Nancy Mitford

Nancy Freeman-Mitford (28 November 1904 30 June 1973), known as Nancy Mitford, was an English novelist, biographer, and journalist. The eldest of the Mitford sisters, she was regarded as one of the “bright young things” on the London social scene in the inter-war period. She wrote several novels about upper-class life in England and France, and is considered a sharp and often provocative wit. She also has a reputation as a writer of popular historical biographies.
Mitford enjoyed a privileged childhood as the eldest daughter of the Hon. David Freeman-Mitford, later 2nd Baron Redesdale. Educated privately, she had no training as a writer before publishing her first novel in 1931. This early effort and the three that followed it created little stir. Her two semi-autobiographical post-war novels, The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949), established her reputation.
Mitford’s marriage to Peter Rodd (1933) proved unsatisfactory to both, and they divorced in 1957 after a lengthy separation. During the Second World War she formed a liaison with a Free French officer, Gaston Palewski, who was the love of her life. After the war Mitford settled in France and lived there until her death, maintaining contact with her many English friends through letters and regular visits.
During the 1950s Mitford developed the concept of “U” (upper) and “non-U” language, whereby social origins and standing were identified by words used in everyday speech. She had intended this as a joke, but many took it seriously, and Mitford was considered an authority on manners and breeding.
Her later years were bittersweet, the success of her biographical studies of Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire and King Louis XIV contrasting with the ultimate failure of her relationship with Palewski. From the late 1960s her health deteriorated, and she endured several years of painful illness before her death in 1973.


Works by Nancy Mitford: