Monday, June 6, 2011

The Sunday Book: Wait for Me! Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister - Deborah Devonshire

Yey, internet in the new abode! A relatively painless process in the end. So far so impressed by TalkTalk... Not that I want to jinx myself. Too late. Anyway, I'm going to keep this short and sweet because A) I am those things (that is a lie - I am neither of those things, I don't know who I am trying to kid), B) it is late and I have to be up in approximately 11 minutes (also a lie - the new commute is much more hospitable but I am suffering from general student-worker jetlag) and, most importantly, C) the lovely Rachel has already done a stellar job of reviewing Wait for Me! already. Like many people I am intrigued by the Mitfords and have read and loved the Mary Lovell biography, The Mitford Girls, and most of Nancy's novels and have been meaning to read Baby Debo's memoirs since they came out last year. I also managed to pick up a copy of Hons and Rebels in a charity shop the other week but Rachel's review swung me towards the youngest sister.

I am sure that I will enjoy Decca's memoirs but, for now at least, I can't imagine liking them as much as Debo's. The Duchess of Devonshire has (surprisingly) been a rather overlooked sister, primarily because she has never been involved in extremist politics. Yet she is hardly apolitical and she has known EVERYONE. Caps locks, italics and everything - I am fo' real. She has had tea with Hitler, danced with JFK, visited the Rio carnival with Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth... Her own disinterest in fundamentalism, I think, has allowed her to remain wonderfully open-minded too. While Decca and Unity's beliefs alienated them from their family Debo accepts all her sisters and their decisions (for the most part - shocking, saddening revelations about Nancy and her behaviour towards Diana) and the many people she has encountered in her long long life. I don't know if it is an age thing, one of my grandmothers has it too, but DD's writing just evinces this amazing unfaze-ability. It isn't blasé, it is more that she has (literally) seen it all and she accepts people and life's oddities. I can't imagine who her grandchildren or great-grandchildren could bring home who could shock her.

Rachel comments on the way that DD's language isn't explicitly emotive or melodramatic and I agree with this but I also found her quiet, understated writing very moving in parts, particularly the loss of many of her closest friends in the Second World War, the struggle of her husband's alcoholism, the grief for her stillborn children and the death of one after another of her siblings. I absolutely loosed a tear or two although DD is never self-pitying. I just loved this book - really, really enjoyed it. There has been so much more to her life than just being 'the youngest Mitford sister', which is obviously something in itself. Duchess, diplomat, farmer, preserver of the gorgeous Chatsworth (appreciate it on the new Pride & Prejudice if you can't make it in person), traveller, matriarch... She is just such a wonderful woman and she has had such a far reaching life, it is incredible. You have to read it just to find out little things about all the famous people she has known. Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen, Lucian Freud, the Queen Mother (who she calls Cake in her journals), Churchill... Unbelievable.

I feel like I know her a little bit. I want to write her a letter saying how much I enjoyed her book. I want to write my aforementioned grandmother a letter telling her to get cracking on her memoirs. Old people have done shit! It is crazy. Such lives. Inspiring and delightful. A must read, Mitford enthusiasm or otherwise.

(I love you DD. I know you regret never having cracked the internet but I'm putting it out there anyway. Good vibes heading your way).

Chuck x


  1. Oh you are lovely for calling me lovely! I'm glad I swung you towards Debo - she's amazing, isn't she? Such a fantastic woman. I love that unfazable quality older people have - I aspire towards that attitude, and just being able to take life as it comes without getting up in arms about everything.

    I'm jealous that you managed to pick up Hons and Rebels - I haven't got around to that yet. I have Decca's huge volume of letters gathering dust somewhere in my mum's attic - when I am reunited with my books I shall have a Mitford fest I think.

    Beautiful peonies as well. They are my favourite flower and it's a great sadness to me that they only flower during this brief period every year. I usually splash out and buy myself a bunch when they first appear in the shops and feel incredibly decadent at spending £10 on flowers...small pleasures! Much like taking a taxi...makes me feel like a Queen for ten minutes!

  2. This is a great review! I'm going to mark this book as to-read. I have to know the circumstances that led someone to have tea with Hitler:) Seriously though, she really sounds like an amazing person:) xx

  3. Ah yes! I want to read this so much, I just don't have the time anymore. In fact when I was in Castle Howard two little old ladies were discussing it and I pretended to be really interested in the curtains whilst listening in on their conversation.... and i wonder why I'm single.

    Jealous that you found Hons and Rebels in a charity shop! What a find!

  4. Whaaaat I have this on my bedside table to read as well. Amazing! x