Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wait for Me! by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire

It made me sad to learn of the recent passing of Deborah Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014). She was the last of the famous Mitford sisters, and she had quite a life.

In her 2010 memoir Wait for Me! (the title came from a childhood of always trying to keep up with her sisters since she was the youngest), I looked forward to what she'd have to say about growing up with such vivacious, beautiful, and at times, controversial sisters. Although what she revealed made for great reading, it surprised me to know that she was more interested in her London season of the 1930's and the goings on in her own life.

Deborah Mitford, March 30, 1938
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

I came away from the book with a real admiration for Deborah Mitford and what she accomplished in her life. At 21, she married Andrew Cavendish, but when she was 30, the two of them found themselves Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Andrew's older brother (and husband of Kick Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy) was killed in action in World War II, and Andrew's father died in 1950.

Her life took a drastic turn as she and Andrew found themselves in charge of Chatsworth and an Irish castle as well as the inheritors of an astounding debt because of death duties. With her husband's alcoholism, the overhauling and redecorating of the crumbling 175 room Chatsworth House and the running of the 35,000 acre estate became her responsibility. Her ingenuity turned Chatsworth into a self-sustaining family business when other families were selling their stately homes.

Bridge over the River Derwent and the House at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England
Photo by Robin Bendall

Another View of Chatsworth House
Photo by Robin Bendall

She had other challenges as well--among them the blow of dealing with the the loved ones and friends who died in the war, the deaths of three of her six children who died not long after they were born, and outliving her sisters and so many of her friends. She emerged from these experiences as someone who spoke of her life in a frank and forthright way.

Deborah Mitford was in the company of some of the best known people of the twentieth century. For example, she had tea with Hitler because of her sisters, Diana and Unity, and their admiration of the Fuhrer. She was part of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and became good friends with JFK and Prince Charles, just to name a few. I was impressed that she knew member of the Bloomsbury Group and painter Duncan Grant, the writer Evelyn Waugh, and even Adele Astaire (sister of Fred Astaire). Adele was a relative by marriage, but that's another story.

In this world where people clamor for celebrity, there is something refreshing about this memoir where Deborah Mitford tells her remarkable story in her wise, down to earth and sometimes witty way, without feeling the need to reveal all. There is so much more to her amazing life than what I've mentioned here, and I couldn't put the book down.

Needless to say, I highly recommend Wait for Me!

Have you read this memoir or any of Deborah Mitford's other books?

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