Sir Oswald’s Remarkable Lady
DIANA MOSLEY’S (pictured) A Life of Contrasts (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977) is an extremely important book. It provides an intimate picture of the age we have lived through, written from the vantage point of a member of one of its foremost political and literary families. Within the overall picture are revealing portraits of many influential figures, including Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, whom the authoress knew both socially and personally. The connecting thread, as in all good biographies, is the personality of the subject, and her style is as witty as her judgments are judicious.
Diana, Lady Mosley, was born one of the seven Mitford children, three of whom became writers. The eldest sister, Nancy, sketched her impressions of the family in her famous Pursuit of Love. It cannot be said that she was warm-hearted like Diana. In fact, Diana’s humorous description of Nancy as a Girl Guide leader neatly, if obliquely, lays bare the bossy, interfering side of the latter’s nature. Nor was Nancy a particularly loyal sister, even taking into account the fact that her father and mother, her brother Tom, and her sisters Diana, Unity and Pamela were all active sympathizers with fascism, of which she disapproved. Yet towards the end of her life, Nancy, who lived in Paris and later at Versailles, established a rather close relationship with Diana, who lives out at Orsay. Diana did all the German translations for Nancy’s biography of Frederick the Great and nursed her devotedly during her terminal cancer. Only dimly does Diana let it be understood how inconsiderate Nancy could be.
The third writer of the family is Jessica, who became a Stalinist and has long been notorious for abusing the hospitality of the United States. By far the plainest and dumpiest member of an exceptionally handsome family, she reveals in her catty little book Hons and Rebels how much she resented the superior height and beauty of Diana and Unity. She also resented her father and mother, of whom a friend of Diana’s remarked, “When your parents were young…they were so beautiful they were like gods walking upon the earth.” Anyone who doubts the political and social significance of good looks should consider the case of Rupert Brooke, whose poetry has been unjustly maligned on the strength of one remark about “temperamentvoll [high-spirited — Ed.] German Jews” and whose handsome features are always described with resentment by liberal critics.
In direct opposition to Jessica and everything she represents stands the compelling and tragic figure of Unity Valkyrie. Never were two names more appropriate, for she desired above all the unity of two great peoples and was a veritable Bruennhilde in her uncompromising support for the Third Reich. Obviously, she was the favorite sister of Diana, who in her book describes the various stages of Unity’s dramatic involvement with Hitler. Having been exceptionally unruly at her schools (from several of which she was expelled), she was persuaded to visit Germany by Diana, although at that time she would have preferred to have gone to France or Italy. They were both overwhelmed by the first (1933) Parteitag at Nuremberg. As Diana puts it, they “witnessed a demonstration of hope in a nation which had known collective despair” and the effect on Unity was akin to a religious conversion. I find it interesting how often in the past hundred years exceptionally sensitive Anglo-Saxons have been converted to some esoteric faith or ideology by the stronger group feelings of other peoples. To some extent, this can be explained as a consequence of the weakening sense of group identity among Anglo-Saxons both in Britain and overseas.
Diana tells us that Unity went back to Germany with the fixed intention of meeting Hitler, and of how she achieved this at his favorite restaurant, the Osteria Bavaria in Munich. Her willfulness is not glossed over. As Diana says, “Unity was never awed in her entire life” (the Parteitag excepted). Unity was also inclined to be perverse and she took delight in shocking the prim and pompous. Much play has been made in the press about her famous remark, “But Streicher is a kitten” (which Diana forgets to mention). Anyway, it can hardly be claimed that Hitler liked her because she was a clinging vine.
There is also an amusing description of Unity being upbraided for wearing makeup by women who are best described as “Brown Bolsheviks” (i.e., exaggerated “Nazis” who had formerly been left-leaning or actual members of the six-million-strong Communist party). Nor can it be claimed that Hitler borrowed some of his ideas from Unity. (Indeed, Diana shows signs of a slight sisterly asperity in denying the possibility). And he never slept with her, despite the existence of a work called I Was Hitler’s Maid, which “described thrilling orgies with Hitler flagellating housemaids and parlormaids on the Berg,” and which had a reference to Unity unpacking her silk underwear. (In fact, she never spent the night in Hitler’s house, since he had already taken up with Eva Braun, whom Diana describes as “pretty and charming.”). “Beachcomber” of the London Daily Express, guyed this and other sensational books by inventing one called I Was Himmler’s Aunt.
