Thursday 12 January 2012

Wait For Me!

Part of my book plan for 2012 was to try to read a few more non-fiction books. It seemed last year as though I *was* reading more but as usual when I added them up come December the number came to around about a dozen, eleven to be exact, and I don't seem to be able to go beyond that number. I know one a month (they're actually not spread evenly in that way) doesn't sound bad but I would much rather it was around 20 to 25. Whether that'll ever happen, who knows, as crime books really do have me by the throat these days, with fantasy and sci fi aiding and abetting... but I can but try. To that end I randomly grabbed Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire from the library last week. When I got home I did as I always do, logged onto the library site to check that all books are there and what the dates are (am I anal or what?) and found that the book was already reserved by someone else. Wanting to read it and being in the position to do so, I started it right away.

Okay, well Deborah Devonshire as most people know, is the youngest of the very famous Mitford sisters. When Deborah, or 'Debo' as she's known, was born in 1920 her eldest sister, Nancy, who became a famous author, was sixteen. The family already had five girls and only one boy.

Blank. There is no entry in my mother's engagement book for 31 March 1920. The next few days are also blank. The first entry in April, in large letters, is KITCHEN CHIMNEY SWEPT'. My parents dearest wish was for a large family of boys; a sixth girl was not worth recording.

Her father was David Freeman Mitford, Lord Redesdale, her mother, Sydney Bowles. David was a second son of a minor aristocrat, not expected to take the title, but as often happens, the heir died in his twenties and David did take the title. The family nevertheless were not that wealthy and with seven children they had to move house frequently in order to be able to pay the bills. All that said, Debo had a happy childhood - horses were her passion - and she was never happier than when spending time in the stables or hunting.

At twenty one Debo married Andrew Cavendish who, like her father, was a second son, not much thought of by his parents (how often did this seem to happen?) The war came and the young men went off to war. As with many families at that time Debo lost her brother, Andrew lost his elder brother, and many close friends were also killed. Andrew thus succeeded to the title, he and Debo were now the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Eventually they moved into Chatsworth House, one the biggest and most impressive of the 'stately homes of England', but unoccupied by the family, and set about turning its fortunes around.

I thought when I picked this up that it might serve as an introduction to the world of the Mitford sisters; and so it proved. I've been reading reviews of books other bloggers have read about them for a couple of years now, always thinking that I would like to read about them too but not really knowing where to start. I bought Mary S. Lovell's The Mitford Girls in fact, but it looks intimidating and I wanted an easier read first: Wait For Me! was perfect.

Debo talks in a very easy manner about her whole family, how she perhaps thinks they're rather different to the way the world perceives them to be. I found her to be very modest, forgiving, tolerant, possibly the most ordinary of the lot if you can say that about a Duchess who hob-nobs with the great and the good. For they knew everyone and were indeed related in some manner to most of them! Winston Churchill and Harold MacMillan, were relations. Andrew's older brother, Billy, married Kathleen 'Kick' Kennedy before he was tragically killed in the war and ever after they were thought of as 'family' by Jack Kennedy - which of course they were, if only for a couple of months. Kathleen herself died just a few years later in a plane accident.

There is a fair bit of tragedy in this book. Debo lost three babies hours or days after they were born, but luckily managed to rear three. The deaths during the war affected her badly and then there was the awful story of Unity who fell in love with Hitler and tried to shoot herself in the head when war was declared. She was never the same again. And Diana marrying the British fascist, Oswald Mosely, and the two of them being interned during the war. Her sisters' eccentricities are well covered but not dwelled upon in a vindictive way. Debo comes over as a loving, supportive sister and not in any way judgemental, rather trying to sort out in her own mind why they were as they were and did what they did.

I really did love this book. Truthfully, this is not a very good review as the book was so packed it's impossible to mention everything. The Chatsworth details were fascinating for instance, more so as I've been there and it's a wonderful place. It made me smile to hear that Debo is an Elvis fan and loved her visit to Graceland... and I laughed out loud when she said how shocked people were at a subsequent do in America when she told them about it. Her very self-deprecating sense of humour really shines in this book.

For me it was the perfect introduction to the sisters and I'm now ready to tackle the Lovell book, and have already started in fact. I've also done a quick list of a few more I would like to try: A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mosely, Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford, The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters by Charlotte Mosely, In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Bookshop at No. 10 Curzon Stree by J.S. Smith.

This book has also made me curious about the Kennedy family so I'm on the lookout for something to read about them, which would also qualify for my American states challenge of course. Any recs from anyone?

I hope this review will make others pick this one up. It's such an interesting, historical, uplifting story and I'm sure plenty would enjoy it. Deborah Devonshire is now the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and no longer living in Chatsworth House but in a nearby village in an Old Vicarage. In her nineties I gather she's still working hard for the estate. Good Luck to her.


My Gallery of Worlds said...

I would say this was a very good review Cath <3 It has me wanting to read the book! What an interesting life. It's amazing how things fall into ones lap sometimes... life's funny like that I guess :D

DesLily said...

wow you are reading fast!! sheesh, send the daughter home and get in that reading chair! lol (how's J doing?)
You will not believe this but in my 142 tbr pile I have Mary Lovell's The Sisters, and Charlotte Mosley's Letter BEtween Six Sisters!! They have been there for some time.. lol I didn't even really know who they were but the books sounded interesting so I got them ! lol (must be a sister thing huh? lol)
This was a really good review.. I don't "review" books lol I let Amazon do mine and then just say if I liked the book or not lol.. oh well we can't all be so well equiped with words! lol

Val said...

