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Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford
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Hons and Rebels (original 1960; edition 2010)

by Jessica Mitford (Author)

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7571312,258 (4)71
Member:katylit
Title:Hons and Rebels
Authors:Jessica Mitford (Author)
Info:Folio Society
Collections:Your library, To read
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Tags:non-fiction, autobiography, Folio Society, slip case, British

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Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford (1960)

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Part one of her memoirs, focusing on the early years of her life. As completely enjoyable and obssessively readable as part two and a nice change of pace from my recent reading.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
According to Mitford, the Society of Hons that she and her sisters formed derived not from their aristocratic titles (Honourable) but from the Hens the family kept (the H of Hons is pronounced, as in Hens). Her autobiography is an enthralling picture of some of the real people behind the characters in Nancy Mitford's novels. The Mitfords were minor aristocracy, the family headed by larger-than-life Lord Redesdale, who seems to have hated just about everyone. Neither he nor his wife believed in educating girls beyond what was necessary to make them marriageable and capable of running a household. The girls, however, had other ideas. Nancy, of course, is well-known for her novels, and Diana largely for marrying Oswald Mosley.

Jessica and Unity, however, became interested in politics. They were deeply divided, Unity throwing in her lot with the Fascists, Jessica finding an affinity with the Communists. Though it's hard, in view of her privileged background, not to sympathise with those who teased her for being a 'Ballroom Communist', Jessica was sincere in her espousal of Socialism. She gives us a very visual description of the room she shared with Unity in the family home - "We divided it down the middle, and [Unity] decorated her side with Fascist insignia of all kinds - the Italian 'fasces', a bundle of sticks bound with rope; photographs of Mussolini framed in passe-partout; photographs of Mosley trying to look like Mussolini; the new German swastika, a record collection of Nazi and Italian youth songs. My side was fixed up with my Communist library, a small bust of Lenin purchased for a shilling in a second-hand shop, a file of Daily Workers. Sometimes we would barricade with chairs and stage pitched battles, throwing books and records until Nanny came to tell us to stop the noise." As time passed, their differences hardened, to the point where Jessica remarks that "We both agreed we'd simply have to be prepared to fight on opposite sides, and even tried to picture what it would be like if one day one of us had to give the order for the other's execution."

Jessica ran away from home to join her cousin Esmond, whom she admired and quickly fell in love with. They lived a rather nomadic existence, living in France for a while before returning to live in London. Politically they come across as rather naive. Jessica clearly had no idea about some of the basic realities of living - "No one had ever explained to me that you had to pay for electricity..."; but it's impossible not to feel Jessica's sorrow when her 4-month-old baby died from complications following measles - "the day after the baby was buried we left for Corsica. There we lived for three months in the welcome unreality of a foreign town, shielded by distance from the sympathy of friends, returning only when the nightmare had begun to fade."

Her loathing for Unity's politics were complicated by the fact that Unity was the sister she loved best. When Unity returned home from Germany, having botched a suicide attempt on the outbreak of war, Jessica felt great sorrow and tried to reconcile her love for her sister with Unity's alliance with 'those grinning beasts and their armies of robot goose-steppers'. I think she's right when she says "It is perhaps futile to interpret the actions of another - one may be so completely wrong", and her explanation of Unity's suicide attempt as 'a sort of recognition of the extraordinary contradictions in which she found herself' doesn't quite convince.

This volume of autobiography ends at the point when England is plunged into WW2, although there is a poignant footnote stating that her husband 'was killed in action in November 1941, at the age of twenty-three'. [August 2004]
  startingover | Feb 2, 2011 |
It's quite surprising that I hadn't read this book before - as I have become a little addicted to reading about the mad bad Mitfords. This is a really well written, funny memoir from one of those infamous sisters. If anyone asked me who my favourite Mitford was it would be Nancy every time, the most fascinating was Diana, but the one I would have most likely liked in real life - would have been Jessica. Her warmth and likability come across strongly in this book, and she was able to poke gentle fun at herself, at the same time.
The early part of the book which recounts the so often told story of the Mitfords growing up at Swinbrook was my favourite part of the book. The stories are a little different however, because of course Jessica was quite a bit younger than Nancy, Pam, Tom and Diana, and so the stories involving her, Unity and Debo are not quite the ones we know and which were told so well by Nancy. In other books I have read about the Mitfords, I had never really got a feeling for Esmond Romilly, Decca's first husband, but here he is portrayed faithfully and of course with real affection. An excellent memoir, which I am immediately adding to mypermanent collection of books. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Dec 31, 2010 |
Although I enjoyed her writing style and found her views of events in the 30's interesting, I couldn't help being embarrassed for the author's attempts to make her audience take her as a serious rebel. She comes off like a spoiled rich girl who pretends to be a communist, finds lying and stealing humorous and doesn't realize that others find her actions lacking in character and tiring. Despite this the book provides a look back at events in England during the 30's. ( )
1 vote Just1MoreBook | Oct 24, 2010 |
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To Constancia Romilly (The Donk)
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The Cotswold country, old and quaint, ridden with ghosts and legends, is today very much on the tourist route.
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"Hons and Rebels" was the original title, but I think the original US publisher changed it to "Daughters and Rebels." These titles refer to the same book.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0575400048, Paperback)

First published in 1960, Jessica Mitford's autobiography is an account of the enclosed and eccentric childhood through which Nancy, Diana, Pam, Unity, Decca, and Debo lived. In writing of their upbringing between the wars, she also writes of her own commitment to communism and of her elopement to the Spanish Civil War with Esmond Romilly.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:25 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"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 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 expose of the undertaking business, The American Way of Death." "Hons and Rebels is the tale of Mitford's upbringing. 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 Wr. 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 contribution to the autobiographer's art."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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