|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2011)|
28 November 1904|
|Died||30 June 1973
|Notable work(s)||The Pursuit of Love
Love in a Cold Climate
Nancy Freeman-Mitford, CBE (28 November 1904 – 30 June 1973), styled The Hon. Nancy Mitford before her marriage and The Hon. Mrs Peter Rodd thereafter, was an English novelist and biographer, one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the inter-war years. She is best remembered for her series of novels about upper-class life in England and France, particularly the four published after 1945; but she also wrote four popular biographies (of Louis XIV, Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great).
- 1 Biography
- 2 Mitford siblings
- 3 Awards
- 4 Death and legacy
- 5 Bibliography
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
She was born at 1 Graham Street (now Graham Place) in Belgravia, London, the eldest daughter of David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale, and his wife Sydney Bowles. She was brought up at Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire. She was the eldest of the six controversial Mitford sisters and the first to publicise the extraordinary family life of her very English and very eccentric family, giving rise to a "Mitford industry" which continues.
Nancy Mitford (28 November 1904 – 30 June 1973)
Pamela Mitford (25 November 1907 – 12 April 1994)
Thomas Mitford (2 January 1909 – 30 March 1945)
Diana Mitford (17 June 1910 – 11 August 2003)
Unity Mitford (8 August 1914 – 28 May 1948)
Jessica Mitford (11 September 1917 – 22 July 1996)
Deborah Mitford (born 31 March 1920)
U and non-U
She wrote an essay in Noblesse Oblige (1956), which helped to popularise the "U", or upper-class, and "non-U" classification of linguistic usage and behaviour (see U and non-U English) — although this is something she saw as a tease and she certainly never took seriously. However, the media have frequently portrayed her as the snobbish inventor and main preserver of this usage. She is credited as editor of the book but in fact the project was organised by the publishers. One of her novels, The Pursuit of Love, had been used by Professor Alan Ross, the actual inventor of the phrase, as an example of upper-class linguistic usage.
On 4 December 1933, after a going-nowhere romance with homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St Clair-Erskine, she married the Hon. Peter Murray Rennell Rodd (nicknamed "Prod"; 16 April 1904 – 1968), the youngest son of Rennell Rodd, 1st Baron Rennell. Rodd was educated at Wellington College and Balliol College, Oxford. During the Second World War he served with the Welsh Guards as a Lieutenant-Colonel. He is now remembered as the model (along with Basil Murray) for the disreputable but brilliant Basil Seal in Evelyn Waugh's novels Black Mischief and Put Out More Flags.
The marriage was a failure; her husband was unfaithful and couldn't keep a job; in time Nancy took over the family finances, working in the bookshop G. Heywood Hill, and was unfaithful in her turn. Though the Rodds separated in 1939, they continued to see one another on a purely friendly basis, and Rodd used her Paris flat as an occasional base. She also gave him financial assistance from time to time. They were divorced in 1958 (although Nancy is described as "the wife of Peter Rodd" on her headstone).
The turning-point in Nancy's hitherto very English existence was her meeting with French soldier and politician of Polish descent Colonel Gaston Palewski  (Charles de Gaulle's Chief of Staff), whom she always called "Colonel" and with whom she had a relationship in London during the war. At the end of the Second World War she moved to Paris to be near him. The largely one-sided affair, which inspired the romance between Linda Talbot (née Radlett) and Fabrice de Sauveterre in Mitford's novel The Pursuit of Love, lasted fitfully until Palewski's affair with and eventual 1969 marriage to Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord, the Duchesse de Sagan.
Life in Paris and Versailles
Based in Paris in an apartment at 7 rue Monsieur, VII, Mitford had a busy social and literary life and received countless guests visiting the city. She had a huge number of friends and acquaintances in the English, French and Italian aristocracies, as well as in the international set in Paris. She travelled frequently and established a pattern of visits to country houses in England, Ireland and France as well as annual visits to Venice. Although much of her life was spent in France, she remained English to the core in her beliefs and attitudes.
Nancy Mitford's public persona was notable: she was invariably elegantly dressed (often by Dior or Lanvin), she lived a hectic social life, and was a well-known public personality in the United Kingdom even though she lived in Paris. She had a particular "Mitford" brand of humour which became well known through her novels and newspaper articles and attracted a cult following. Her "teases" were famous, including a description in a Sunday Times article of Rome as a village centred on the vicarage, one post office and one train station.
Her novels, articles and biographies gave her a long-sought financial independence. Financial worries, and in particular the need to provide for her old age, had been (especially in earlier years) a constant concern. In 1967 she moved from Paris to 4 rue d'Artois in Versailles where she bought a house. There were a variety of reasons for her move. The owners of her Paris apartment needed it back for their children, she wanted a garden, and her Parisian friends were dying (Evelyn Waugh in 1966). Furthermore her relationship with Palewski was cooling. From her biography of Louis XIV she knew Versailles very well, making a good choice in the relocation.
Letters, journalism and essays
Nancy Mitford's gift as a comic writer and her humour are evident throughout her novels and also in the many articles which she wrote for the London Sunday Times. In the 1950s and 1960s these articles made her appear to be England's expert on aspects of life across Europe. In 1986 her niece by marriage Charlotte Mosley edited some of these works in: A Talent to Annoy; Essays, Journalism and Reviews 1929–1968. Her letters and essays are notable for their humour, irony and cultural and social breadth. Mitford was hired by Ealing Studios to work on the script of what became Kind Hearts and Coronets, but none of her writing survived in the final film.
