Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel by Anne de Courcy

I always intend to read more biographies, but sometimes a whole book's worth of information about one person is just too much for me. (Does this mean I am frivolous and superficial? Maybe.) Unlike some, though, this book was just the right amount of personal, political, and historical detail to hold my interest but not overwhelm me. It helps that the subject, Diana Mosley, lived such a shocking life. I knew some little bits about the English aristocratic Mitford family, of whom Diana was the third sister. Long ago I read Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and knew they were semi-autobiographical. Beyond that, I was in the dark. This book clears it all up. What a bizarre family! Here are some things that really happened to Diana Mosley and her siblings:

· Diana abandoned her first husband (the wealthy heir to the Guinness brewery fortune) and their two children to take up with Oswald Mosley, founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists. At the time, Mosley was married, and was also having several affairs with other women.

· Through one of her sisters, Unity, Diana was introduced to Adolf Hitler and became his confidante. Her lifelong adulation of Hitler never abated; she defended him until her death in 2003, denying the extent of the Holocaust with bland statements about the horrors of war. Unity botched a suicide attempt at the outbreak of war and spent the rest of her life as a brain-damaged invalid with a bullet lodged in her head.

· After the death of Mosley's wife, Diana continued her affair with him. He began a simultaneous affair with his dead wife's sister. The two women (Diana and the sister-in-law) would take turns spending time with Mosley and his children at their vacation home on the Mediterranean. Eventually, Mosley broke off the affair with his sister-in-law, and he and Diana were married in Joseph Goebbels’ living room. Hitler and his entourage attended.

· Diana and Mosley were imprisoned for more than 3 years during WWII for their fascist sympathies. The people responsible for turning Diana in to the British authorities? Her sister Nancy, and her former father-in-law. Her sister Jessica, a lifelong communist, refused to speak to her for more than 30 years, but Diana and Nancy eventually reconciled and Diana nursed Nancy through a painful death from cancer.

· After her release from prison, she was universally hated in Britain (surprise surprise) and spent the rest of her life living in France.

Never a dull moment in this book! The arrogance and self-absorption of Diana and her siblings was truly astounding. It was as if they believed that regular rules of society didn't apply to them. I kept thinking that if this were a novel, no one would believe a character or events like this. The author, Anne de Courcy is no apologist for Diana and yet manages to make her interesting enough that it's not a hardship to read about her. It was a good foray into non-fiction for me.

(Book 7, 2007)
Here's a link to an interview with Anne de Courcy by NPR's Scott Simon.


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