last but not least

I have just completed a most enjoyable reading of Wait for me! , a memoir by Deborah Cavendish, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire. It is an interesting insight into the world of the generation born just after the first world war. A world of titles, new freedoms, and the world changed by the second world war.

The youngest of the infamous Mitford sisters, she was a close friend of the Kennedy family during their years in England, and afterwards. I suspect that there is more left unsaid, than is actually written. The Duchess is careful to not offend, and the few times she is critical it is laughed away. She touches briefly, almost as an afterthought, on her husband’s problems with alcohol, and one senses that, like so many British “upper crust” marriages, that they may have spent more time apart than together, but she gives little more of her own feelings away. No doubt the family tradition must be maintained.

The first half of the book is perhaps the most interesting – the time that her sisters loomed larger in her life, and there was a chapter or two that I skimmed through very quickly, not being one to advocate hunting, or having an interest in horses, but I have to say, that I really did find this a lovely read. In fact, I read it in two long sessions into the early hours of the morning.

I often judge the worth of a book by my eagerness to share it. I have two people on my list that I think would enjoy this book, so on my rating system it is a book  that will reward you for its reading.

 She must be one of the few people to have met both Adolf Hitler and John Kennedy, has been a familiar of the Queen for her entire reign, and was related by marriage to Harold Macmillan and used to go shooting with him. “When he became prime minister [in 1957, having previously been chancellor],” she tells me apropos of nothing in particular, “he told me it was wonderful because at last he had time to read.” She laughs. Her sense of humour and recognition of the absurdities of life are apparent throughout both her book and our conversation, bearing out her friend Alan Bennett’s remark: “Deborah Devonshire is not someone to whom one can say, ‘Joking apart . . .’ Joking never is apart: with her it’s of the essence, even at the most serious and indeed saddest moments.”


5 thoughts on “last but not least

  1. Given the flirtations of some of the elder members of the clan with Naziism (and by default, treason), she needed a sense of humour! MacMillan must have thought PMs had never had it so good if they had time to read and Chancellors didn’t.


    • She does mention that she found it difficult to understand that Nancy went to the authorities and stated that The Mosleys were a danger to the country and should be locked up (and obviously Max Mosley carries the fascination on into the present re recent events). I guess she was seeing it from a family point of view. Then they had the tragedy of the other sister trying to shoot her brains out when Britain went to war with Germany… Unity was the closest to Hitler. It really does seem that everyone knew everyone else, closer than 6 degrees of separation!


  2. The last photo of her here bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother at the same age!! English beauties. My mother also looked like the Queen. In both the Dowager isn’t smiling…. Why is the Duchess so dour? I will read and find out.


      • This last photo is not of Deborah, it is Nancy Mitford, taken in about 1930. I too loved “Wait For Me!” When I received it for Christmas in 2010, I thought “Oh, taking tea with the Queen and the servant problems at Chatsworth. I’ll read it to be polite.” I began a re-read as soon as I finished it the first time. Then, I read “Letters Between Six Sisters,” which is essential Mitford reading. (If you think “Wait For Me!” leaves tantalizing stuff unsaid, wait until you read “Six Sisters!” Charlotte Moseley does a great editing job.)
        And on to “In Tearing Haste,” featuring selected letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. And more and more Mitford-related reading. In the 1970’s I met Jessica Mitford in my neighborhood ice cream parlor, having heard of “Hons And Rebels,” and “The American Way Of Death.” She lived for years on Regent Street in Oakland, CA. Nancy joked, “‘Which Regent?’ when they first moved there.


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