Alexander Waugh

The Lady In Black

Diana Mosley

By

Chatto & Windus 432pp £20 order from our bookshop

DIANA MOSELEY’S POLITICS are objectionable to many people. She was an anti-Semite and a Fascist. She was on Hitler’s side in the Second World War and, until her dying day, 11 August this year, would not say a word against him. Her view was that he had an enormous amount of personal charm, that he had a good basic plan, and that in the process of its execution people were bound to .g, et knocked about a bit. Six million. she thought, was a gross exaggeration of the number of Jews exterminated at that time: Winston Churchill had betrayed his country by launching a totally unnecessary war against Germany, and England would have been better off under the dictatorship of her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley. Not many people agree with these ideas nowadays, but I still found it odd that Anne de Courcy, in the opening sentence of her preface, should feel the need to state: ‘Although I came to love Diana Mosley personally, I abhorred her politics.’

Is it normal for a biographer to start out by saying she hates the tastes of her subject? Perhaps Diana Mosley is an extreme example. To open a biography of, say, Hans Richter with ‘Nice chap but I deplored his taste in music’ would indeed be odd, but is it necessary for a biographer of someone like Genghis Khan or Napoleon to make such a statement of renunciation? I cannot answer this. but the question put me into such a spin that I was unable to concentrate properly on the first few chapters for worrying about it.

By chapter Three, though, I was caught up in de Courcy’s ripping yarn. Diana and her sister Unity Mitford became obsessed with Hitler in the early 1930s. Unity stalked him, hanging out in bars and restaurants, smirking at him hm tables where she hoped he would notice her. ‘Hitler’, Unity wrote at the time, ‘is so kind and so divine I suddenly thought I would not only like to kill all who say things against him but also torture them.’ At the same time Diana too fell under his spell and made regular visits to Germany in order to see him, dining alone with him (a major coup for a 24-year-old Enghh socialite) and calling him ‘sweet Uncle Wolf’. From then on her loyalty to Hitler was unbudgeable. ‘The truth is that in private life he was so exceptionally charming, clever and original that he inspired affection,’ she wrote years later, and even the truth about the Holocaust couldn’t sway her. She told Anne de Courcy: ‘Knowing about the Holocaust absolutely did not change my perspective of Hitler. I don’t think of him as the man who did that, I think of hm as the man I knew, who wouldn’t have been capable of that. If he became so capable, it was really a form of madness, which in a way is understandable if everything you’ve worked for is being ruined.’

What is not particularly well explained in this book is why Hitler should have wished to spend so much of his time with this big-faced English 24-year-old. She was beautiful, charming and clever, sure, but so were lots of other girls. He may have been monorchid, perhaps even impotent, we do not know; but certainly he never sought to have an affair with her. He was at the centre of the world’s attention, organising a phenomenal military expansion with massive plans to annex most of Eastern Europe. Why stop and natter with Big Face? The obvious answer is that he was using her. She was a close cousin of Churchill’s and well connected with many of the prime movers in Westminster. She liked to say that she and Hitler were friends, but clearly there was more to it than that. She was shuttling back and forth raising funds for her husband’s Blackshirt Fascists and presumably feeding Hitler with useful information about Britain’s preparedness for war. Was she a spy or wasn’t she? De Courcy ducks the question. Most bizarre of all is that Hitler seems to have entrusted Diana with the news that he intended to invade Czechoslovakia. This she blabbed to her lawyer, Frederick Lawton, who sweated all night over whether he should break client confidentiality-and report it to the British authorities. In the end he decided against it.

Since this book was printed, various M15 files concerning Diana Mosley have been released to the National Archives. Of particular interest are wartime letters from her sister, Nancy Mitford, to MI5, urging them to hold Diana in prison for as long as possible. ‘Diana sincerely desires the downfall of England and democracy generally and should not be released,’ Nancy wrote. ‘She will stick at nothing to achieve her ambitions, is wildly ambitious, a ruthless and shrewd egotist, a devoted Fascist and admirer of Hitler.’ It is remarkable how many people fded to see this, and fell hook, line and sinker for her simpering charm. Her husband Oswald Mosley was similar – also a craven egotist, a deceitful, selfish womaniser whose dilating pupils, gleaming teeth and swashbuckling oratory hid from many the devious nature within him. Diana’s stubborn loyalty to both Mosley and Hitler was remarkable. She may have been clever but she was not wise.

Anne de Courcy has a riveting tale to tell and she does it with an ergomatic deftness that is enviable, not as a ‘once-upon-a-time’ story but as a parable, a sober warning against the hideous lures of unbridled charm. As Diana herself once wrote:

Only people with tremendous charm and brilliance get the chance to commit really terrible crimes, because they are so loved and idolised that people are ready to obey their awful behests. If Hitler killed millions, Stalin killed even more. Yet old Winston, not to speak of Roosevelt, were [sic] under his spell. Then Mao Tse Tung beat them all, yet people who visited him from the West found a charming old poet. I’m sure historians don’t realise in the least the extent to which ‘charm’, or whatever you like to call it, changes simply everything.

Bold lady: compelling book.

 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter