“P.S If you should happen to find room in your paper for this letter, please print my name in full. I do not want my letter initialled ‘U.M’, for everyone should know that I am a Jew-hater”.

by

I am thoroughly enjoying Unity Mitford: A Quest.

It’s not necessary to have a degree in psychology to work out that Unity Mitford was more than a little bit loco. The quote used as the title of this post comes from a letter Unity wrote to the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer in which she complained of British complacency over the “Jewish-problem”.

Growing up in an immensely posh family with five sisters – who were variously more intelligent, better looking, or just nicer than she was – seems to have installed a strange sort of rebelliousness in her.

Whilst it was certainly unusual for a young aristocratic woman to become involved in radical politics, her enthusiastic fascism was hardly a rejection of her family’s values and privileged status like her younger sister Jessica‘s communism was. Plus her adopted ideology did not even make her unique amongst the sisters considering that her older sister Diana married the British fash bigwig Oswald Mosley.

Putting aside her odious politics for a moment, Unity was still a strange ‘un. She had a reputation for taking her pets ‘Ratular the rat’ and ‘Enid the grass snake’ to debutante dances in order to shock the other guests. Her love of pranks and general boisterousness led to her being expelled from school. She clearly had issues with conforming to social norms and respecting authority (perhaps ironic for someone who ended up a devout fascist!).

It seems like she was destined to end up a Nutzi. One of her father’s early investments had been a gold mine at a place called Swastika in Canada. Unity apparently insisted that she had been conceived in Swastika.  

Pryce-Jones indulges in some speculation as to what brought about Unity’s infatuation with angry men wearing uniforms,  but don’t pick up this book and expect sophisticated psychoanalysis. The long and short of it is: she was a spoilt, stupid rich girl for whom life was too easy and boring, but she was living in exciting and turbulent times, so she embraced an increasingly popular political creed which explained the world in simple terms and offered her a sense of adventure, blagh blagh blagh.  

It’s the cataloguing of Unity’s repulsive fascist-praising behaviour that really keeps the reader interested.

Jessica Mitford told Pryce-Jones that as teenagers she and Unity would sometimes talk of “what would happen in a revolutionary situation. 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”. Far from normal sisterly banter!

Unity would take great delight in telling dinner party guests how she had once met an elderly peasant woman with a heavy bundle of sticks on her back who had asked her the way to the nearest train station. Because this woman had an air of  Jewishness about her, Unity pointed her in the exact opposite direction to the train station. At this point the guests were expected to laugh.

On one occasion Unity was staying in an acquaintance’s country house and disturbed the host’s peaceful afternoon by shooting at bottles in the garden with a pistol. When asked why she was doing this, she informed him that she needed shooting practice for killing Jews.

After initially idolising Mosley, Unity became obsessed with Adolf Hitler. She found out that one of the Fuhrer’s favourite restaurants was the Osteria Bavaria in Munich so she would go there everyday for lunch. Eventually her stalkerish-plan worked: Hitler twigged onto the fact that there was a tall Aryan English girl staring at him whenever he lunched at the Osteria, so he invited her over for a chat.  

This was the start of their friendship. He would give her frontrow seats at Nazi rallies. She would tell him how great his speeches were. Plus she would inform Hitler about anyone criticising him behind his back.

Her story is at once fascinating and disturbing.      

One aspect of the book that makes me especially nauseous is the tendency of people to refer to Unity as ‘Bobo’. This was the nickname her family gave her and inexplicably people kept calling her ‘Bobo’ even when the whole world knew her as a Hitler-loving freak. Family friends regail to Pryce-Jones tales of, for example, ‘Bobo’ going on a cruise holiday and insisting on wearing her blackshirt uniform and swastika badge. 

I imagine that reading about Nick Griffin having a childhood nickname like ‘Hugglepants’ or ‘Sir Cuddlelot’ would be equally weird.

Anyway, I have only got up to 1936 so I’m sure there’s a lot more craziness to come. 

I’m looking forward to reading about how the British upper-classes eventually decided that Unity’s fascist-supporting antics and disgusting outbursts of anti-semitism meant that she had to be collectively condemned, or at least excluded from their balls and luncheons. But I’m not holding my breath.

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