Friday, October 7, 2016

The Six by Laura Thompson (The Utterly Fascinating, Scandalous Lives of the Mitford Sisters)

Nancy Mitford
1904 - 1973
Nancy Mitford was the eldest of the fascinating Mitford Sisters. Highly spirited, and with a relentless sense of humor, she was a terrible tease who loved to joke and play pranks. With her vitriolic tongue, she was a relentless bully to her sisters. Her passion was writing novels. Much of the humor that swirled about in their daily lives made its way into her book. Her most famous novels were THE PURSUIT OF LOVE and LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE. She also wrote a biography about the Sun King. Despite her great sense of humor and pretty face, her love life was a dismal failure. She fell in love with three different aristocrats - once with a homosexual, then a very smart but dull man, and finally with a French Officer who never returned her love.

Pamela Mitford
1907 - 1994
Pamela was the quietest sister with no scandals linked to her. She loved the country, was a passionate horsewoman, and was devoted to her dogs. Her husband was an enormously rich physicist and professor, . He loved her for a while, but they divorced after several years. She spent the rest of her life in obscurity as a companion to Giuditta Tomassi who died in 1993. 

Diana Mitford
1910 - 2003
The third daughter, Diana Mitford, was perhaps one of the most scandalous of the sisters. She married aristocrat and writer Bryan Walter Guinnes in the biggest society wedding of the year. Four years later, causing a great scandal, an with her two children in tow, she left him for British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley who was 14 years her senior. But Mosley was already married and he had no intentions of leaving his first wife. When Mosley's wife died, instead of devoting himself fully to Diana, he began an affair with his late wife's younger sister. Diana fled to Germany with her sister Unity. There she met and befriended Hitler, who had her chaufered about in a Mercedes Benz. Yet she continued to be Mosley's mistress, despite his philandering ways and numerous affairs. They were finally married in 1936 and Hitler was a guest at their wedding. As World War II raged, Diana and Mosley were interned at London's Holloway Prison, but Winston Churchill made sure their accommodations were as comfortable as could be. As Mosley's health failed, they were sent into house arrest until the end of the war. Diana continued to hold Hitler in high regard and remained staunchly Nazi until her death at the age of 93. She was one of the many elderly victims of the terrible European heatwave of 2003. 

Unity Mitford
1914 - 1948
Nicknamed "Bobo", Unity was the most notorious and disgraceful sister. She can be described as nasty, insufferable, and unpleasant who always got her way by being obnoxiously rude, and disagreeable. Described as eccentric, she loved to play games with people, hurting them, starting useless quarrels and dense arguments. During a debutante ball, she released her pet rat. Like her sister, Unity worshiped Hitler. Overly tall, and not as beautiful as her other sisters, she came across as crass and cold. Chastised by her parents, she ran to the security of her sister Diana where sunder the guise of learning German, where she relentlessly pursued Hitler until he "noticed" her. Of course he was was flattered to have an English aristocrat panting for him. He indulged her in very way, from providing her with an apartment with housekeeper, after throwing out the Jewish family that lived there. But Hitler's closest confidants despised her. She was rude and audacious, clearly arrogant, and they were concerned at the influence she exerted over their dictator. 

When she publicly sided with Julius Streicher because he gave her what she wanted, she faced ostracism. When war was declared by Britain against Germany, the German government ordered all Brits deported. Devastated to have lost all her possessions and pleasant life, attempted suicide by shooting herself in the head. She failed to kill herself and was left severely brain damaged. he was sent back to England with all medical expenses paid for by Hitler. The bullet remained embedded in her brain as doctors deemed it to difficult to remove. At the age of 33, she died when meningitis caused her brain to swell around the bullet. 

Jessica Mitford
1917 - 1996
Jessica's nickname was "Decca". When she was 19 years old, and underage according to the law, she eloped to Spain with Esmond Romilly, her cousin and nephew of Winston Churchill. Both sets of parents greatly disapproved. Her parents did everything to split them up. They even sent destroyer of the Royal Navy to bring her back. When she announced she was pregnant, her parents gave up the fight and allowed her to marry. Her father disowned her and even refused to see her while on his deathbed. 

