When I first read that Deborah Devonshire AKA the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire; Deborah Mitford; Debo; Stubby; Stublow etc was publishing memoirs my first thought was how can the world possibly need more Mitford porn? For 6 posh sisters from Oxfordshire of whom only 1 survives, they have sure generated a lot of literature. Maybe a little too much. There are endless collections of letters and biographies and collective biographies and so on. All except Pamela (who was famously private) and Unity Mitford (who died in 1948 after attempting suicide at the outbreak of war) contributed to the oeuvre from their own pens. So how can another one possibly be worth reading?
Well, somehow it is. It is quick, sure footed, funny, unsentimental writing. As usual, I find myself rather in love with Farve: “Occasionally Farve gave Muv a night off [from chaperoning Debo to balls during her first season]. He refused to take part in the festivities and never penetrated as far as the ballroom, but sat o one of those rickety hall chairs common to all big London houses, still in his evening cloak. One distraught hostess approached him and asked “Lord Redesdale, would you take the French Ambassadress into supper?” … “NO” he said furiously, “I’m waiting for Stubby” . It must be the Telegraph reader in me.
Debo deals with the tragedy and infamy of which everyone knows, but somehow, with new eyes. The passages in which she writes about the death of her sister Unity, the separation of her parents, the re-connection with her runaway sister Decca and the betrayal of her sister Diana by her sister Nancy have a strange, restrained flatness about them. She makes it clear that these events were enormously painful, without going on about it. That is what I like so much. She doesn’t really “go on” about anything (except perhaps the foundation of the Chatsworth shop, but then everyone has their foibles). She is plainly disinclined to peer into the private lives of others and more than once comments of some famous person in her history with the words: “his private life was his own”.
My revised opinion on Mitfordia is not that there should be no more books, but that all secondary commentary ought to be banned. This is a case where the horse’s mouth is preferable and since there is plenty of it about, that is all that Mitford lovers need. On that note, I shall stop typing now, except to say that there are other interesting reviews at Book Group of One, Savidge Reads and Amused, Bemused and Confused.