If you've read The Park Bench for a while, you know about my probably unhealthy fascination with absurd personalities, the crazier the better. A friend recently introduced me to six extraordinarily bizarre women and in turn, I thought I'd share them with you. Collectively, they're known as The Mitford Sisters. Daughters of England's Lord and Lady Redesdale, the sisters grew up isolated in the Cotswalds and came of age in an era populated by the wealthy young men and women Evelyn Waugh dubbed "bright young things." Lots of partying, lots of money, lots of shallowness, not a lot of brain power. Individually, the sisters were known as Debo, Diana, Jessica, Unity, Nancy and Pamela. If you've ever read "The American Way of Death," you'll recognize Jessica's name. Apparently, she was one of the less crazy sisters. FYI, "less crazy" is a completely subjective phrase here.
First off, I'm totally a neophyte in the Mitford world. I've just picked up a few choice nuggets about the sisters, but those nuggets have deepened my belief that in-breeding among the upper classes was not an entirely bad thing because a) it stopped them from bothering the normal people and b) it resulted in sisters nicknamed Hen, Decca, Cord, Honks and Bobo. It also resulted in women who made up their own linguistic shorthand and wrote thank you notes like these:
“Thank you SO much for the HEVERN eveninger" -- referring to a heavenly evening bag -- "I even forgive you being a fascist.”
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I had to write THAT in a thank-you card!
The Mitford family was lousy with fascists, from mommy and daddy on down. One of the sisters rebelled by becoming a Communist which did NOT make her popular with the rest of gals. (And you think your Christmases are complicated!) To wit, here's a quote from a New York Times Book Review article talking about two of the sisters' devotion to Hitler:
Unity and Diana wrote gushing letters about Hitler that offer appalling insight into what some civilized people thought at the time. “Poor sweet Führer, he’s having such a dreadful time,” Unity wrote to Nancy in 1934, trying to dissuade her from publishing “Wigs on the Green,” her novel satirizing Unity’s fanaticism. She signed off as she always did in those days, with utter sincerity, “Heil Hitler! Love Bobo.”
Truly, that is one of the most disturbing yet darkly hilarious things I have ever read. In fact, as I told my friend, if it weren't for the fact that Hitler was the embodiment of evil, the phrase "Heil Hitler! Love Bobo" would make an awesome band name.
Unity actually stalked Adolf until he became her friend -- sort of like Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. And then, according to The NY Times, Unity went and "shot herself in the head when England declared war on Germany." (She survived.) That doesn't make her a very supportive friend, does it, just instantly assuming that England would beat Germany? How did she explain that to Adolf? "Well, I just assumed you'd lose so I shot myself in a show of solidarity." That God she wasn't a Cubs fan.
I bring up these nutty sisters because I'm fascinated by real life stories that prove the adage "truth is stranger than fiction" and also because I'm fascinated by people's ability to delude themselves on such a grand scale. "Heil Hitler, Love Bobo" evokes such utter disdain and disgust but at the same time, what can you do but shrug and wonder, "How does someone that stupid even learn to breathe?" And then you have to point and laugh and wonder what life was like inside that mental bubble of hers.
Truly, the world is a curious place.