Monday, August 22, 2016

Tangential Mitfords

I got this email this week that was a fun read--well, it would have been fun if I weren't so wholly invested in nurses and nursing thanks to The Great Betty. ;) 

Hi, Betty Keira,
Only remotely Betty-related. :o)
Since you are reading Debo's Wait for Me!, I thought you might enjoy this little bit I found, yesterday.
Jessica Mitford remained in Washington where, the previous February, she had given birth to a second daughter (the first died in infancy). During her time in the maternity ward of Columbia Hospital she organised a "bedpan strike". Angered by the callous behaviour of overworked nurses, she persuaded the entire ward to wet their beds when a nurse failed to respond to the bell. The nurses came to heel.
Well written obituary in the Telegraph, IMHO.
Betty Anonymous

Overworked nurses coming to heel... (Here I grunt disapprovingly.) Below are a couple of excerpts from the obituary: 

His second son David, Jessica's father, married Sydney, daughter of "Tap" Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. Of their children, Nancy, the eldest, won renown as a novelist; Pamela was devoted to riding and the country; Tom, the only boy, was killed in Burma in 1944; Diana married Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity fell in love with Hitler, shot herself on the declaration of the Second World War and died in 1948; and Deborah ("Debo"), the youngest, is the present Duchess of Devonshire.

I think it's interesting, and must happen to every family, that such obviously interesting people are summed up in single sentences. It is only one step away from the Spice Girls (Sporty Spice, Scary Spice, etc., etc.) 

Her writing career took off in 1960 with the publication of Hons and Rebels - at once a very funny book about English upper-class idiosyncrasy and a poignant account of her first marriage.
But it did not please everyone. "What surprised me," Evelyn Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford, "was that she not only gives a nasty impression of the people against whom she has conceived grievances, but about those she presumably loves."

This is one of the things that keeps me coming back to Betty Neels. She's kind. Not every character is worth her kindness but they all get their chances and even some of the baddies get their own happy endings--if marrying an American could ever be termed 'happy'. 


  1. Let me tell you, while on the one hand I applaud Jessica Mitford's endeavour to ease the young mothers' pressing needs, I feel bad for the poor overworked nurses and (innocent) auxiliaries who had to change the sheets. And poor Sister - what with the laundry cutting up rough about extra sheets...

    1. Yes, exactly! What a poor time of it the nurses must have had that week.

  2. And Decca was usually a great supporter of the oppressed -- though I must say I think all the Mitfords could be, and often were, entirely ruthless in pursuit of their own goals. I disagree with Waugh, though; I though 'Hons and Rebels' was delightful, and that she seemed to like all her family and friends very much. But the subtle nuances of English upper-class expression are way far beyond me.

    -Betty van den Betsy