Sunday, February 26, 2012

Neither poison pen nor mudraking all the way. Good fun, though.

The Mitford sisters and I – we go back a long way, literally speaking. I first came across them in March 2009 after following the exploits of the Rt Hon Unity Mitford, whom I described in a recent Tweet as ‘a U Brit brat + a Winston Churchill relation + a Hitler “groupie”.’ The Mitford sister younger to her was Jessica (aka “Decca”), the adventurous one with leftist inclinations who ran away from her stately home to fight in the Spanish Civil War and was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in the US for a while also happens to be JK (Harry Potter) Rowling’s self-acknowledged “heroine”. After reading Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Mudraking (Alford a Knopf, New York, 1979) - rescued by me as usual from my consigned-to-the-back-rack-and-conveniently-forgotten book collection - I couldn’t but concur with Rowling’s summing-up of her as “[i]ncurably and instinctively rebellious, brave, adventurous, funny and irreverent”. I can vouch that Poison Penmanship is a series of delectable (what I’m tempted to call) belles-lettres. From among them, I would rate the following as strictly falling in the “mudraking” category of investigative journalism in the US, at times accidentally so: You-All and Non-You-All, the 3 funeral pieces, Maine Chance Diary, Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers, My Short and Happy Life as a Distinguished Professor, and the 2 Sign of the Dove pieces. What comes across from her writing is what Rowling told us: “I love the way she never outgrew some of her adolescent traits, remaining true to her politics – she was a self-taught socialist – throughout her life.” And, “… she liked nothing better than a good fight, preferably against a pompous and hypocritical target” like the funeral trade, San Jose State University, Famous Writers correspondence school. Elizabeth Arden, the American South in the fifties, you name it. All told a rip-roaring read.