The Mitfords versus The Kardashians ... everything you were afraid to ask
The Mitford girls had more in common with the ruling clan of reality TV than you would think
They dazzled, outraged and added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation; only a churl could fail to shed a nostalgic tear for the passing of Debo Mitford. The death, aged 94, of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the glamorously posh, gloriously eccentric Mitford girls, marks the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.
Times change, modern mores evolve, and if it is true that every generation gets the celebrity dynasty it deserves, then we must (however reluctantly) pass the baton on to another clan of strong women. Yes, Kardashians, it is your time to shine.
Where once we had Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo, now we have Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie and mother Kris, who are, for good or ill (and certainly guilty pleasure), thoroughly 21st-century socialites.
The father of three of the girls is the lawyer who represented OJ Simpson, and their fly-on-the-wall television show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is a ritzy, glitzy irony-free chronicle of the nouveau riche. The programme is avidly watched in this country and in the UK. In some respects, it is a salutary demonstration of how the British aristocracy have been well and truly supplanted by the international chrysocracy.
Nancy Mitford, who famously used the phrase 'U and non-U' (a reference to upper-class vocabulary and its middle-class inferior), would be horrified at this turn of events. And yet, the parallels between these nonpareils are almost uncanny. Where Diana and Unity were single-mindedly devoted to fascism, Kim and Kourtney feel pretty much the same about fashion. Debo was the chatelaine of Chatsworth House. Kim and her rapper husband, Kanye West, have two swimming pools and their own vineyard at their Hollywood Hills estate.
On the other hand, while the Mitfords bullied each other mercilessly - "Everyone cried when you were born," Nancy reproachfully told Debo, and regularly informed her three youngest sisters that their middle names were "Nit, Sick and Bore" - the Kardashians are remorselessly loving and supportive of one another.
To avoid any confusion between the girls in pearls and the ones in curve-caressing leopard prints, here's a useful primer.
Who eloped with a communist at the age of 17 and went to fight in the Spanish Civil War?
Decca Mitford. But the Kardashians like to travel too, as demonstrated by their spin-off shows Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and Kourtney and Kim Take New York.
Who ended up in prison?
Diana Mitford and Khloe Kardashian both spent time in jail. After her marriage to Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, which was conducted in Goebbels' drawing room with Adolf Hitler in attendance, Diana was incarcerated for three years on the grounds that she was "a public danger… far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband".
Khloe was sentenced to 30 days in jail for driving under the influence, but was felicitously released after a few hours due to "overcrowding".
Who said: 'I love children, especially when they cry, for then someone takes them away'?
Nancy Mitford. Although Khloe did say of Kourtney: "Wow, my sister has changed. She used to whip her boobs out for no reason. Now she does it to feed her child."
Who was voted the Hottest Woman in the World?
One from each family. Kim Kardashian, whose perkily generous derrière has sparked a craze for Brazilian butt-lifts, was crowned world's hottest woman by "readers" of Zoo magazine. By contrast, Diana was described by Evelyn Waugh as possessing the sort of beauty that "ran through the room like a peal of bells". Each to their own.
Which sisters drew a chalk line down the middle of their shared bedroom so that one side could be decorated with hammer and sickles and pictures of Lenin and the other adorned with swastikas and pictures of Hitler?
Decca and Unity Mitford. Unity, who took tea with Hitler in Berlin's cafes and would often wear a black shirt uniform, shot herself in the head with a revolver when the Second World War was declared, as she couldn't bear the idea that Germany and Britain were in conflict. She survived, but never fully recovered and died in 1948.
The Kardashians, while not big on politics, occasionally air their views. Kim backed Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign: "He just seemed very firm about the change, and that's, like, his motto."
Who decided that a centrepiece of flowers would be too boring for a visit by the designer Oscar de la Renta, so had newly hatched chicks placed in hay-filled china baskets on the table?
Debo Mitford. Not wishing to repeat herself, the following year she put half a dozen piglets, sleeping on straw beds, inside some glass containers on the table, although her husband insisted they be removed.
The Kardashians aren't terribly interested in livestock per se, but Kourtney did appear on Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive, in which the privileged children of celebrities worked on a Colarado cattle ranch.
Whose daughter has been mooted as a possible bride for Prince George?
Kim Kardashian's. Her daughter North West, aged one, was last week snapped in the front row of the Balenciaga show at Paris Fashion Week. Glossy magazines have already floated the idea of a modern transatlantic union in two decades to come. Unfortunately, there are no Mitfords left to say, cuttingly, what a Mitford would have said.
Which family of sisters never went to school and once said that 'reading is a pernicious habit'?
The Mitfords. Their upbringing was one of laissez-faire neglect; education was deemed unnecessary as they were expected to marry well. Nancy, who became a prolific author, blithely declared that she had only ever read one book, which was White Fang by Jack London - and it had proved to be so good, she never felt the need to read another.
The Kardashians attended a fee-paying convent school on Sunset Boulevard, whose alumni include Mia Farrow and Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Pat. The apposite school motto is: "That all may have life and have it to the full."
Whose obsession with Elvis led to them installing a life-sized portrait of the singer in their downstairs loo?
Wrong! Not a Kardashian, but a Mitford. Debo developed a passion for the King, having seen him on television. "The man is a genius," she asserted. Repeatedly. She visited Graceland twice. "I recommend it highly," was her verdict.
The Kardashians' musical taste loyally revolves round Kim's husband, Kanye West, although in 2010, she recorded a single which was greeted as "dead-brained R&B without a single distinguishing feature".
Who had 17 bathrooms installed, prompting a sibling to say "Who is my sister going to wash in all those bathrooms?"
Debo Mitford. Nancy made the remark on observing that, as the new chateleine of Chatsworth back in 1950, her sister didn't throw an endless string of hedonistic parties but sensibly undertook a major restoration. Other work included tackling 1.3 acres of faulty roofing, 21 obsolete kitchens, 175 rooms and 3,426ft of passageways.
But Khloe Kardashian likes a home with history, too; she has just bought Justin Bieber's old house for $7.2m.
Who took out a restraining order on a stalker who wanted to marry her?
Another Mitford amorous misadventure. At the age of 90, Debo was forced to take action against 75-year-old Michael Andrews, who asked for her hand in marriage but refused to accept rejection. The pair had met out walking in the village of Edensor.
Kim Kardashian also had her share of intimate misfortune, when a sex tape of her and an old boyfriend appeared on the internet in 2007. She, too, resorted to the courts, but settled with the film's distributor for an alleged $5m.
And so, as we bid farewell to the Mitfords, those proud totems of Englishness, we usher in the age of celebrity, in which stars are made not born - pedigree is for dogs and fame an end in itself. The Hons have been replaced, if not by rebels, then a klutch of Kardashians.