and too ephemeral to make much impact now, they do demonstrate an impressively wide range, with articles on history and politics, on society and literary memoirs, and even on the occasional novel. There are dozens of very brief sketches of fascinating figures, from Cecil Beaton and the Duchess of Windsor to Putzi Hanfstaengl, Hitler of course, and Dr Goebbels. She is at her most entertaining, however, when having a go at one of her old enemies, Winston Churchill, who put her in jail, Duff Cooper and Harold Macmillan, with the most concentrated venom, curiously, reserved for that busy do-gooder, Violet Markham. …

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