Monday, April 23, 2012

Hons and Rebels

After having enjoyed reading The Sisters, a biography of the Mitford sisters, it was a pleasure to revisit some of the same territory in the memoir Hons and Rebels. While The Sisters weaves together the lives of all six Mitford girls, Hons and Rebels follows the thread of just one-- Jessica ("Decca"), the second youngest and arguably the most interesting of the sisters.

The first half of the memoir covers many of the same anecdotes as The Sisters, painting a vivid picture of life growing up in the midst of an eccentric aristocratic family. The two books begin to diverge when Decca reaches her teens. After witnessing two of her older sisters embrace Fascism during the pre-WWII years, Decca breaks with the rest of her mostly conservative family and turns to Communism. Joining forces with Esmond Romilly, the left leaning nephew of Winston Churchill whom she eventually marries, Decca runs away to Spain to join in their civil war, spends time living and working in some of the poorer environs of London, and finally emigrates to America.

Decca's remembrances of her earliest years in America is where Hons and Rebels really shines. She and Esmond walk an interesting line as they travel from city to city around the U.S. The social introductions they wrangle out of their British friends and family allow them to hobnob with an array of wealthy and influential Americans. At the same time, they live in humble apartments and take on whatever jobs they can get to pay their bills. Their life among the lower and middle American classes is due as much to their lack of funds as it is to their left leaning social interests.  Decca writes with a self deprecating humor about her misapprehensions as she struggled to reconcile British and American culture during those years, including  naive errors like expecting cookies to be small cakes baked into the shape of cooks, with hats and aprons piped on with icing.

Not long after these years, Esmond will be killed in battle while serving with the Canadian army. Decca will eventually go on to make a name for herself as a journalist and will get involved with the American Civil Rights movement. Hons and Rebels ends well before these tragedies and changes take place. It covers a short, seemingly charmed period in Decca's life in a way that makes for a charmingly vivid read that's a must for any fan of the Mitfords.

1 comment:

  1. sounds interesting! I've been looking for a new book - I'll check this one out!



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