Def.. a good review's made me want to read it too :0)

Kailana said...

Sounds interesting! I have had books about the Mitfords out from the library before but never got around to them... I will have to see about this one.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to see that you enjoyed Wait for Me! Cath. It's a hard one to put down, isn't it? Try googling Charlie Rose and Duchess of Devonshire. He interviewed her last year here in the States and the interview was interesting to watch, especially since Charlie seemed quite smitten with her.

swlove said...

Great review, Cath. I can't believe I picked this up and set it back down in the library today - not the my stacks need another layer, but this is going on my list.

Jodie Robson said...

I've had Selina Hastings' biography of Nancy Mitford on the TBR pile for ages - I think I'd probably enjoy this one more! I read Hons and Rebels in the very distant past - so long ago I can't remember much about it, so I'd quite like to read it again some day. They are a rather fascinating family.

Cath said...

Kelly: Thank you. :-) Some people seem to lead a charmed life, others not. I agree, it is odd.

Pat: I can't say that I am reading fast to be honest. This was only my 2nd book of the year and the first one I mainly read over Christmas. I would say though that once I started this it was hard to stop. LOL.

J is doing fine, she went home at the weekend but still needs keeping a close eye on. So we've been running around more this week than I thought. Will catch up with you properly next week. Skype?

Val: It's well worth a try, imo.

Kailana: I too have previously taken books about the sisters out of the library... and taken them back unread. Mind, I do that with a lot of books. LOL.

Lifeonthecutoff: It's so true... it was very hard to put down once I'd started. Oh thanks... I'll do some Googling later and see if I can find that.

Sue: The number of times I've done exactly that and then cursed when I got home to find that *was* the book I wanted after all.

GeraniumCat: They are extremely fascinating. I've made a note of that book you've got as it's not on my list. I think I ought to read something by Nancy at some stage too.

Danielle said...

Actually this is a wonderful review--it is so hard to know how much detail to share when it comes to NF--I tend to feel overwhelmed when writing about a NF read. And like you I want to read more of it this year than last as I didn't even manage ten books I think! My library has this and I have perused it. I do want to read it, maybe it is also the best place for me to start. I thought I would read the Lovell book last year, but it I think I only managed the first chapter. There is so much about the Mitfords that has been written that I'd love to read as well as some of their own books! This is a great intro to them. And I hope to get to them sooner than later, too!

Susan said...

Wow, that's a review, Cath! I really enjoyed it. I wish I enjoyed biographies more. Mostly I want to rad about poets or writers. I do have the Duchess of Devonshire to be read, though. That was supposed to be very good. DId you read it? I'm hoping to read the John Donne bio and Sir Thomas Wyatt new one (if it comes out over here).

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

A lovely review, as always, although I should think that the subject matter, made it easy to find plenty to talk about.

'Debo' is certainly a very colourful character, who believes in living life to the full, isn't she? We have had copies of this book handed into the hospice shop on several occasions and each time I browse a different chapter, so I feel that I know her, even though I have never read the book from cover to cover.

I also have a couple of books about the Mitford Sisters, on the shop shelves at the moment, so I shall have to go and check them out tomorrow, although I doubt that they would interest me quite as much as the more human face of Deborah Devonshire.

I can vaguely remember watching a television programme about her, a few years back, although I have never seen it repeated since.

Glad to hear that your daughter is making steady progress, have a good week.


Cath said...

Apologies for being so late answering these last few comments. We lost internet connection several days ago and are only just back online.

Danielle: It is quite hard to decide how much to say when reviewing non-fiction. Too much and there no need for anyone to read the book as you've told them everything!

I found Wait For Me! to be an excellent intro to the Mitford sisters. I wanted something easy to read that gave me a good background and this one did just that and left me wanting more detail: perfect. I'm now reading the letters between Debo and Patrick Leigh Fermor - thoroughly enjoying them - and have also started the Lovell book. That one's going to be a long-term read I think, but that's fine.

Susan: I don't think I know of a book actually called The Duchess of Devonshire... or do I? Is the there history book about a former duchess? Something's ringing a bell in my middle-aged brain. LOL.

I think most people only read biogs of people who interest them so I think it's fine to want to read about poets and writers. I quite fancy the sound of a book about John Donne myself. :-)

Yvonne: I'm glad you remember the BBC doc about Debo and Chatsworth House. I thought I'd dreamt it because there is absolutely no mention of it whatsoever in this book and as she talks about everything else I find that very odd indeed. I remember the duke being in poor health but was someone who loved a burger from McDonalds, so he was allowed one a month or something. LOL. I was trying to remember how long ago the doc was, the duke died in 2004 I think, so it must have 2001 or 2 or thereabouts.

I think what I'd like to do is read one or two of Nancy Mitford's novels. Apparently she based the characters very closely on her family.

Yes, thanks, my daughter continues to do well.

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