Jessica Mitford, the great muckraking journalist, was part of a legendary English aristocratic family. Her sisters included Nancy, doyenne of the 1920s London smart set and a noted novelist and biographer; Diana, wife to the English fascist chief Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity, who fell head over in heels in love with Hitler; and Deborah, later the Duchess of Devonshire. Jessica swung left and moved to America, where she took part in the civil rights movement and wrote her classic exposé of the undertaking business, The American Way of Death
.Hons and Rebels
is the hugely entertaining tale of Mitford's upbringing, which was, as she dryly remarks, “not exactly conventional. . . Debo spent silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen's face when it is laying an egg. . . . Unity and I made up a complete language called Boudledidge, unintelligible to any but ourselves, in which we translated various dirty songs (for safe singing in front of the grown-ups).” But Mitford found her family's world as smothering as it was singular and, determined to escape it, she eloped with Esmond Romilly, Churchill's nephew, to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. The ensuing scandal, in which a British destroyer was dispatched to recover the two truants, inspires some of Mitford's funniest, and most pointed, pages.
A family portrait, a tale of youthful folly and high-spirited adventure, a study in social history, a love story, Hons and Rebels
is a delightful contribution to the autobiographer's art.