But there is nothing humorous about Unity’s despair when her own country declared war upon Germany. She shot herself with a little pistol of the type American ladies sometimes carry in their handbags. The bullet lodged in her brain, but she did not die until after the war, having been returned home by order of Hitler and looked after with loving care by her mother. In her last years Unity was a pale shadow of her former self. Let her remain in our minds as she was before her abortive suicide, a sublime manifestation of Goethe’s “eternal feminine which draws us onward and upward.”
Of the two remaining Mitford sisters, Pamela married a clever scientist called Derek Jackson, who supported Oswald Mosley and rode his own horse in the Grand National; while the beautiful Deborah became Duchess of Devonshire. Their brother Tom, like Diana and Unity, was an active member of the British Union of Fascists. When war came, he joined the British army and died fighting the Japanese in Burma, preferring not to participate in the invasion of Germany, which he loved almost as much as England. Only the philosophy of Heraclitus and the transcendent teachings of the Bhagavad Gita can help us to understand such happenings as part of the divine plan.
Equally noteworthy are Diana’s portraits of her father and mother, known to the children as “Farve” and “Muv.” Lord Redesdale, the father, is described as an overwhelming figure, a tall handsome man with a beige complexion which never changed and astonishing Mitford-blue eyes. As a young man he had edited a journal called The Lady, despite the fact that he “hated London, loathed being indoors and abominated the printed word.” Oftentimes he sought solace by hunting rats in his office with a mongoose. It follows naturally that in later life he used to hunt his children with a bloodhound, though it never bit any of them and they loved the excitement. Still, he recognized himself as Uncle Matthew in Nancy’s Pursuit of Love and read the book with enjoyment. Muv also had her eccentricities. She denied her daughters all the foods forbidden to the ancient Hebrews (her father had been a health crank). Nevertheless she was an extremely kindhearted, no-nonsense kind of mother, always at hand to help her children out of scrapes. Diana describes a touching scene in which her mother was reconciled with her father on his deathbed, following some years of separation after the war.
Diana Mosley’s gift for characterization is evident throughout, but is nowhere better exemplified than in her comments on Adolf Hitler. Even her physical description is at odds with the way we have been taught to see him: “His eyes were dark blue, his skin fair and his brown hair exceptionally fine; it was neatly brushed; I never saw him with a lock of hair over his forehead.” Indeed, an English maidservant, when asked what had struck her most about Hitler, replied that he had such beautiful hair. Diana adds: “He had a high forehead which almost jutted forward above his eyes. I have seen this on one or two other people; generally they have been musicians.” In this connection she quotes Alan Bullock’s crack that Hitler’s taste “did not get much beyond Beethoven” and asks what it means. It presumably means that Hitler did not appreciate Schoenberg, though he admired Bruckner and Wagner, both of whom were post-Beethoven.
Nor was Hitler’s behavior such as we have been led to expect: “I have never heard Hitler ‘rant’ and almost never heard the famous monologue, though I should have been interested to listen to it.” In fact, she found that the only subject on which he verged on the boring was automobile engines. Yet a few of those who knew him at the time have since claimed that his table talk often put them to sleep. Here is Diana’s devastating comment on one of these, Albert Speer: “He was quite often at Hitler’s table; at that time a young architect he has grown into an old writer. On the occasions when I saw him he gave a wonderful imitation of being fascinated by his host; or perhaps he really was fascinated.”
Her quick profiles of two other National Socialist leaders also have their interest. Surprisingly, she describes herself and Unity having a frugal meal with Hermann Goering, who was as usual indulging his taste for fancy dress. Goebbels she characterizes as “intelligent, witty and sarcastic.” Mussolini she did not meet, though she describes the Fuehrer as making fun of his histrionics. The trouble was that Hitler felt a certain loyalty towards the originator of fascism, only later realizing that his involvement with Mussolini had lost him time essential for the conquest of Russia.
