- Jessica Lucy ‘Decca’ Freeman-Mitford was one of the six legendary Mitford Sisters — caricatured by The Times journalist Ben Macintyre as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur”.
- In this very well-connected aristocratic family, Jessica was known as the “red sheep”.
- Both Jessica and her sister Nancy wrote about their childhoods, in Hons and Rebels and The Pursuit of Love / Love In A Cold Climate respectively.
- When Jessica was 12, she opened a ‘Running Away’ bank account. She would add to this fund by, for example, selling her removed appendix to her sister Deborah (the future Duchess of Devonshire).
- She discovered Communism at a young age, allegedly as a reaction against her sister Diana’s admiration for Fascism. Legend has it they would compete to decorate their childhood bedrooms with Hitler / Stalin.
- At 19 she eloped to Spain with her second cousin, who had just returned from fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
- This prompted the foreign secretary (and future prime minister) Anthony Eden to telegraph the British Consul with the words: “Find Jessica Mitford and persuade her to return.”
- The reply came back: “Have found Jessica Mitford, impossible to persuade her to return.”
- A naval destroyer was then sent to retrieve her. This also failed.
- Her sister Diana became the mistress and then husband of the leader of the British Union of Fascists: Oswald Mosley.
- Her sister Unity became a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.
- (Technically a Unity Mitford fact, but is it any surprise she was such an admirer of Adolf Hitler when she was given the middle name of Valkyrie?)
- Jessica’s husband died in the Second World War, and she later married an American civil rights lawyer (Robert Treuhaft).
- When the Mosleys were released from prison in 1943 she wrote to Winston Churchill: “They should be kept in jail, where they belong.”
- When living in the United States, she and her husband were invited to join the US Communist Party. She replied “We thought you’d never ask!”
- She got into trouble with the Party when she promoted a women’s caucus event with a poster promising “Girls! Girls! Girls!”
- Jessica and Robert eventually left the Communist Party to concentrate on their work for the Civil Rights movement.
- In addition to writing books such as Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking and Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business, she had a publishing hit with her exposé on dirty tricks in the funeral industry: The American Way of Death.
- She also had a band — “Decca and the Dectones” (a cowbell and kazoo orchestra) — in which she was the singer.
- Her band once supported Cyndi Lauper, and there is a recording of her singing Right Said Fred with Maya Angelou.
- J.K. Rowling considers Jessica Mitford to be “my most influential writer”, and named her daughter after her.
- Jessica Mitford died of lung cancer aged 78. Her funeral cost $533.31.
(Who was neither, but I’m just being deliberately oblique.)
When I was around 20 I studied popular music at Liverpool University, and I first learnt about Punk. I’d been aware of it for years, but never really got it. So I learnt about the New York Dolls and Television and CBGBs, and the Damned and Souixie and the Banshees and the Sex Pistols. And I learnt about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon. Sid and Nancy. (more…)