Not the whole Birthday Books list just yet, but shall tease you with the biggest one of the lot, to whet the appetite. I knew this one was coming, as I’d not-too-subtly suggested it as a present option from my library colleagues Lucy and Clare, who have become very good friends in the two months I’ve known them. Both bookish types, and great fun as well.
So, it was without surprise, but with great delight, that I unwrapped The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley. They’d also sneaked in another book – more on that when you get the full rundown – today is just about Nancy and co. My previous acquiantance with the sisters consists only of The Pursuit of Love, and 10, Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill. Even so, they’ve been on the horizon for most of my life, and I was keen to get my mitts on this beautiful collection of letters.
Haven’t finished (come on, my birthday was only a few days ago!) – in fact, only read the introduction so far, but that was enough to make me want to post about it. Charlotte Mosley explains that the book only represents a small fragment of the extant letters – and only three ‘links’ between sisters are unrepresented at all by surviving letters. My A Level Maths has to be dusted off here – if there are six sisters, each of whom can write to each other… call sisters ‘x’… carry one… divide by the number you first thought of… I think that gives 30 possible letter-routes (taking, say Diana-to-Pamela as distinct from Pamela-to-Diana) and thus 27 combinations covered in the book. Phew! What an amazing collection. Might be a bit tricky to keep track of who’s who, writing to whom, what their relationship is (in terms of temperament – obviously they’re all sisters), but thankfully there are mini-biogs and symbols in a family tree for each of them. The symbols are quite amusing, actually – while Nancy gets a ink-stand and quill, Jessica has her life summarised by a hammer and sickle. Reminds me of The Carbon Copy’s version of Scissor, Rock, Paper, entitled Hammer, Sickle, Stalin.
Anyway, where was I?
With so many letters from which to choose, chances are the most pertinent and entertaining will be here. There’s something to be said for comprehensive editions, but they can be a bit difficult to wade through – for instance, Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary was much more palatable than Volume One of the unedited thing. I’ll let you know more choice excerpts as I read through – I think this is going to be one I read a small portion from at the end of the day, and may take me til next birthday to finish – so shall just finish with one.
‘I had letters from you & the Lady [Nancy] & Henderson [Jessica] today, wouldn’t it be dread if one had a)no sisters b)sisters who didn’t write.’ [Deborah to Diana]
For you and us both, Debs!