cover image Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford

Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford

Jessica Mitford, . . Knopf, $35 (744pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41032-1

Best known for her classic funeral-industry exposé, The American Way of Death , Jessica Mitford (1917– 1996) was fifth of the famous Mitford sisters, but rebelled against her privileged English roots to become a member of the American Communist Party and union organizer, a civil rights activist and a celebrated investigative journalist. Sussman, a former longtime editor at the San Francisco Chronicle , has gathered an array of letters that capture Mitford's legendary wit, warmth and self-deprecating humor: decades of exuberant—and sometimes sparring—correspondence with friends, including civil rights activists Virginia and Clifford Durr, publisher Katharine Graham, journalist Shana Alexander, writers Kay Boyle and Maya Angelou. Mitford's prickly relations with her aristocratic clan are much in evidence, as is her estrangement from its fascist members; writing to Winston Churchill in 1943, she unswervingly protests the release from prison of her sister Diana Mosley and Diana's husband, the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Relating her bold emigration to the United States with her cousin and first husband, Communist journalist Esmond Romilly; her resilience as a war widow in a foreign country with an infant daughter; and the evident happiness of her 50-year marriage to her second husband, radical labor attorney Robert Treuhaft, Mitford's letters crackle with wit and mordant observations. 59 illus. (Oct. 21)