Politically a moderate socialist, she somehow kept on good terms most of the time with her sisters, despite the extreme political views of Diana, Jessica and Unity, mainly by deploying her acerbic wit. Some of the sisters' letters are published in The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (2007).
She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and an Officer in the French Legion of Honour in 1972. It was Palewski who formally invested her, presenting her with the latter decoration, when she was already fatally ill. She died of Hodgkin's Disease on 30 June 1973 in Versailles. Palewski was with her on the day of her death. Her remains were brought home to England and are interred in the churchyard of St Mary's parish church at Swinbrook in Oxfordshire with those of her younger sisters, Unity Mitford (1914–1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003).
Death and legacy
In her last four and a half years she endured increasing and finally unbearable pain due to cancer, which was slow to be diagnosed. She refused to complain, but the pain caused her to lose her faith in God. She died at Versailles, aged 68. She was a noted letter-writer and her correspondence has been edited by her niece as: Love from Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford (1993) and in The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (1996); also The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952–73 (2004). The posthumous publication of her letters has enhanced her reputation.
In the Angel television series' episode "She", a reference is made about a flower called "Nancy's Petticoat" and how it was named after Nancy Mitford. In reality, there is no flower named after Mitford.
- Highland Fling (1931).
- Christmas Pudding (1932).
- Wigs on the Green (1935).
- Pigeon Pie (1940).
- The Pursuit of Love (1945).
- Love in a Cold Climate (1949).
- The Blessing (1951). Full text
- Don't Tell Alfred (1960).
- The Best Novels of Nancy Mitford (1974).
- The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford (2011).
- Madame de Pompadour (1954).
- Noblesse Oblige (1956).
- Voltaire in Love (1957).
- The preface to Saint-Simon at Versailles, by Lucy Norton (1958). Full text
- The Water Beetle (1962).
- The Sun King (1966).
- Frederick the Great (1970).
- A Talent to Annoy; Essays, Journalism and Reviews 1929–1968, edited by Charlotte Mosley (1986).
Collections of Letters
- Love from Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford, edited by Charlotte Mosley (1993).
- The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley (1996).
- The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952–73, edited by John Saumarez Smith (2004).
- The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley (2007).
Works as Translator
- The Princess of Clèves, (1950).
Works as Editor
- The Ladies of Alderley: Letters 1841–1850 (1938).
- The Stanleys of Alderley: Their letters 1851–1865 (1939).
(Mitford edited these two volumes of letters, written by the family of her great-grandparents, Edward Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley and his wife Henrietta Maria, daughter of the 13th Viscount Dillon).
- "U-words are the words by whose use members of the upper class can be distinguished from the members of other classes. Pudding and false teeth are U-words; sweet and dentures are not, nor are cycle (instead of bike) and phone (instead of tele- phone). Serviette, greens (for vegetables) and mental (for mad) are quoted as other obvious `non-U indicators.'" — Fleming, Peter (1955). "Posh Lingo," The Spectator, 15 September, p. 12.
- "When I speak of these matters I am always accused of being a snob, so, to illustrate my point, I propose to quote from Professor Alan Ross of Birmingham University. Professor Ross has written a paper, printed in Helsinki in 1954, for the Bulletin de la Société Neo-philologique de Helsinki, on “Upper Class English Usage.” Nobody is likely to accuse either this learned man or his Finnish readers of undue snobbishness. The Professor, pointing out that it is solely by their language that the upper classes nowadays are distinguished (since they are neither cleaner, richer, nor better-educated than anybody else) has invented a useful formula: U (for upper class)-speaker versus non-U-speaker." — Mitford, Nancy (1955). "The English Aristocracy," Encounter, Vol. V, No. 3, pp. 5-11.
- Yagoda, Ben (2012). "The Looking-Glass vs. Mirror War: Language and Class," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 February.
- Schillinger, Liesl (2013). "The Persistence of Levity," The Daily Beast, 20 September.
- Mosley, Charlotte (2010). Introduction to Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford, Random House, p. xi.
- Stove, R. J. (2011). "Nancy Mitford’s Neocon," The American Conservative, 8 August.
- Hilton, Lisa (2011). The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
- "In 1967 Nancy moved from Paris to Versailles, and in 1968 she contracted a rare form of Hodgkin’s disease that was rooted in the spine. She spent the last years of her life in indescribable pain, a pain intensified by the long-dreaded marriage of the Colonel." — Allen, Brooke (1994). "A Talent to Delight: Nancy Mitford in her Letters," The New Criterion, Vol. XII, p. 58.
- Weisman, Steven R. (1973). "Nancy Mitford, Author, Dead; Satiric Novelist and Essayist," The New York Times, 1 July.
- Acton, Harold (1975). Nancy Mitford: A Memoir, Hamish Hamilton.
- Guinness, Jonathan; Catherine Guinness (1984). The House of Mitford, Hutchinson.
- Hastings, Selena (1985). Nancy Mitford: A Biography , Hamish Hamilton.
- Lovell, Mary S. (2010). The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family, Abacus.
- Thompson, Laura (2004). Life in a Cold Climate, Headline Book Publishing.
- Works by Nancy Mitford, at Unz.org
- Portraits of Nancy Mitford
- An Open Letter to the Hon. Mrs. Peter Rodd (Nancy Mitford)
- The Official Nancy Mitford Website
- BBC Radio 4 Great Lives Programme on Nancy Mitford
- Literary Encyclopedia: Nancy Mitford
- A Biography of Nancy Mitford by Selina Hastings.
- Nancy Mitford Spied on Sisters