Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"I was a housewife"

In a short but very entertaining recorded interview, Her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (90), Deborah Cavendish (born Deborah Mitford), discusses her childhood, her recently published memoirs Wait for Me!, her marriage to the late duke, Andrew, and her famous sisters - Nancy, Pamela, Diana Mosley, Decca and the controversial Unity. It's rather lovely I think and perhaps my favourite line is when the duchess discusses having met her future husband shortly after her coming out ball in 1938 - "it was the famous coming out. Which, of course, has slightly different meaning now." I laughed out loud. It's the perfectly wry, unsentimental and observant humour which the Mitford sisters were so famous for. Their observations, I think, are hilarious, as anyone who has read Nancy's novels (particularly The Pursuit of Love and Don't Tell Alfred), Diana's articles (published in an anthology called The Pursuit of Laughter) or Decca's works of journalism will know. 

For those wondering about the house the Duchess is speaking in (a large and very pretty cottage called Edensor), she no longer lives in the main house of the Chatsworth estate, but in a cottage on the grounds. Her son, the current duke, Peregrine, and his wife Amanda, live in the main house now. Having been hit with one of the most extraordinarily high penalties under the Death/Inheritance tax when her father-in-law died in 1950, Deborah was instrumental in turning Chatsworth, its surrounding estates and its farm into a thriving tourist and agricultural industry, including a luxury food firm, guided tours of the house, a visitors' farm and two hotels, all of which effectively saved the estates from going into ruin or becoming properties of the National Trust, as so many others did at that time. It is a real tribute to the capacity and potential of private industry. 

You can watch the interview (which lasts for about 2 - 3 minutes) here. I loved it and Wait for Me! is the first book I'm reading once the current work schedule lightens up a little. 

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