Jessica Mitford (1917–1996) was the daughter of Lord and Lady Redesdale, and she and her five sisters and one brother grew up in isolation on their parents’ Cotswold estate. Rebelling against her family’s hidebound conservatism, Mitford became an outspoken socialist and, with her second cousin and husband-to-be Esmond Romilly, ran away to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Romilly was killed in World War II, and Mitford moved to America, where she married the lawyer and political activist Robert Treuhaft. A brilliant muckraking journalist, Mitford was the author of, among other works, a memoir of her youth, Hons and Rebels (also published as an NYRB Classic); a study of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death; and Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business. She died at the age of seventy-eight while working on a follow-up to The American Way of Death, for which, with characteristic humor, she proposed the title “Death Warmed Over.”
Jessica Mitford, celebrated for her exposé The American Way of Death, spent her career chronicling the mischief people get up to in the pursuit of profit. Poison Penmanship—beach reading for journalism junkies and lovers of mordant wit—collects 17 of her finest pieces and fills each out with the story of how she got the scoop and, no less fascinating, how the story developed after publication.
In Hons and Rebels Jessica Mitford tells about her upbringing, which, she drily remarks, “even for England, in those far-off days of the middle twenties…was not exactly conventional….”