read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,

Wait For Me!

Part of my book plan for 2012 was to try to read a few more non-fiction books. It seemed last year as though I *was* reading more but as usual when I added them up come December the number came to around about a dozen, eleven to be exact, and I don't seem to be able to go beyond that number. I know one a month (they're actually not spread evenly in that way) doesn't sound bad but I would much rather it was around 20 to 25. Whether that'll ever happen, who knows, as crime books really do have me by the throat these days, with fantasy and sci fi aiding and abetting... but I can but try. To that end, I randomly grabbed Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire from the library last week. When I got home I did as I always do, logged onto the library site to check that all books are there and what the dates are (am I anal or what?) and found that the book was already reserved by someone else. Wanting to read it and being in a position to do so, I started it right away.

Okay, well Deborah Devonshire as many will know, is the youngest of the very famous Mitford sisters. When Deborah, or 'Debo' as she's known, was born in 1920 her eldest sister, Nancy, who became a famous author, was sixteen. The family already had five girls and only one boy.

Blank. There is no entry in my mother's engagement book for 31 March 1920. The next few days are also blank. The first entry in April, in large letters, is KITCHEN CHIMNEY SWEPT'. My parents dearest wish was for a large family of boys; a sixth girl was not worth recording.

Her father was David Freeman Mitford, Lord Redesdale, her mother, Sydney Bowles. David was a second son of a minor aristocrat, not expected to take the title, but as often happens, the heir died in his twenties and David did take the title. The family nevertheless were not that wealthy and with seven children they had to move house frequently in order to be able to pay the bills. All that said, Debo had a happy childhood - horses were her passion - and she was never happier than when spending time in the stables or hunting.

At twenty one Debo married Andrew Cavendish who, like her father, was a second son, not much thought of by his parents (how often did this seem to happen?) The war came and the young men went off to war. As with many families at that time Debo lost her brother, Andrew lost his elder brother, and many close friends were also killed. Andrew thus succeeded to the title, he and Debo were now the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Eventually they moved into Chatsworth House, one the biggest and most impressive of the 'stately homes of England', but unoccupied by the family, and set about turning its fortunes around.

I thought when I picked this up that it might serve as an introduction to the world of the Mitford sisters; and so it proved. I've been reading reviews of books other bloggers have read about them for a couple of years now, always thinking that I would like to read about them too but not really knowing where to start. I bought Mary S. Lovell's The Mitford Girls in fact, but it looks intimidating and I wanted an easier read first: Wait For Me! was perfect.

Debo talks in a very easy manner about her whole family, how she perhaps thinks they're rather different to the way the world perceives them to be. I found her to be very modest, forgiving, tolerant, possibly the most ordinary of the lot if you can say that about a Duchess who hob-nobs with the great and the good. For they knew everyone and were indeed related in some manner to most of them! Winston Churchill and Harold MacMillan, were relations. Andrew's older brother, Billy, married Kathleen 'Kick' Kennedy before he was tragically killed in the war and ever after they were thought of as 'family' by Jack Kennedy - which of course they were, if only for a couple of months. Kathleen herself died just a few years later in a plane accident.

There is a fair bit of tragedy in this book. Debo lost three babies hours or days after they were born, but luckily managed to rear three. The deaths during the war affected her badly and then there was the awful story of Unity who fell in love with Hitler and tried to shoot herself in the head when war was declared. She was never the same again. And Diana marrying the British fascist, Oswald Mosely, and the two of them being interned during the war. Her sister's eccentricities are well covered but not dwelled upon in a vindictive way. Debo comes over as a loving, supportive sister and not in any way judgemental, rather trying to sort out in her own mind why they were as they were and did what they did.

I really did love this book. Truthfully, this is not a very good review as the book was so packed it's impossible to mention everything. The Chatsworth details were fascinating for instance, more so as I've been there and it's a wonderful place. It made me smile to hear that Debo is an Elvis fan and loved her visit to Graceland... and I laughed out loud when she said how shocked people were at a subsequent do in America when she told them about it. Her very self-deprecating sense of humour really shines in this book.

For me it was the perfect introduction to the sisters and I'm now ready to tackle the Lovell book, and have already started in fact. I've also done a quick list of a few more I would like to try: A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mosely, Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford, The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters by Charlotte Mosely, In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Bookshop at No. 10 Curzon Stree by J.S. Smith.

This book has also made me curious about the Kennedy family so I'm on the lookout for something to read about them, which would also qualify for my American states challenge of course. Any recs from anyone?

I hope this review will make others pick this one up. It's such an interesting, historical, uplifting story and I'm sure plenty would enjoy it. Deborah Devonshire is now the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and no longer living in Chatsworth House but in a nearby village in an Old Vicarage. In her nineties I gather she's still working hard for the estate. Good Luck to her.

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