When war against Germany was declared, Esmond joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was shot down in 1941 at the age of 23. Winston Churchill broke the news of her husband's death to her. Jessica spent her remaining years in the USA, working hard to support herself with office work. Later, she became an investigative writer and wrote her autobiography revealing much about her family. 

Deborah Mitford
Duchess of Devonshire
1920 - 2014 
And last but not least, was Deborah, the youngest daughter. No scandals here. She led an exemplary life. She married Andrew Cavendish who became the Duke of Devonshire. Together, the young couple restored his ancestral home, Chatsworth House, into its former glory as an elegant stately homes. Like her elder sisters, she also wrote books. She was the 10th Duchess of Devonshire and was considered the most perfect of them all. She was last surviving sister.

“Riveting. The Six captures all the wayward magnetism and levity that have enchanted countless writers without neglecting the tragic darkness of many of the sisters’ life choices and the savage sociopolitical currents that fueled them.” – Tina Brown, The New York Times Book Review
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as “bright young things” in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the stark—and very public—differences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade. The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous lives—recounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompson—hold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII.The Six was previously published as Take Six Girls.


The Six is a very ambitious biography/memoir steeped in historical detail and family heritage. To biographize all six sisters into one book was likely not an easy task. The author provided a complete family tree, which helped keep track of the various personages included in the book.  

As a writer myself, I have to applaud the efforts made by the author to write six different biographies demonstrating how the sisters interacted with each other and how their decisions affected their family. The way they were raised was fascinating and troublesome, and it is no wonder that they were each affected by it. A poignant memoir for sure! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

I Believe in Prophetic Dreams and so did Matilde of Ringelheim!

Do you believe in prophetic dreams? I never used to believe in them, but then something happened that forever changed my mind and convinced me otherwise. I dreamed the lottery numbers. Yes, I did!

In my dream, a friend approached me with a lottery ticket we had purchased together. He told me that our ticket had won a $46 million dollar jackpot and that we would split it. In my dream I took the ticket into my hand and studied the numbers. 3, 18, 21, 38, and my excitement grew. That’s when I began to awaken, and as I slowly rose out of my slumber, I suddenly sprang out of bed in a frantic search for pen and paper. By the time I stumbled around the kitchen and found what I was looking for, I had forgotten the last two numbers and could only remember those precious first four numbers.

As a non-believer of prophetic dreams, I didn’t make too much of it. That was my first mistake! I did, however, go to the grocery store on my way to work that night and bought  lottery ticket. The jackpot was $10 million dollars. Of course I played those four numbers – 3, 18, 21, 38, but then used 46 and 23 as the missing numbers because they were the other two numbers mentioned in my dream – the $46 million divided by the two of us – hence $23. That was my second mistake. I should have bought enough tickets and played every combo of numbers to replace those two numbers I could not remember. 

That entire day, I experienced very strong feelings that I was going to win. During my drive to work, I even planned what to do with the winnings. In the middle of my shift, I took a break and called the lottery line. The four numbers I recalled had won, but my choice of 46 and 23 were wrong. Instead of $10 million dollars, I won a mere $87.00.

I am now completely convinced in the veracity of prophetic dreams. Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his death. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him in a dream. Mark Twain dreamed of his brother’s death on a steamship. And there are many, many more examples throughout history.

It is no wonder that after my own personal experience, the topic of prophetic dreams has fascinated me for years. When I accidentally stumbled upon a bio of a little know woman of history named Matilde of Ringelheim, one phrase caught my attention – her prophetic dreams. It immediately sparked my imagination. The more I delved into her life, the more fascinated I became. In Matilde’s case, her dreams foretold of her family’s successes and their deaths. The most famous of her dreams happened when she lay upon her deathbed and was visited by her grandson. She had dreamed about his death and before he left her bedside, she insisted he take her last possession, her burial garments. A few days later, he died an accidental death.

