Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bright Young Diana Mitford Guinness Mosley

I recently reread author D. J. Taylor's excellent book on the "Bright Young People", those 1920s-era young, upper-class whippersnappers of London whose antics were heavily chronicled by the British newspapers of the time. Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh, Brian Howard, Nancy Mitford, and their ilk made up this tightly-knit group of revelers who pretty much partied their way through the decade. I have to say that after reading Taylor's book for the second time, I am left with conflicting opinions of this group. On the one hand, I admire the writers that Waugh and Mitford became. On the other hand, I think that as a whole, the Bright Young People were mostly vacuous, self-centered people who seemed incapable of understanding- and filtering into- the world outside of their clique. No matter whether one finds the bright young set obnoxious or dazzling, I believe most would agree that this group makes for interesting reading.

One Bright Young Person who was mentioned numerous times in Taylor's book was Nancy's sister, Diana Mitford, seen above as a young woman. Mitford married Brian Guinness during the 1920s, and they went on to become two of the leading lights of their social set. (Or, to use today's terminology, they were a "power couple" amongst their cohorts.)  As we know, Diana Mitford Guinness scandalized her family by throwing over Guinness for Oswald Mosley, the fascist politician who founded the British Union of Fascists and later, the New Party, which included the infamous Blackshirts.  Diana and Oswald would later marry in Germany at Joseph Goebbels' house (where Hitler was in attendance, no less,) espouse fascism, be interned during World War II, and eventually end up living in France.

Political persuasions aside, Diana and Oswald Mosley did have a pretty home in Orsay known rather grandly as Temple of Glory.  While the interiors seemed to reflect their French locale, the house also had a very British feel to it, cozy thanks to books and bibelots.  According to The Finest Houses in Paris, in which these photos appeared, the house had few rooms, prompting one guest, the Duchess of Windsor, to query, "It's a charming place, but where do you actually live?"  Pale blue, Diana's favorite color, made appearances throughout the house, especially via walls and fabrics.  An enthusiastic entertainer, Diana often invited guests to Sunday lunches, where her Irish butler prepared the meals.  For her table settings, Diana preferred to use her rare Saxon porcelain china, placing it directly on the table sans place mats.  And candied fruit (see below) was frequently served after dinner. 

All in all, the Mosley house was very elegant and inviting.  It's too bad the same thing can't be said for their politics.

All photos from The Finest Houses in Paris by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, I. B. Tauris publisher, 2000.


  1. Just goes to show that taste and style do not always mean a concommitant political or social enlightenment.

    I have always loved the Temple of Glory and could easily live in a few grand and elegant rooms; heck, all New Yorkers have training in living in just a few rooms...

    Thanks for the pix!

  2. I guess that all of the books must have been for show as the Mosleys were definitely not enlightened politically or in the area of social consciousness. Great post--history with design.

  3. Thomas11:54 AM

    Love this house- to paraphrase Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's book "Love in a Cold Climate" "All one needs is a Ballroom and a bath"

  4. Ballroom and a bath...sounds good to me!

  5. "Political persuasions aside,"
    Nope, just can't put it aside, no amount of charm & chintz. There are hundred of lovely houses not owned by Fascists, prefer to look at them.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I think it's important to remember that the Bright Young Things were reacting to the complete diaster of The First World War, which, of course, had a far greater impact on Europe than it did America. The British Army, I think, lost 60,000 men on the first day of the Somme. I have no doubt that if I had been a young thing in, say, 1920- and fresh from the trenches of the Western Front, I would, too, have gone slightly off the rails. Here's another one for your library (I suspect you already have this) It's "Brian Howard, Portrait of A Failure". A fascinating read. The model for Anthony Blanche.

    Did you ever see those Mitford Place Mats? Based on the famous William Acton drawings of the sisters. I think they were sold at the Leixlip gift-shop (maybe still available?) Interiors featured them back in the 90's. I like the idea of having the choice of Nancy, Debo, Jessica, and Diana; a tantaslising, but appealing decision before breakfast.

  7. Anonymous5:44 PM

    Thank you so much for this post. I am always eager to learn about legends and you never disappoint.

  8. Anonymous3:56 AM

    "Nope, just can't put it aside"
    I agree. As an English person its very hard to see any glamour associated with Moseley. Its interesting because it makes one realize just how much a view of an interior is affected by our opinion of the person who owned or decorated it. If the interior was in a hokey, modern or more casual style I could imagine liking it more, but in this case, the taste for chilly neoclassicism is too suited to the fascist architecture of the mid-century, both inside and out, to make it anything other than suspect. Candied fruit too little too late.

