Hons and Rebels
by Jessica Mitford, introduction by Christopher Hitchens
Jessica Mitford, the great muckraking journalist, was part of a legendary English aristocratic family. Her sisters included Nancy, doyenne of the 1920s London smart set and a noted novelist and biographer; Diana, wife to the English fascist chief Sir Oswald Mosley; Unity, who fell head over in heels in love with Hitler; and Deborah, later the Duchess of Devonshire. Jessica swung left and moved to America, where she took part in the civil rights movement and wrote her classic exposé of the undertaking business, The American Way of Death.
Hons and Rebels is the hugely entertaining tale of Mitford’s upbringing, which was, as she dryly remarks, “not exactly conventional… Debo spent silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen’s face when it is laying an egg… . Unity and I made up a complete language called Boudledidge, unintelligible to any but ourselves, in which we translated various dirty songs (for safe singing in front of the grown-ups).” But Mitford found her family’s world as smothering as it was singular and, determined to escape it, she eloped with Esmond Romilly, Churchill’s nephew, to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. The ensuing scandal, in which a British destroyer was dispatched to recover the two truants, inspires some of Mitford’s funniest, and most pointed, pages.
A family portrait, a tale of youthful folly and high-spirited adventure, a study in social history, a love story, Hons and Rebels is a delightful contribution to the autobiographer’s art.
More than an extremely amusing autobiography...she has evoked a whole generation. Her book is full of the music of time.
— Sunday Times
Stunning. Reads like extravagantly mannered fiction, except that it is all fabulously true...Miss Mitford is at once touching and wildly funny, and there is not one of her highly coloured characters that is not violently alive and uncomfortably kicking.
...[T]he story of Jessica Mitford's struggles makes tumultous and rewarding reading, and I recommend it heartily.
— Elizabeth Janeway, The New York Times
[Mitford] has a most unusual talent for recapturing the past....There is a feeling of immediacy, as if it were all being written on the spot, at the time, by the teen-ager it was happening to. It is a fascinating book.
— New York Herald Tribune
The admitted "rich vein of lunacy" in the Mitford family apparently has done nothing to dim the brilliance of its members among whom Jessica must be included. Although there's a strong undercurrent of seriousness throughout the book, it's submerged under downright hilariousness, crackling brash humor and enchanting turns-of-the-phrase.
— San Francisco Chronicle
Jessica Mitford (the fifth of the Mitford daughters) has brought a whole generation back to life in her autobiography....She tells the whole story of her rebellion...with engaging frankness and a spirited, often humorous, enthusiasm.
— Richard McLaughlin, Springfield Republican
Jessica tells her tale with girlish gush, brilliantly preserved a generation after the events...