Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (John Murray)
Why I decided to read: I was in the mood to read something Mitford
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, York, UK, September 2011
Deborah Devonshire was the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters—last in line after Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, and Jessica. In 1941 she married Andrew Cavendish, son of the Duke of Devonshire, and eventually became the Duchess of Devonshire. Deborah helped turn Chatsworth into a popular tourist destination and is the author of several books. She also knew, literally, everyone, as seen from the impressive number of names she drops in this memoir.
The memoir is arranged more by subject matter than chronological; a chapter on the Kennedys (who Deborah was related to distantly through marriage; Andrew’s brother was married to Kathleen Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy) is followed by a chapter on Deborah’s involvement in public life. It’s a good way to organize the book considering how extensive Deborah’s life has been.
It seems that Deborah Mitford knew everybody, and she has a tendency to namedrop shamelessly in the memoir. She was related by marriage to two Prime Ministers (Churchill and Macmillan, who’s called Uncle Harold throughout) and the Kennedys, and she had friendships with or came into contact with everyone from President and Lady Bird Johnson to Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor. She even had lunch at one point with Elizabeth Bowen, which goes to show you the extent of the name-dropping.
Deborah’s sisters used to frequently joke that she was “illiterate,” but I thought this was an entertaining memoir. Deborah’s voice is fresh (despite her advanced age) and funny in many places. She talks candidly about sensitive subjects, although she glosses over her relationship with Andrew a little bit. I thought the name-dropping was a little bit excessive at times, but over all, I thought that this was an enjoyable memoir.