Magazine article The Spectator

Playing Follow My Leader

Magazine article The Spectator

Playing Follow My Leader

Article excerpt


by Jan Daley

Faber, 20, pp. 289

Diana Mosley has turned heads all her life. Indeed, her fantastic cheekbones, classic nose and huge eyes casting their famous `blue blank' stare have marked her out, even in her 90th year, as one of the great beauties of our age. Her charm is equal to her looks, combining wit, intelligence and artistic sensibility. Yet dark shadows have stained the image of this ravishing creature, transforming her life into a tale of passion and retribution worthy of opera.

Born in 1910, the fourth child of Sydney and David Mitford, the young Diana grew up in their now famous households at Asthall and Swinbrook, which echoed to 'Farve's' rages, her sister Nancy's teases, and the whispered conversations of the 'Hons' Cupboard'. Married at 18 to Bryan Guinness, the good-looking and immensely rich poet-heir to Lord Moyne, she soon conquered London society. Even Bloomsbury, in the persons of Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, succumbed to her charm. Her large house in Buckingham Street became a haven for Bryan's most amusing friends, notably Evelyn Waugh, who was half in love with her, Robert Byron, Henry Yorke, John Betjeman and Harold Acton.

Then, at the age of 22, she sacrificed all her social and worldly success to become the lover of the Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley. Their marriage, four years later, took place in the `ordinary middle-class drawing-room' of Dr Joseph Goebbels. Apart from the witnesses and Goebbels himself, the only guest was Diana's good friend Adolf Hitler. But Nemesis was waiting in the wings. During Britain's darkest hour, in 1940, Diana was thrown into Holloway, an experience made more traumatic by separation from her unweaned son, Max. Released in 1943, the Mosleys remained under house arrest until the end of the war. From the mid-1950s they settled in France, where Lady Mosley lives to this day.

In writing this semi-authorised biography, Jan Dalley was granted numerous interviews by Lady Mosley, but denied access to her unpublished letters and diaries, as well as to those of her immediate family. Inevitably, Miss Dalley has had to rely on the many excellent published accounts available, primarily the works of Nicholas Mosley, Robert Skidelsky, Jonathan and Catherine Guinness, and Lady Mosley's own writings. The result is a cleverly constructed synthesis lit by the occasional penetrating insight, but the lack of original source material takes its toll. More often than not, Lady Mosley's voice, and hence her personality, is drowned by more vocal characters in the story, the loudest and most histrionic of all, of course, being Sir Oswald Mosley. …

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