While accepting that Russian and Chinese crimes were far worse than German ones, Diana implicitly accepts the lie that during the war Hitler deliberately ordered the extermination of Jews, though for some time after the war her husband referred to this crime as “alleged.” Why the change of heart? Well, to begin with, an enormous amount of spurious “evidence” has been manufactured. It was not until long after the war that the Communists threw open a reconstructed Auschwitz in support of their propaganda line.
But much more important was the central part played by the Six Million Myth in the political and social blackmail of the Mosleys in the 1950s and 60s. It must be remembered that Mosley and his wife were not a couple of oldtime rightwingers forced into a corner. They had been highly respected members of the cream of society. Then they were demonized, and the psychic effect must have been shattering. For example, one American lady thought she was being kind when she visited their house and expressed gratification at finding that the Mosleys were “not monsters.” Nor was that all. Their children were subjected to the same sort of whispering campaign. Several times, after their son had left a gathering, I have heard people say things like: “Yes, he’s very charming, but I wonder how charming he would have been if the other side had won.” Outright insults and subtle pressures of this kind account for the largely wasted efforts of the Mosleys to reinstate themselves in the eyes of “public opinion.”
I do not mean that Diana Mosley goes overboard in favor of the Jews. She quotes Arthur Koestler as admitting that the Nuremberg laws reflect the spirit of the Old Testament. But the effects of moral blackmail are shown in her determination to say anything pro-Jewish which actually accords with her experience. One Kommer, who spoiled her chances of acting in an important play, is described as “fat, bald, clever and kind.” Brian Howard, another Jew, was an early friend of hers. He was a failed artist and, judging by her stories about him, an embarrassing homosexual bore as well. Re Brian Howard, she quotes no less a person than Professor Lindemann as saying, “Oh, you can’t like him. He’s a Jew.” And she described an uncle of her first husband, Brian Guinness, as “charming and rather eccentric; he believed in the Hidden Hand and the Jewish World Plot.” Again, she trots out Lloyd George as saying that anti-Semitism has “no basis in reason.”
She might have quoted Churchill too where the Jews are concerned. He is on record as denouncing the overwhelming part played by the Jews in the Russian Revolution. Churchill appears frequently in her pages, which is only natural, in view of the fact that he married a cousin of hers and was very close to her when she was young. What is more, she had some reason to be grateful to him. He released her and Mosley from prison when Muv went to see him and told him of Mosley’s dangerous state of health. And Churchill was instrumental in getting the ban on their traveling lifted after the war — though it took a lot of legal wrangling, an appeal to Magna Carta, and the actual purchase of a yacht, before the Mosleys could pry passports out of the reluctant Foreign Office.
She quotes Winston frequently, and what emerges is a picture of a brave, self-indulgent man who could not bear to be deprived of the standard of living which he had inherited. Intelligence he certainly had, and quickness of wit, but no learning at all. Who else could have written a History of the English Speaking Peoples without once mentioning Shakespeare? But her points in favor of Churchill are salutary, because they restore our sense of proportion and prevent us from making the mistake of the other side in diabolizing our enemies. For instance, she points out that though both Hitler and Churchill had fine hands, Churchill’s were the finer. The point is of little intrinsic importance, but it serves to restore our perspective. Similarly, she reminds us that Lindemann, who pushed for the terror bombing of German working-class districts, was bright enough, during the First War, to work out a way of pulling an aircraft out of the hitherto lethal tailspin, and brave enough to prove his theory by doing it himself.
A far more remarkable man than Churchill is Diana’s husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, who had the rare ability to attract and hold the devotion of a grade A female like Diana. Not only was she extremely beautiful when young, but she is still a fine-looking lady — highly intelligent, full of fun and lissome. Nor is she oblivious of her husband’s faults. She records, for instance, that he was not much of a stoker or gardener while in prison. But how many wives, after a lifetime with their husbands, would describe them as she does him: “the best of companions, he had every gift, being handsome, generous, intelligent and full of wonderful gaiety and joie de vivre. Of course I fell in love with him …”
She tells how he was invalided out of the forces in World War I, having fought in the air and in the trenches, how he became first a Conservative and then a Labour MP, and was made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Ramsay MacDonald’s government after the Wall Street crash. He devised a plan for dealing with unemployment through the organization of useful public works and a national investment board. The Mosley Memorandum, as it was called, was rejected by his party, and Mosley went into the political wilderness. Nevertheless, many saw that he was right and that his plan could have saved both England and the Empire. That is why it was rejected. Any number of prominent figures, on the Left as well as the Right, have gone on record as admiring his economic acumen, and I would refer you to his autobiography My Life for details of his economic and political thinking.
