Friday, February 4, 2011

WAIT FOR ME!: Memoirs - Book Review

Continuing with my fascination of all things English, I happily jumped into reading Wait for Me! the memoirs of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire.  Debo (family nickname) is one of the famous Mitford sisters and from all that I've read, the one with the most sense and stability.  Now 91 years old, she is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire living in the Old Vicarage on the estate at Chatsworth. Her son and daughter-in-law are the current Duke and Duchess.  

Debo came from a rather eccentric family--five sisters, one brother, nicknames for everyone (if not several nicknames per person--I wish I were clever enough to come up with just the right catchy name for others, but I am not).  She was born in 1920 so her life takes us through World War II, the nine years of rationing following the war, various Prime Ministers, quirky members of the Peerage,  and ends with her moving out of Chatsworth and into her current home.  

Born into a titled family (her father was the 2nd Baron Redesdale) Debo then married into a famous titled family.  The hereditary titles in England just add to my love of that country.  Listen to this, after Debo's marriage, her name changed four times: first she was "Lady Andrew Cavendish", Cavendish being the family name; then her husband's elder brother was killed in the war and she became "The Marchioness of Hartington"; after her father-in-law's death, her husband Andrew inherited the title of Duke and she became "The Duchess of Devonshire".  Now she is the Dowager Duchess and her daughter-in-law is the Duchess.  Whew.

The Duchess is funny, warm, and gracious and must have kept remarkable letters and journals to remember over 300 pages worth of goodies from her life.  Her childhood alone could make its own book (although it has been fictionalized in books by her sister, Nancy).  

Life at Chatsworth is depicted honestly, lots of work and tireless efforts to sustain.  After studying a bit about English country houses, I don't envy the owners--the usual "fun to visit but I wouldn't want to live there" applies.  The killer death duties in England have crippled the glorious estates.  Debo and her husband, Andrew, are credited with coming up with creative ways to pay off the hideous taxes and bring in money to repair and maintain the estate.  

Early in their marriage Debo's husband, Andrew, ran for Parliament.  His father gave him the following advice: "There is something you should ram home, and you cannot repeat it too often.  No government has any money of its own, the only money it has to spend is what it gets from you and me in taxes." Amen. 

The above World of Interiors features the cheerful entrance of Debo's new home at the Vicarage. It is one of my favorite magazine covers of all time.  Spotting the magazine cover on-line, I stalked Border's until the issue was delivered, which since it is a UK publication, didn't arrived until the end of  that month (September).  But just look at those colors! I could happily live in that house.

Bottom line: I enjoyed every minute of Deborah Mitford's memoirs.  


  1. Intriguing. Where do they come up with those titles?

  2. It would be interesting to know why the Cavendish family didn't become the "Duke and Duchess of Derbyshire" and not Devonshire. Devonshire (or Devon as it is called now) is a county in the south of England. There is no family property in Devon. Derbyshire is north of London in the Midlands region where the family lives. There is speculation that the name Derbyshire was misread as Devonshire and not corrected.

    The use of Hartington in the title of "Marchioness of Hartington" comes from a small village in Derbyshire. And the title "Lady Andrew Cavendish" comes from the name of Debo's husband Andrew Cavendish, Cavendish being the family name.

    So, you darling Tami, would be: Lady David Allred. Then maybe promoted to Marchioness of Lake in the Hills. And then, the ultimate, Duchess of McHenry. Aren't you glad you asked?

  3. OHMYGOSH Kim, that is the funniest line I've read.
    Duchess of McHenry.
    So that means you could be Duchess of Maricopa.
    Where is my scepter?
    and how am I supposed to remember Marchioness. What a name!

  4. We have the magazine somewhere around the house. I was surprised by how "current" her interiors are. I also wondered what it was like to downsize in such a dramatic way.

  5. Thomas: The Dowager Duchess seems the type not to be too wrapped up with a lot of stuff (although, everything is relative). I'll bet it felt great to pack up exactly what she wanted to take. Did you ever take a peek at the Sotheby's auction catalogue for Chatsworth's attic sale? Very fun.

  6. Oh golly, the attics are the best part. I remember seeing years ago a magazine article that showed some of the attic spaces at Chatsworth. Those are always my favorite places in grand old houses, but they never let one in. I wasn't surprised to see that she kept her still life of eggs by painter Lucien Freud given to her by the artist. I covet that painting.