Life in a Cold Climate: Nancy MitfordThe Biography by Laura Thompson

The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford’s finest novel, opens with a vignette that evokes the uncanny blend of domestic intimacy and world-historical trauma experienced by the author and her six younger siblings—Pamela, Tom, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah:

There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh. The table is situated, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, in the hall, in front of a huge open fire of logs. Over the chimney-piece plainly visible in the photograph, hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children.