First, he began the New Party, but his meetings were so often disrupted that he turned it into the British Union of Fascists. Remember, only the Fascists were willing to deal with Red violence. Some of the best men in England rallied to him, men like Raven Thomson and General Fuller. He had the sympathy of Bernard Shaw, Lloyd George, Henry Williamson and many others. At the Earls Court in London in July 1939, he held the largest indoor meeting ever held in the world up to that time. How then did he fail to come to power?
We can dispose immediately of the canard that society disapproved of his betrayal of his wife, Lady Cynthia, daughter of the great Lord Curzon. “Cimmie” not only supported her husband, she actively encouraged him to go fascist. The lie has been disseminated that she was really part-Jewish, through her grandfather, Levi Leiter of Chicago. Note that Levi was Leiter’s given name, not his surname, and that he came of Dutch fundamentalist stock. Not only does Mosley record that the Leiter family consisted of “big, blond, blue-eyed people,” but no one ever suggested that they were Jewish until Mosley came into conflict with the Jews. To assume that Levi Leiter was Jewish is like assuming that Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin or Ebenezer Scrooge were Jewish. (Come to think of it, Scrooge might have been Jewish, if it were not for his Christmas goodwill at the end of the story.)
The obsessed propagandist Arnold Leese, distressed at having his ineffectual fascist group superseded by Mosley’s, claimed that Mosley stood for Moses Levi. For the record, Mosley is an old Anglo-Saxon name. Sir Oswald’s second name, Ernald, was that of a pre-Conquest ancestor. He and his brothers are a race of giants, and his characteristic family physiognomy could be that of an aristocrat from anywhere in western Europe. He bears a very striking resemblance to Pitt the Younger, of whom he has a bust in his study.
As I say, the question which should be exercising our minds is just why this outstanding man, with an oratorical power equal to that of any speaker of the twentieth century, with the economic acumen of a Schacht, the personal courage of an old-time gentleman, the ability to command admiration and respect, good political judgement and trustworthy followers, should never have succeeded in ruling Britain.
To begin with, circumstances were not so favorable as in Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany. There was no massive Bolshevik threat in England, only a creeping malaise, and there had been no defeat in war entailing mass starvation and misery. The unemployed suffered, it is true, but the middle and upper classes remained comparatively unaffected. Yet there was more to it than that. Mosley is primarily a Cavalier type, like his forebears during the great English Civil War of the 17th century. He represents, therefore, a union of the top and bottom of society against the middle; which is why he so much admires Joseph Chamberlain, the leader of the Liberal Party in the early years of the 20th century, who saw how a reunited nation could develop the enormous possibilities of the Empire. Now, the middle, and especially the lower middle classes in England do include some very degenerate elements: Quakers, Methodists, canting fundamentalists, liberal masochists — all that is most contemptible in the country.
But they also comprise the tough Cromwellian element which was eventually victorious on the battlefields of the Civil War. These people are not instinctively drawn to the gentry, although Cromwell himself belonged to that class. In other words, Mosley represents a tradition which may be compared in many ways to that of the Old South in the United States. The English middle classes sensed this, and were alienated. However, these same people are now being attracted by the tough, uncompromising stance of the National Front. The leaders of the National Front are not restrained by any tender-minded considerations. Mosley, by contrast, was purely defensive in his attitude towards leftwing violence. So he got all the opprobrium, but lost the initiative.
To put it another way, Mosley (and Diana) represent the European tradition of the English upper classes. As with nearly all their kind, their pays de bonheur is France — not the squalid France polluted by Leninist and Maoist intellectuals, but the solid, rooted France which has somehow survived the Revolution. When a combination of leftwing violence and legal collusion finally drove him from England in 1965, it was not in South Africa or Germany that the Mosleys decided to live, but in France and Ireland. Not that they were any less English on that account. Marx remarked that the way to get at the English upper classes was through Ireland, and Wellington, for instance, has regarded himself as one of the “English garrison” there. Nor did they assimilate unduly in France. Diana was brought up to speak French with an English accent, on the grounds that having a good accent in French was pretentious. (Actually, I can reveal that ladies then considered that only a prostitute would speak French like a Frenchwoman.) And she commends her friend Lord Berners for speaking fluent Italian with a firmly English accent.