I recently released a fictionalized biography about her life entitled THE PROPHETIC QUEEN. The book follows history as closely as possible, while exploring her thoughts, emotions, and reactions to her ability to prophesize the future through her dreams. A truly fascinating woman of history!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mata Hari - Mail Order Bride, Dancer, Spy

 Mata Hari

Her name was Margaretha Zelle and she was born in the Netherlands to a Japanese mother and a Dutch father. Her father made hats for a living and sent her off to be educated at exclusive schools. had her educated at provided her with a was able to provide her with a great education. In 1889, when she was 13 years old, her family fell on hard times. Her father went bankrupt and her mother died two years later. Her father then remarried and Margaretha went to live with a godfather. She entered into training to become a kindergarten teacher, but when she was caught flirting with her headmaster, her godfather pulled her out of the school. Matters deteriorated and she soon fled to the Hague.

That's when she saw an ad in a newspaper that would change her life. Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod who lived in Indonesia was seeking a wife. He was the son of a Captain and a Baroness, and twenty years older. Nevertheless, she responded to the ad and they were later married in Amsterdam, thrusting Margaretha into the echelons of the Dutch noble class. They moved to Java and Margaretha bore her husband two children. 

But all was not well in paradise. The captain was a raging alcoholic who abused her and beat her at every opportunity, blaming her for his failings. And he kept a concubine on the side. Their relationship was on again / off again. In between she took dancing lessons and adopted the name Mata Hari. But the Captain continued to abuse her. Things really fell apart when their children contracted syphillis via mom and dad. Their daughter survived, but their son died. Some blamed the death on poison by a servant, but it was never verifed. The death was the death blow to their marriage. They divorced and Margaretha gained custody of their daughter. The Captain failed to pay the court ordered alimony and child support, and Margaretha struggled to support herself and her daughter. One day, after the Captain visited the child, he failed to return her to Margaretha who, unable to fight, accepted the loss of her child to her husband.

Margaretha moved to Paris where she worked as a circus horse rider, an artist's model, and exotic dancer. She was the queen of flirtation, which led to promiscuousness. She shed her inhibitations like an unnecessary skin and pushed the limits when dancing. Her attraction for men in uniform led her from one affair to another. She invented a colorful history for herself and danced for audiences with her heart and soul. She made herself famous. 

World War I was beginning, and Mata Hari took up with a handsome Russian pilot, whom she fell in love with. Unfortunately, he was shot down and hospitalized. The French authorities refused to allow her to see him unless she spied on the Germans for them. Reluctantly, she agreed. Of course, matters backfied and she was caught and imprisoned.

Sadly, she was convicted and ordered executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917. She was not tied to the stake and refused a blindfold. She blew a kiss to the gunmen. Rumor has it that she even flashed her breasts to them. She was 41 years old. After the volley of shots rang out, she slowly fell to her knees, her head raised, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. A non-commissioned officer then walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver, and shot her in the head to make sure she was dead.

The media labelled her a femme fatale, a dangerous, seductive woman who used her sexuality to effortlessly manipulate men, but in reality, she was na├»ve and easily duped, a victim of men rather than a victimizer.   

Author Michelle Moran has written a fascinating and heartwrenching historical rendering of Mata Hari's life and death. My review of the book follows: 

From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From Indian temples and Parisian theatres to German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

My Opinion:

Mata Hari is a fascinating person who many people, especially women, will not like. Not every protaganist has to be liked, and Mata Hari is not a usual type of heroine we find in books. Promiscuous and a notorious flirt, she was a woman who fell on hard circumstances who had no choice but to use her beauty and body to earn a living. She pushed the limits in dance and in chasing and using men for her own benefit. One constancy in the novel was her love and regrets pertaining to her daughter. And this helped humanize her, redeem her a bit in the reader's eyes. 

The book is perfect length and an easy read. Michelle Moran balances Mata Hari's passions and motivations in a realistic way. I did begin to like her and feel sorry for her and the mess she had made of her life. Of course, the novel did not dwell too heavily on the trial and convinction, but the execution scene was heart-wrenching and poignant. The book left me feeling more like Mata Hari was used as a scapegoat and I did not fully believe she was calculating enough to be such a dangerous spy. I had a sense that politics and cover-ups may have been at play as other readily blamed her to save their own skin. 

This is an excellent historical biography about a notorious woman of history and left me feeling unconvinced about the hand that fate dealt her. Highly recommended.