Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review - Diana Mitford's A Life of Contrasts

A Life of Contrasts: An Autobiography by Diana Mitford
Published by: Gibson Square Books
Publication Date: 1977
Format: Paperback, 281 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Diana Mitford felt stifled in her life with her family. When she went to Paris she got a sense of the enormity of the world and how she was admired for her beauty and wit. As soon as she could she made a prosperous marriage to the heir of the Guinness fortune and started her life surrounded by artists and poets and writers to fill the void she felt in her life. Yet this wasn't her true calling. Her true calling was to Oswald Mosley, the dynamic and married politician who founded the British Union of Fascists. She left her husband for him and spent her life dedicated to his causes and his happiness. They did eventually marry in Germany with Hitler as one of the only guests at the ceremony, which was one of the reasons they spent much of the war in prison. In A Life of Contrasts, Diana finally tells us her side of the story that captured headlines and made her one of the most memorable to those very notable Mitford sisters.  

Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford, had said of Diana in a review of her memoirs that she "lacked a dimension." I can think of no more perfect an insult than this for a woman who in her own writing comes across as a shallow, unfocused, self-centered, self-impressed, socialite. She is one dimensional, never bothering with anything below the surface. In fact, if you were to scratch her, I bet there would be more surface below the surface. Apparently being "the most glamorous Mitford Sister" means being the most superficial. Before reading about her life in her own words I wasn't predisposed to like her based on what I knew, but after reading Mary S. Lovell's book The Sisters, I was willing to give Diana the benefit of doubt. I was fully willing to let Diana surprise me with insights and details to the events of her life. To hear more about her feelings and thoughts on her marriages. But none of this presented itself. She had no depth coupled with a scattered writing style wherein she would change the subject every paragraph and sometimes every sentence. She never picked a thought and stuck with it unless it was to parrot Walter Mosley's ideologies to such an extent that I was made sick to my stomach and she literally disgusted me as a human being. I was left with the distinct feeling that the world would have been a better place without her in it, because really, what good did she ever contribute to society? Being pretty doesn't count, just FYI.

Diana's shallowness is evident in every line she writes in this book. Like minor celebrities she name drops like no tomorrow assuming that we will know who everyone is and be impressed with how much they love and adore her. Guess what Diana? Your day has come and gone and so have all your comrades in arms. Name drop all you want, all it shows is your own flaws in being needed to be validated by those around you because you had no inner life to sustain yourself. To need constant validation with artists demanding to paint her or draw her just made me want to smack her. The fact that Evelyn Waugh (one of the few celebrities I actually knew) was in love with Diana makes me not think more of Diana, but makes me think less of Evelyn.

Diana is also infuriatingly self-impressed, by all means Diana, don't translate all the French, Italian, and German for those who don't speak or read it to show us how worldly you are, I'm not going to bother to look it up on the assumption that it's just more of the same shit that came before. Also, with the book, she was given the chance to tell her side of the story, a story that has had many commentators and writers over the years, and she failed miserably. Her wedding to Bryan Guinness was glossed over in two seconds, as was her second marriage to Mosley. The fact that her sisters have written in more depth on her life shows that Diana has absolutely nothing to offer us.

Yet, it was this shallowness counterbalanced with bizarre political tracks that made me furious with her. You could feel at those times that it wasn't her voice by that of her master's, Walter Mosley. She was too shallow to have any true beliefs of her own so when she latched onto her idol Mosley, well, she took him all, even his opinions. Now that I've reached the "political tirade" section of my review, I firstly want to address the Hitler question. Diana has taken a lot of flack over the years for being unwilling to change her view of Hitler after the outbreak of war and his true desires and ambitions were revealed. Personally, I don't think that this in particular is what she should be criticized for. Hitler had to have been a charismatic and personable man in order to amass such a following and accomplish all that he did. I'm sure in a one on one setting he could be delightful. Therefore I don't blame Diana for being unwilling to take something back when her own experiences where different to public opinion. It was her opinion, one she is perfectly willing to stick to.

What I do think Diana should be criticized for is her parroting of horrid antisemitism. Yes, she is entitled to this view, but that doesn't mean it makes me like her, accept her, or even settle my nauseous stomach at some of the things she said. I came to not only really dislike her on a human level, but I revolt against all her ideologies. She actually states that what happened in the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had just left Germany. Apparently they had plenty of warning, so they should have just moved on. Forget that these people have homes and lives and families, if they had just got up and gone history could have been different. In fact, in her opinion, if everyone would just go back where they came from, everything would be better for her. She didn't even want immigrants in England! While she never really outright states that she hates those who are Jewish or Black, the fact that she wants everyone to go back to where they came from shows a severe xenophobia that appears to be the sole aspect of her personality that isn't about her appearance. Also, extra ironic seeing as she lived in France and was therefore an immigrant herself. So by all means, if you want to read about a narcissist who will occasionally expound vitriolically on Jewry, well, Diana Mitford Mosley is the Mitford for you. She definitely isn't the Mitford for me.


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