As for Sir Oswald, his French is a delight to listen to — as anglicized as Churchill’s though a good deal more accurate. He sounds like Henry V speaking to the Princess Catherine. As for his German, it is even more accurate grammatically, but he makes hardly any phonetic concessions at all. Not that this detracts in any way from his admiration for Goethe and Wagner. It might be said of his languages that they are, like his handwriting, meant more for the purpose of ordering his thoughts than for actual communication. Still, he does speak them. The National Front leaders, by contrast, are not at home on the Continent.
All the same, the last laugh may be with Mosley. From the very beginning, he saw that Britain alone did not offer sufficient scope for the creation of a viable economic system. That is why he thought in terms of imperialism and, when the Empire was thrown away, of a European block uniting with the white dominions and developing the continent of Africa. The United States was left out of his calculations, because, I think, he lacked instinctive sympathy for the Northern elements which emerged victorious from the American Civil War.
John Tyndall, leader of the National Front has said that Mosley is now “totally irrelevant.” In purely political terms that may or may not be so. But for the curse of North Sea oil, which maintains the rotten system, he might even now be able to put some backbone into the Center of British politics. Certainly, his mind is as alert as ever, and he inspires devotion in a very large number of intelligent people. And there can be no doubt whatsoever about the lasting nature of his ideas. Tyndall has also said that Mosley is like a mountain. Anyone genuinely trying to find a way forward may make a path round the mountain, but he cannot ignore it.
The central episode in Diana’s book is the lengthy period she spent in prison during the war. She describes how she was taken away from her son Max, then eleven weeks old and being breast-fed by her, and put in the filthy conditions of Holloway Gaol. A few people rallied round. As she says: “Indifference to public opinion is an essential aristocratic virtue; it is rarer than one might imagine, as I discovered in those difficult days.” In prison, conditions had remained unchanged since Oscar Wilde’s time. The sanitation was disgusting and she was deliberately humiliated. Even so, she won round her wardresses with her infectious gaiety. One of them is on record as saying, “We’ve never had such laughs since Lady Mosley left.”
The contrast between Diana’s life in the 20s and what it later became cannot be overemphasized. As she freely admits, she was a gay young thing, very pleasure-loving, and some of her friends were definitely unworthy of her. Take, for instance, the randy Welsh artist Augustus John (quite a good painter, incidentally) whose “sparse hair and bloodshot eyes” she graphically describes. It was a mistake of the publisher to include a photograph of him with his arm around her and her pretty head on his shoulder, smiling winsomely. Also, she retains the inflated vocabulary of the period: “divine music,” “delicious food,” “unalloyed joy,” etc. It took time before she grew up mentally and began to think.
Very much on the credit side is her ability to sum people up. Elsa Maxwell “looked like a toad,” Brendan Bracken had “an almost Negroid cast of countenance, thick red hair and black teeth.” Ezra Pound sat quite silent at dinner and looked “nobly benign.” There is also the Duke of Windsor, with his old-fashioned, cockney-sounding English. The Duchess of Windsor appears, too. She is not in any way calumniated, but she was not Diana’s favorite person. In fact, her attitude might be summed up by the contemporary school rhyme: “Hark, the heavenly angels sing! Mrs. Simpson’s pinched our King.” Her ability to arrange her material has long made Diana an excellent propagandist, in the best sense of the word. She was, for example, editor of The European, a literary-political magazine of high quality which kept the light burning for several years and helped to bridge the gap from the end of the war to these present days of deepening gloom and slow resurgence.
So let me finish with a toast: “To Lady Mosley. Long may you keep your excellent health! And when you finally lose it, as all of us must, let your tombstone be inscribed with the same words that mark Unity’s grave, ‘Say not the struggle naught availeth.'”
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Source: Instauration magazine, March 1978