  9. Elegant posting, my dear

  10. "Nope, just can't put it aside" either. Anything amusing about them disappears the minute you get beyond the surface a bit. Friendship with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor — the world's most shallow couple to say nothing of their Fascist tendencies — is another poor choice by the Mosleys.

  11. I am French and lived in Orsay for a few years back in the 1960s not far from the Temple de la Gloire. Used to walk past that house virtually every day. Seemed pretty secret and I had some kind of youthfull fascination for it. Never went inside the park situated next to Orsay's stade sport area. Never knew anything about Mosley until a few years ago. I remember one day at school a young english boy appeared. I spoke to him and understood he lived in the Temple de la Gloire. Must have been related to someone in Mosley's family but I don't know for sure. Personally I think Mosley, like many english at the time, admired Germany, its industrial strength and the nazi discipline. In the 1930s Britain's might was beginning to wane, there were strikes everywhere and Mosley believed that only a nazi-type dictature could allow Britain to be great again. He was misguided and I don't believe he ever envisaged or even foresaw the atrocities perpetuated by the nazi régime as well as the misery and catastrophic wars that would ensue.

  12. Anonymous1:47 AM

    I only found this website now, so I apologise for the very late comment - but it seems to me that we can't believe a person with repulsive ideologies is also capable of great creative gifts and charm. Diana Mosley was a dinosaur, a remnant of an age in which aristocratic women were raised to be useless ornaments: her appalling political judgements reflect the background and values of those who reared her. But she was undoubtedly talented in decor, style and the finer points of entertaining. We all love Chopin, but prefer not to remember what a pig he was in his racist and reactionary views. We all love TS Eliot, but his fascist outlook was one of his key drivers. We all love Eric Clapton, and recognise him as one of the great guitar virtuosi of our time, even though the man is next door to a moron and a racist, to boot. We need to understand that enlightened politics and humanitarianism often do not accompany creative genius; Wagner and Nikos Kazantzikos are two other examples. Thank you for your great website, Jennifer.

  13. What a handsome building - and a thoughtful one, sitting rooms and salon opening into an enfilade if space and more seating wanted. With natural light in many of these images, you can see something close to the real scheme of color and light. And how very good it is.

    Diana had, as you might expect, a wide acquaintance and of course a great many relatives. On the evidence, I think it's become popular to suppose the two Mosleys hidden away here with no callers. But they knew and loved 'Moans' Tvede and Dolly Radziwill, the Clarys, Waugh, Gerald Berners, Violet Hammersley and a host of others. The temple never really was a banqueting hall with no banquet. Given its location and situation it's a wonderfully welcoming spot for entertaining, and Diana made it a near-perfect nest for two as well.

  14. Anonymous3:09 PM

    Sorry to step in so late but there are several misconceptions in these comments. First, Diana Mitford's views did not reflect the values of those who reared her. Her parents were politically conservative throughout her childhood, which is not synonymous with 'fascist'. (The idea that the two are similar is a post-war distortion encouraged by leftists.) Her father described the Nazis to his daughter as a 'gang of murderous pests', long before the war and the Final Solution. Though he was briefly impressed by Hitler's transformation of Germany after its years of terrible decline, he loathed the Nazis' works as he came to know them. It's true that Diana's mother embraced Nazism in a sort of weird sympathy with her children, a tormented response to Unity's shooting herself. These political differences broke up the MItfords' marriage.

    As for Diana, she first fell for Mosley when he was still known as a former (recent) Labour politician who in 1931 started a 'New Party' (not a fascist one) because the Labour party was so slow to respond to the unemployment crisis in Britain. He did not become an avowed fascist for a year or so, though he was already showing signs in that direction. Diana admired him as a man and a politician because she thought he could single-handedly solve the unemployment crisis, using the methods of Maynard Keynes, who was for a time a supporter of the New Party. The anti-semitism, etc., crept in gradually for both of them as the 1930s progressed.

    This is not to excuse them; it is to point out that the hard line readers here draw between 'good guys' and 'bad guys' is usually not so clear to those who actually knew the people in question. And since Mosley never won any real political power (never won an election after he became a fascist), neither of them had the opportunity to do much harm in the world. So really, I don't think it's so terrible to admire Diana M's taste in interior decoration.

    L.M. Legault

    1. Thank you for your comment. As an aside, I'm hoping to read the new book on the Mitfords soon.