Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, is the youngest of the famously witty brood that includes the writers Jessica and Nancy, who wrote when Deborah was born, "How disgusting of the poor darling to go and be a girl." Deborah's effervescent memoir Wait for Me! chronicles her remarkable life, from an eccentric but happy childhood in the Oxfordshire countryside, to tea with Adolf Hitler and her controversially political sister Unity in 1937, to her marriage to the second son of the Duke of Devonshire. Her life would change utterly with his unexpected inheritance of the title and vast estates after the wartime death of his brother, who had married Kick Kennedy, the beloved sister of John F. Kennedy. Her friendship with that family would last through triumph and tragedy.
With its intense warmth and charm, Wait for Me! is a unique portrait of an age and an unprecedented look at the rhythms of life inside one of the great aristocratic families of England. It is irresistible listening and will join the shelf of Mitford classics to delight audiences for years to come.
©2010 Deborah Devonshire (P)2010 Tantor
The Mitford sisters continue to be wondered and written about. Deborah, now 90, is the youngest and only surviving sister of six, The novelist Nancy Mitford, the oldest sister was 16 years old when Deborah was born. Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire and admittedly not political, especially in relation to her sisters. She writes of them lovingly for the most part as sisters not fascists - Unity and Diana - not communists - Jessica, known as Decca who is the only sister who left England for America and became an acclaimed writer here beginning with the expose of the funeral industry, "The American Way of Death". Deborah is a special person in her own right. She and her husband undertook the remodeling of their fabulous home and developed cottage industries as well, thereby tastefully restoring the home which has become a must-see destination of both English and visiting tourists. She is an honest but kind writer and adds much more perspective to the ongoing curiosity and the large library of tomes about her family. Her husband's government position sent her around the world and she had very many special friendships with notables in art and government. She married the younger Devonshire brother, the older had married Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of JFK and he was in line to become the Duke of Devonshire. He was killed in WWI just a few months after his marriage to "Kick" Kennedy (who died four years later in a plane crash). Deborah and her husband found themselves in a position they had not expected. As a result of these relationships in the family the Devonshires became very close to JFK and other members of the family. Her first hand observations of JFK's inauguration and later his funeral provide a very interesting and sensitive description of those events. As Duchess, she knew and in many cases had lifelong friendships with, includes many English notables of the time which makes the book even more interesting.
I don't read many memoirs, but this one was a real charmer--as is Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. "Debo," the youngest of the famous (infamous?) Mitford sisters, is now 90 years old--and what a life she has lived! Her reflections are surprisingly personal, sometimes a bit sad but often endearing. Debo opens a window onto aristocratic life, which wasn't as easy as we might expect. Despite the Mitfords' status, they struggled to make ends meet through the 1930s and the war years, as did other Britons. Of course, their reduced circumstances were outshone by the whirl of their social set. Tea with Hitler, dancing with the young JFK, trying to pacify grumpy houseguest Evelyn Waugh, chats with Churchill and "Uncle Harold" Macmillan, attending Queen Elizabeth's coronation and Charles and Diana's wedding--the shining names that drop in and out of Wait for Me! are as numerous as drops of rain, and Debo has fascinating stories about each one of them. And, of course, we get the inside scoop on growing up and growing older with Nancy, Jessica, Unity, Diana, and Pamela, each of whom was extraordinary in her own way.
Debo came to writing late in life, her books focused on life at Chatsworth and written to fund the preservation of the great house. Many attribute Chatsworth's survival not only to her personal restoration work but to her savviness in opening the house to the public but to launch ventures such as a gift shop, plant shop, tea room, and even, for a time, a meat market featuring beef and lamb raised on the grounds. The Duchess is astonishingly candid about her 64 years of marriage to Andrew Cavendish, who became duke after his brother died in the war. While they fell in love at first sight, the marriage was not without its trials: several miscarriages, a child who died shortly after birth, and Andrew's struggle with alcoholism. The duchess has had a remarkable life and, thankfully, she has either a remarkable memory as well. Finely read and not to be missed!
The lives of the Mitford sisters reflect so many aspects of history during WWII. This is a fascinating book, easy listen and charming.
I am an Anglophile of long standing, but it took me a while -- most of Part 1 -- to warm up to the Duchess and her story. Her tales of childhood painted scenes of privilege that I found off-putting, with little to endear the writer or her very young self to me. Once the narrator got older -- just on the brink of WWII and then into the war -- she became more of a real person, not only because she matured, but because she finally began to see hardship and sorrow, and to experience them, herself. Clearly, once Deborah Mitford had real responsibilities (raising children and running Chatsworth), she rose to them. Flosnik's reading is just fine, except when she attempts an American accent. In general, why bother if you can't do it well? In particular, Flosnik attempts the Kennedy version of the American accent when reading from letters to Mitford written by Jack and Bobby. It's appalling.
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