Friday, December 23, 2011

In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor

(I knew there was an excellent reason to come home for the holidays - my Muv has a compatible charger! Oh yeah, and I love them... Of course.)

I love Debo as a writer. I know that Nancy was 'the writer', the French Lady Writer in fact, and that she teased Debo for never having read a book in her life and called her Nine for her apparent mental age. Still, I love Debo as a writer. Her style isn't literary but it is so nippy and vigorous and full of life. It has such pizazz!

She is just the same in her letters and her 50 year+ correspondence with Patrick Leigh Fermor is a joy to read. Even though In Tearing Haste is just an edited selection it still makes me want to wallow in their friendship. In 1956 Debo invited Paddy to Lismore and they remained penpals until Paddy died aged 96 in June. *Pause to weep - I'm devastated for Debo that she lost Paddy since her husband and all of her six siblings predeceased her. It must be awful to lose all your contemporaries. Family is lovely but it's not the same. I have a new sympathy for my wonderful maternal grandmother.*

There are gaps in the letters, for childbirth and travelling, mourning and real world meetings, but nonetheless they are a remarkably full record of half a century of friendship. Luckily, for us if not for them, Debo and Paddy were often separated by whole countries and sometimes continents at a time when international calls were unreliable and expensive. Debo was at Chatsworth or Lismore in Ireland or in France with Nancy or America with the Kennedies or the Tarmac board. Paddy lived in Greece for most of his life after fighting in Crete in WW2 but he was also a great traveller, adventuring around Europe and the world. They had to write and they kept most of the letters.

They both have had such crazy, amazing lives that this book would probably be a good read if both letter writers favoured finger painted monosyllables. Luckily they're both charming and delightful. Debo has flair and Paddy writes beautifully and eloquently. His letters are poetic, longer and more thorough. He also drew lovely pictures and postcards - my favourite being 'Y no Gnus (gnus pictured)?'. He had a wonderful sense of humour and when Debo asked him for some suggestions for titles for a false bookcase he sent her two pages worth of ideas, including 'The Cats Revenge by Claude Balls'. That is the kind of joke that goes down a treat in my fam. Might be whipping that out over Christmas...

Anyway, this book probably isn't your way into a giant Debo/Mitford love in if you are a newbie - it definitely helps to have some biographical background if you want to get the most out of it. However, if you already know your way around the six sisters and the Cavendishes, this is a lovely read and something to aspire to in life.

Chuck x


  1. How cool - I'll have to start at the beginning if I'm to enjoy something like this. There's something about pen pals that can't be replaced with technology - even with skyping, email and the like

  2. Lovely photos.

  3. very cool :)

    Merry Christmas!!! :)